Facebook Groups Spam and The Notifications Dilemma

The aggressive default notifications and opt-out nature of Facebook’s new Groups feature are causing many users to see their email boxes fill with low-content alerts. However, while users can turn off these notifications, they should consider waiting until the initial flurry of notifications generated by being added to Groups or a set as an admin subsides before deciding whether to completely mute the new notifications.

Users should be patient as their friends eagerly add them to Groups and as posting norms for Groups develop. Many using Groups are likely unaware that Group name changes or a quick post of “lol’ may send email notifications to every Group member. As users learn how to use Groups and settle into the ones they’ve created, the number of notifications generated may decrease to a comfortable level.

Facebook, meanwhile, needs to establish a more personalized method of setting notification defaults for new products.

How to Change Groups Notifications Settings

Groups defaults to notifying users of every action taken upon them or Groups of which they’re members. If users want to change the notifications settings that apply to all their Groups, they can go to the top right corner of the Facebook home page and click Account->Account Settings->Notifications, then scroll down to Groups. Here users can control whether they’ll be notified when they are added to a group, their request to join is accepted, they’re made an admin, they receive a request to join, a Group’s name is changed, or a post to made to a Group. They can also click through a link to set which of their Groups can email them.

Users can also click “Edit Notifications” on a Group’s page to determine whether posts, comments, member actions, or only friend actions generate notifications. They can also opt in or out of emails from that Group.

Product Launches and The Notification Dilemma

Facebook confronts the notifications conundrum each time it launches a new product. Should settings default to alert users to every action within the feature, showing its full capabilities and drawing in additional users? Doing so risks annoying users to the point that they mute the product, or feel guilty about using it because of the spam it might send to friends. Some said the extraordinary initial prominence of Facebook Questions in the news feed may have deterred users from asking or answering Questions for fear they’d over run the feeds of friends with irrelevant content.

Alternatively, should Facebook default to only alert users of only especially visible or consequential actions, allowing them to opt in if they want to know about everything? While mitigating notification overload, users may then be acted upon or affiliated with content without their knowledge, increasing the risk of a personal credibility flap where users are judged based on actions the weren’t aware of.

The answer is not simply “strike a balance,” as the preferences of users do not follow a normal curve. As Facebook’s Director of Engineering Andrew Bosworth put it recently, “[Facebook’s] user research team…identified the dramatically different modalities of how people interact with messaging products. If you looked at data for average inbox size or number of read messages you would find numbers that accurately described neither group and if you built towards that you would be building a solution that nobody likes.” Facebook can’t use a one-size-fits-all solution to notification defaults, but instead needs to leverage its greatest resource — individual user data, specifically existing preferences.

Facebook tried this out on a small scale with a Places privacy setting. The default setting for who could see a user as “Here Now” at a Place was matched to the user’s loosest privacy setting. This meant if a user had all of their content restricted to only friends, friends would be the only people that could see they were “Here Now.” However, Facebook failed to understand that users didn’t want to share their location with strangers at the same Place simply because they had left even one content category, such as their birthday, visible to everyone.

By matching notifications defaults for Groups and future products to the average of an individual user’s existing notification preferences, users are less likely to want to change them. For instance if Facebook found that I leave notifications on for new content such as comments on my photos and posts to my wall, but turn them off for confirmations such as accepted friend requests, it might set me to receive notifications of new posts to my Groups but not when my requests to join Groups are accepted. In this or a similar manner, Facebook could make integrations of new features into a user’s behavior a less jarring experience.