To push or not to push? A question for readers


I’ve been looking hard at push notifications for our content but as a team, we’re unclear whether readers will love it or hate it. Here’s the case from both sides. You decide.

robot-touch-pressOver the years, we’ve developed a number of ways for readers to find and access our content. Whether that’s site search (which we know needs work), Google search (which does quite well), SEO finagling, direct click, social channel referrals or RSS feeds – these all work reasonably well for the different reader constituencies.

Recently, I’ve been playing with the idea of push notifications but the debate among the diginomica team isn’t coming to a concrete conclusion about whether we should implement this feature or leave alone. Hence this story.

Why are we considering this?

Apart from the obvious ease of potential distribution provided by this ‘channel’, it is conceivable that we could start to better understand those who subscribe to push notifications as a way of improving content, both in terms of scope and quality. That’s a genuine win-win. You get more of what you like, we get to better understand what matters to you. I believe that’s important as we seek to thread the right needles with the right content.

In the longer term, we envisage being able to send push notifications via voice services like Amazon Echo or Siri. That could be a valuable addition to those who want to interrogate voice services while on a coffee break or over lunch.

Why would you want push notifications?

Speaking personally, I have a bunch of services set up for push notifications. I have them because there are a variety of services to which I don’t necessarily want to subscribe for a feed or email newsletter but which still hold the potential to provide valuable information.

For some services, it is important that I know what’s going on ‘in the moment’ and again, push notifications help.

The point is that push notifications provide me with the choice as to whether I click on an item as it is notified or simply ignore. That might well be useful for the occasional visitor who has seen something that caught their eye and wants to dip in occasionally but without going through the palaver of signing up for an email newsletter or simply can’t handle the volume of content coming via feeds.

Why would you not want push notifications?

While trialing a push notification service in our development sandbox, I quickly discovered that configuration for different operating systems, devices and browsers is not a trivial matter. There are differences in the way in which push notifications work; which tells me one thing loud and clear: no cross-platform standards.

That’s a major suck point but one which the system developers manage. Even so, it means there isn’t a uniform or consistent experience when mixing hardware types: e.g. say Mac OSX and say Android phone with Chrome. It also means you have to set ‘Allow’ or ‘Block’ for all devices on a one by one basis. Not ideal.

Push notifications can be annoying. If you’re in the middle of something important and want to concentrate on the task at hand then having random push notifications popping up every so often is…well…annoying.

What to do?

In our use case, push notifications would normally go out as soon as a story is published. The problem with that is that we don’t have a publishing agenda or calendar. That makes for a two-edged sword.

On the one hand, there is the excitement of not knowing when you’ll see stuff from us. OK – maybe that’s not such a great thought.

On the other hand, receiving a rapid-fire succession of notifications because we’re carpet bombing an event is hardly optimal – unless of course you’re at said event, and are gagging to hear whatever pearls of wisdom issue from the digital fingers of our correspondents/analysts.

Over to you

We are conscious that implementing push notifications is a big UX step. Get it wrong and some of you will be annoyed. Get it right and who knows how much benefit is conferred – on both sides. So it’s over to you. This isn’t a decision we can (or should) take based on how the market generally is developing. It’s something for which we’d like your feedback. So – there are two ways to go there.

Feel free to leave a comment below or, if, like many of us, you are time-starved, then please indicate in the poll whether you like the idea or not.

Many thanks.

Image credit - © Tatiana Shepeleva -

    1. Sam sethi says:

      It’s less a question of do you want Push Notifications and more a question of do you want a Progressive Web App. (PWA).

      Mobile Apps have a distinct advantage over native web apps. One is discovery in the App Store, screen icon real-estate after installation and red dot/notifications.

      Google and Msft are heavily behind PWA in order to break Apple monopoly. As a developer having to maintain two code bases HTML and Cocoa/iOS is a real pain.

      Having a responsive website for desktop, tablet and phone is ideal. Using IndexDB to store data locally ensures a faster load and offline capabilities. Adding in very basic code to prompt the user to install the website icon is super simple. So now all that is left is push notifications and you can remove the need to maintain an iOS/Android native app as well as your HTML desktop site.

      One example of all this working is a site a recently built

      It is responsive, prompts for icon on screen and uses pushprime for notifications.

      Not everyone likes push notifications but given RSS died after Google killed reader and social media is awash with noise then push is the next way to try and reach customers.

      Voice flash briefings are all a good push notification but that’s another channel which I am building for clients but as it’s novel and early days reach and response is good. But this channel will soon become crowded.

    2. I prefer reserving push notifications for real-time content. Such as updated driving directions and personal messages, such as texts. Content enabled websites don’t generally have real-time content, except maybe replies to comments threads. Also bolstering WordPress to PWA standards could be an effort backfitting html with HTML5 (may PWA has an SDK now). I don’t want a stream of interruptions. I’d prefer more granular diginomica email by specific writer, by product, by topic, by vendor, by whatever is hot and being read or commented on (same direction as FT).

      1. says:

        Yes – but in order to get that FT stuff, you HAVE to go through an initial registration process, making your selections along the way. That adds considerable friction though it may be worth it in the long run. It is something we looked at 18 months ago but quickly ran into problems around dynamic content distribution etc. This is not a simple problem.

