Batched Facebook Notifications Decrease Clutter but Can Increase Confusion

Facebook’s web and mobile versions have begun batching similar notifications into single entries in a user’s notifications inbox in recent weeks. If different friends comment on the same photo of yours, or all post on your wall, the names will accumulate in one notification entry. However, users will still see the red counter over the notifications inbox’s globe icon increase each time a notification is triggered.

While reducing clutter, especially from birthday wall posts and long comment threads, the change can make it difficult to tell if another user has made multiple actions, or whether a you have has already viewed the action which caused a notification.

Facebook has made several product changes over the last few weeks trying to find the right balance for notifications. It added browser tab alerts to make notifications more visible even if your Facebook window isn’t active. On m.facebook.com notifications have been made more prominent, while a notification unsubscribe button is being tested on the web version to let users opt out of notifications from specific posts. Notifications are important because they have the power to pull users back for increased return visits, but oversaturation can exhaust and annoy users.

Notifications now behave similarly to cumulative news feed stories. When multiple friends comment on one of your photos, you’ll see a notification reading, “John Smith, Jane Doe, and 3 others liked your photo”. This leaves more space for unique notifications in both the notification inbox dropdown and the full Your Notifications page. As more similar actions are taken, the names are added to the beginning of the list, and the final name is removed and added to the count.

However, there are some issues with the new system. If one user makes a similar action multiple times, such as a series of wall comments, the first notification will be bumped to the top of the list upon each subsequent post. This makes it impossible to tell from just reading the notification whether a user has taken multiple actions. Only the red notification counter and a shift in the notification’s order in the list indicates this.

Facebook lumps together notifications for actions taken on the same page, be it a photo, wall, event, or otherwise. This makes sense for photos, as any comments on a single photo will be somewhat related. However, batching wall posts from different friends can seem odd, as the posts may have much different purposes. Batching a “Miss you” wall post from your Grandma with an “Are we going to that upcoming concert?” post from a friend makes things more confusing than streamlined.

When a user gets a flurry of notifications, the batching can make it difficult to keep track of which ones they’ve actually noted. If a user gets more than three similar notifications before checking them, they won’t see the name of the first person to act. This can lead to redundant visits to the original post.

Notifications should make it easy to learn of the actions affecting your Facebook profile and content, without incessantly and obtrusively distracting use. Batched notifications are well intentioned, but the confusion they cause in some cases outweighs their benefit.