Alex Hudson

Thoughts on Technology, Product, & Strategy

Bikeshedding notifications

Mark Shuttleworth recently posted about the work Canonical are doing on application notifications, and a couple of things struck me.

The first thing that struck me is that even though what they’re doing is quite pretty, it’s intensely pointless. Designing a notification system that will spew out messages that the person using the computer doesn’t need to see is making the computer less useful: it’s another piece of UI vying for my attention, and every time something interrupts what I’m going I’m losing concentration. It’s not helpful for productivity at all, in fact, it’s helping destroy it.

The second thing that struck me is how strongly I feel about such a small and relatively irrelevant piece of software. On one level, Canonical are designing something that I actively want to use: a channel of non-important information that I can (presumably) actively control by turning the damn thing off and not have to worry about the latest e-mail hitting my Inbox, or the title of the next track that my CD player has figured out its playing. If every app uses that, then hooray – I can shut them all up. On another level, it annoys me somewhat that time and effort is going into something which is effectively Twitter for Applications (“I’m waiting for the bus”, “Still waiting for the bus”, “on the bus now, woO!”, etc.), but then it’s not my time and effort, so I should shut up really.

But. It is basically surprising that while for the most part I care less about the bigger picture stuff, this kind of small-scale app could potentially get right up my nose. I wonder why that is.


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1 Comment

  1. Since I just commented on your post about email, I’ve got it on the brain and I just have to say that these notifications about getting new mail that pop up on my system are extremely annoying (especially as I seem to get new email as soon as the previous notification fades away).

    And yea, the definitely distract me every time – I’ve found that I’ve started to close my email application in the middle of the work day after a morning “email session” to avoid these.

    Perhaps an icon in the “sys-tray” that just displays an envelope or something would be less intrusive than what’s there now, namely a notification window that pops up with a summary of all the new mail that just arrived.

    Perhaps I should go file a bug report/feature request 🙂

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