Last night I talked about why I was cautiously optimistic that wearable computing wouldn't devolve into the Kurt Vonnegut short story "Harrison Bergeron." After reading this HBR piece on push strategies for mobile apps, I'm not so sure. The piece argues that "push notifications can be incredibly useful," but
many mobile app developers and brands have resorted to using them as a cheat to achieve coveted retention and engagement. In some cases, it's starting to backfire. We're beginning to see a tidal wave of push notifications from mobile apps that alert users of every mundane activity, irrelevant sales promotion, or social network update. Essentially, these push notifications just add more digital noise and drive users to tune out or even delete certain mobile apps from their devices.
So what should companies do? Of the seven suggestions, only two show any regard for users' attention: asking "Does the mobile app legitimately create value for your consumers?" and making notifications "geo-targeted, audience targeted, and time-sensitive." Neither of these is a bad recommendation, and it's certainly better to recognize that intelligent limits are smarter and more persuasive than the all-too-common defaults of constant banners and notifications. Yet it's notable that these are the only two times when the user's attention is a factor, and app developers (or strategists, or appification entrepreneurs, or direct pocket marketers*, or whatever they're called) are encouraged to think about what users might be doing.
I mean, I completely understand why app developers would want to set their notifications to a Spinal Tap-level 11. If everyone else is yelling, your first assumption is that you have to yell even louder. This is one reason why (as I've said before) too often programs behave like children: they want to interact with us on their terms, with very little regard for what we're doing, and without thinking about whether this is the right time to demand an adult's attention. The reason they behave like children is that it's easy to create social interactions that are demanding, clueless, and self-centered. A child can design them. In fact, most children do.
In contrast, it takes half a lifetime to learn that the well-placed word at the right time can be very persuasive in a way that constant haranguing is not. Smart adults know how to be patient, watchful, to choose their words properly-- and how such a strategy can be deadly effective.
Besides, the "shout louder" strategy ultimately is self-defeating. As Mark Twain said, you should never argue with idiots because they'll pull you down to their level, and they have more experience being stupid. Someone else can always be a little louder.
This isn't why Moore's Law exists, people.
*I'M GOING TO TRADEMARK THAT. NOBODY ELSE CAN USE IT.