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UX Rants: Facebook and Notifications

First in a series of blunt UX posts deconstructing problems with everyday scenarios. This time around? Notifications in Facebook. Notification systems are near and dear to my heart; I’ve worked in some capacity on 4 different notification systems across multiple teams. Unfortunately, Facebook is getting a bit too aggressive these days…

Facebook, I get it. Folks are resistant to change. We complain every time you change a font size or add a pixel to a post box. But you’ve made some changes in the past few months that are hurting my ability and desire to interact with the app in a reasonable way, so it’s time we had… A Talk.

Video Notification Fatigue

We need to talk about this “video” tab you just added to the iOS app. It’s one thing to add tabs – you did it previously with the Marketplace tab. The problem isn’t even with the tab itself; it’s with the fact that the tab is (1) badged while you’re in the app and, far worse (2) being treated as a notification and badging outside the app too.

Oh, a new notification on Facebook? Great! I’ll go check…
WOMP WOMP. Just another video notification, desperately trying to get me to engage with a news Page’s livestream.

Treating any of my friends’ live video as a notification is a major scaling problem. You don’t notify me about my friends’ independent actions anywhere else. And with hundreds of friends, it’s rapidly causing me to ignore your notifications completely.

I started the fruitless search for a setting that would allow me to opt out, but clearly you’re no longer interested in making settings accessible on iOS. As a result, I demoted the entire app’s ability to fire notifications at all. I’m pretty sure your goal wasn’t “decrease engagement” when you launched this feature.

It would have been fine if you limited video notifications to people I’d marked as “show first”. That might have piqued my interest. But most of these notifications are from Pages I liked, and the unexpected intrusion is making me unlike Pages at a faster clip, too.

The recurring lesson most feature owners must learn in the UX world: discoverability does not equal engagement. If making your feature more prominent doesn’t match my goals as a customer, you may have the OPPOSITE effect. This move did for me. It looks desperate, and it increased noise on the app to the point that I had to scale back my usage of the app.

Worst of all, the change isn’t scalable (as my experience is already proving.) The more adoption the video feature becomes, the more overwhelmed people will feel by blanket notifications any time a Page or Friend goes live.

Please apply more consideration to your customers’ goals when introducing more intrusiveness into your app. Unless your goal is to send me over to Snapchat and Twitter… in which case good job, keep plugging ahead.

Wishy-Washy Messaging

On a somewhat related note, can you decide what role Messenger plays in your ecosystem? While the presence of the Messenger icon in iOS isn’t in itself offensive, it’s the source of another notification pain point since you badge BOTH the Facebook and Messenger apps when a Message comes in.

This overcompensation has an unintended effect on iOS – I’ll go to Facebook and check there, see that Messages is trying to get my attention, but get distracted by the Feed and fail to open Messenger, thus failing to complete the communication scenario you wanted me to complete.

And what on earth is Chat still doing as a swipe-in tab in iOS? Didn’t Messenger replace Chat? Why on earth would I want both running?

Just surface the notifications in the app I should be viewing them in. Please respect the noise levels in notification centers and stop stepping on your own toes in an effort to provide discoverability over actual usability.

Constructive Steps

Complaints are one thing, but what to do? Each problem faces a different solution. Videos could solve this problem by (a) limiting my Videos notifications to “show first” friends or “close” friends – or making this an easy to discover customizable setting and defaulting to a subset to start. Or (b) don’t badge the app icon or Notification center, and keep Video notifications in-app only to reduce noise elsewhere in my life.

As for Messages, the time has come to cut the umbilical cord. At the very least, find a way to tell which customers have installed and use Messenger, and don’t duplicate notifications for those users. Get smarter about notifying folks who use multiple platforms; perhaps focus on calling attention to long-overlooked messages within Facebook while keeping daily notifications to the Messenger app.


Well, glad I got THAT off my chest. Are you of a like mind? Follow me on Twitter or join me for my next UX speaking engagement at Interaction 17, where I’ll be teaching a workshop on voice design on February 5 in New York City.

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