The Elegance of the Pull Notification

The opinions stated here are my own, not those of my company.

I remember this post in TechCrunch in 2013 called “The Precise Art of Mobile Push Notifications”. This was at a time when mobile apps were developing rapidly and each year brought a significant hardware improvement to the latest set of phones. Even from the very start of the App Store, people were complaining about the number of push notifications.

Unfortunately it hasn’t gotten any better. There are more apps, each vying for your attention. The operating systems have made it better, but haven’t prevented the constant pinging. They’ve just found more types of notifications that you now have to selectively control.

Which is why I’ve found Feedly to be a breath of fresh air. Feedly employs something that I’ll coin the “pull notification”. It’s not about the app telling you something, it is about answering you. It respects your time and your attention.

Feedly is a news reader app, an RSS aggregator at its core. But it also works with Reddit, Twitter, newsletters, and other sources. Everything is brought together with rich features on top (particularly for Pro users like myself).

There are two aspects of Feedly that are great, and the first is around its pull nature. It would be all too easy for Feedly to alert me for every news item, or continually let me know when there’s something to view, but it doesn’t. If the app is not open, I have no idea if there’s anything in the feed.

This is good, particularly for people who may have some anxiety. Some people may feel like they need to read everything, or keep their feed empty. But if the app is out of sight, it’s out of mind. It respects you and when you actively don’t want it open you are not going to feel like you’re missing anything.

With support for additional sources, this is even better. My email inbox has been decluttered, with newsletters and the like going to my news feed so that I can read it when I choose rather than having it sit there.

The second part is in its prioritization and highlight features, which are only for pros. They have quickly become favorite features of mine. I can select certain keywords as having special focus. When I ask for articles, I can immediately get a filtered list of what’s most important. Even with a hundred items, I don’t need to immediately review them all.

Feedly also has an ML-based highlighting feature, where key sentences are pulled out for you. It helps you get the gist of an article faster, if you don’t want to read the whole thing or even if you don’t have time.

At this point I have roughly two hundred sources connected to Feedly, but am able to shift through entries without spending tons of time. More importantly, I can read articles on my terms when I choose rather than the app dictating it to me through push notifications.

While there are some use cases like messaging where you do want to alert the user, it seems to me like many apps should follow in the vein of a pull notification. Let the user come to you, on their terms. Make it as easy as possible to get through your app and let them get back to their lives.

Google Search was created, and succeeded, on the concept of speed. Getting users away from the site as fast as possible was the main goal. However, I see too many apps out there who pursue “engagement” by overloading the user with stuff.

It’s a bad goal, and it leads to a constant background anxiety that they need to handle things immediately. New text? Gotta text back. New email? Gotta read it now.

But for Feedly? Feedly provides a good service, and is confident in itself. It’ll be there when you want it.

This isn’t an ad, I just really like it. I wish more apps would do the same thing, or at least adopt RSS feeds as an alternate.

Social Media Expert -- Rowan University 2017 -- IoT & Assistant @ Google