Varun Ramesh's Blog

I Allowed All Web Push Notifications for a Week

Sunday, March 11th 2018

You can’t escape them. Web push notifications are the new e-mail newsletter, and every site wants you to subscribe. Up until last week, I had never allowed any site to send me notifications. Because I’m curious what it’s like to have sites constantly ping you with content, I decided that for a week, I would enable all push notifications on every site that I visit.

Pre-2013, I used Google Reader to keep up with articles published by various sites. There were advantages and disadvantages. For blogs and other sources with a high signal-to-noise, it was pretty great. Unfortunately, there was no good way to keep up with general tech or world news. I subscribed to sites like The Verge, Joystiq, and Reuters, but these sources published hundreds of articles a day, of which I would only find a few interesting. Then Google Reader shutdown.

Fast-forward a few years, and I started to use Facebook as my primary general news feed. Over the years, Facebook has moved away from posts by friends and towards posts by pages 1. While many people complain about the algorithm, I’ve actually found it to be reasonable - it manages to sort out interesting news items from the mass of sites I “like.” I also use Hacker News as a form of discovery - it’s otherwise hard to find articles out in the developer blogosphere. Finally, I still use RSS through Feedly, though I only subscribe to low volume blogs.

The experiment began on a Sunday. I quickly ended up subscribing to notifications from Facebook, Google Calendar, and other sites I frequently use. I then ended up subscribing to sites like CNET and Product Hunt. I noticed that lots of cryptocurrency news sites use push notifications. I also found that if one site used push notifications, their sister sites under the same digital media company would likely use notifications as well.

The notifications were extremely annoying, as I expected. However, I actually expected them to be worse. It turns out that most sites don’t send a push notification for every article, but only for certain articles. Still, I found that notifications interrupted me whenever I was working. I ended up using “do not disturb” mode frequently. RSS readers are a better experience in every way for keeping up with the sites you care about.

Going forward, I would not even subscribe to notifications from messaging or email tools, since I found those to be unnecessarily distracting.

  1. Facebook has recently announced that they want to move back to posts by friends. It will be interesting to see how this affects my use of Facebook as a news feed. 


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