        1. Solving the ‘cold start’ problem using Brave…?

          Brave browser by Brendan Eich is evolving into a Doc Searls type personal CRM where users maintain their own profiles and pass along intentions (reverse notifications). Brave blocks ad-tech trackers: many are using globs of people’s mobile data plans to serve up personalized ads. Which advertisers still get wrong and serve up complete and utter crap.

          Brave seems to use blockchain crypto-tokens for a legit purpose.

    3. Graham Russell says:

      I think the success of push notifications largely depends on the quality of the tags / filters that readers can use to tell publishers about the content that is of interest to them (or not!). I think the diginomica team produce terrific material but some of it – arguably a lot of it – is not relevant to me. So, for me, push notifications would only work if I was able to very clearly tell you what was of interest. I can think of other online resources where I have unsubscribed from all communications as I received too many alerts about content that wasn’t of interest and the pain of this eclipsed the value of being alerted to content that I did want to see.

      By the way, thank you for taking the time to ask your audience for views on this topic. More power to your collective elbow.

      1. says:

        Relevancy is a big issue. In an ideal world, we’d show content on the site and through notifications according to your behaviors, regardless of whether we ‘know’ you or not. The problem is that we’re not selling anything so getting the tracking information needed is much harder unless we go to a full subscription model where you sign up once and then we know when you sign in (which can be automated) that you care about certain content and can present all of that to you.

        That’s a possibility but not one we are willing to try right now. The complexities plus initial friction are too risky for us to be comfortable with that approach.

    4. Sarah Lafferty says:

      Yes, I like to have the option. If I don’t want to see them for any reason, I know that I can turn them off easily.

    5. Jeremy Good says:

      I was personally ‘notified’ about your inquiry ^^ because of Twitter. Part of my personal daily digest is scrolling through the Twitter feed on my phone (poor man’s RSS mashup), but in this case, being notified is more of a headline skimming discovery where something catches my eye. I actually forward the Tweet to my email as a reminder that I wanted to respond here from my keyboard. It is more about message sharing from followed friends and SAP Community members that draw my attention, but if I was following a dedicated Diginomica track more closely I would likely opt for enabling push notifications in the app.

      I am a huge SAP Jam advocate, not only because of my employer, but also with email being largely unavoidable, as a group admin I like the mixture of capabilities to notify people (push), and member options to tune their feed information flow with None, Weekly, Daily, Immediate triggers. Browser based access, emails, and mobile app based notifications can get noisy but in my role as a group admin and member of many Jam groups, I like the option to be able to throttle things to a level of what’s relevant for me. Tuning email delivery frequencies, switching mobile notifications on/off put the power in my hands – the recipient, so to answer your question if readers will love it or hate your decision – give them clear options and let them decide.

      Happy to discuss further 🙂

      1. says:

        Gotcha…thanks for that. Taking all the channel responses together, it seems the ‘info overload’ problem is forcing people to make decisions that ultimately end up sub-optimal but which are ‘good enough’ for them. Our problem is knowing where to start/stop and what is likely to be the best (say) top 3 ways through which readers want to consume content. I’m still not sure we’ve cracked that nut.

        1. Jeremy Good says:

          The catch-all would be the infamous monthly newsletter, or any form of email that is pushed to a subscriber/member list. Emails are easily skimmed, deleted, or ignored with inbox rules. Again – power to the recipient who also wields the ultimate weapon with the ‘unsubscribe from all’ hyperlink in the footer.

    6. Jelena says:

      Just like Jeremy, I usually just take a few minutes to scroll the Twitter feed (and I’m finding the recently added bookmark feature quite handy). Out of curiosity, I’ve tried signing up for “spam free digest” (which the annoying pop-up keeps offering me every time I come here 🙂 ) but it had way too much content that was of no interest to me. So I prefer to rely on my trusted network to point out to me anything worth reading.

      Personally, I prefer to consume information at my own pace and allow notifications only for urgent matters or items that might require an action (like a quick reply). No disrespect but I’m not going to drop everything just to read a new article on Diginomica. 🙂 And when I have time, I might as well just open the website or check Twitter. When I don’t have time there is no point trying to push anything out to me.

      Sam’s comment above brings up a good point actually. Since notifications are likely more relevant for handheld device users, perhaps an app would be a better solution. To be honest, in the past I was actually very much against the apps that pretty much just duplicate a website. The main reason: memory is limited on mobile devices, especially iOS ones. But then I discovered that I can manage the cell data usage (and I have a cheapo plan with limited data) for each app individually. I.e. even if I don’t allow Chrome or Safari to use cell data I can allow it specifically to Papa Jones app so that I can order pizza from a playground. 🙂 And notifications etc. preferences can also be managed at the app level. So you can leave all that basic work to OS and users and just focus on the content and fine-tuning notifications, e.g. aligning them better with the person’s interests.

      1. Jeremy Good says:

        I agree with your sentiment concerning browser bookmarks masquerading as an app on my phone, and also use a similar technique with the SAP Jam app on my phone – wi-fi only configuration. Having my profile, content, and especially notifications effectively mirrored between device and desktop allows me to observe the pushes on my phone, respond to the critical ones with two thumb typing, and then for more engaging or full screen and keyboard interaction the browser takes over. It’s not always perfect, but if I dismiss a Jam notification on my phone, then I don’t have to revisit it on my laptop later.

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