Hey Publishers, Your Push Notifications Suck. Here’s How To Improve Them


You may have gotten a push notification when this article was published. Were you in the mood to read it right now? Or were you standing in the supermarket, juggling three bars of chocolate, six eggs and a package of toast? Did you pick up your phone, rolled your eyes, thinking “I really have to switch off these notifications next time!”? I hope, your eggs are fine (if not, I’m sorry).

That’s how we receive push notifications these days. Hardly at times we need them, often with content, that we don’t find interesting. We asked in our Slack community of digital journalists what annoyes them most when it comes to notifications — and gathered ideas how we can improve them.

This article is part of the weekly challenge in our Slack Community “Digital Journalism Rocks”. We started a Slack team for all those who love digital journalism and love to share their knowledge. Interested in joining us? It’s free. And it rocks. digital-journalism.rocks. Follow the conversation on Twitter: #djrocks.

Why your push notifications are so annoying right now

  1. If you use a lot of different news apps, you can be flooded by (sometimes) irrelevant notifications. (Quote by Christoph Schlemmer)
  2. Many different apps, much nonsense — and usually minutes behind Twitter (Mario Geisenhanslüke)
  3. I don’t need to know who is dead. In 50% of the cases I don’t know those people and in the other 50% it really doesn’t matter to me in this moment. (Lina Timm)
  4. Mobile news notifications aren’t important to me. That says something about me as a power user of social media than the need for updates. (Andrew Nelson)

Here’s what we would love to have instead

Push your content to those who care

Let’s start with the basic, most annoying thing: Not every topic is important to everyone. We really need a solution to filter out the unimportant stuff. An even fancier idea: “I would like a content-based filter for avoiding redundance if I have subscribed to more than one push service (idea by Katharina Krueger).

Push with better access to the whole content

Mockup designed by Thomas Weyres.

Why do we just get a small bit of text and have to click us through the phone if we want to know more?

Thomas Weyres designed the screen above: “I always liked the idea of push notifications I can consume the way it feels native when I am on the train: via my headphones.”

Why don’t you make it easier for users to get the news from their lock screens? Just swipe down and you get the whole article. As an audio piece or text — let users choose.

To go even further: “What if the lockscreen or the homescreen of your smartphone would look like Facebooks newsfeed (meaning ordered, weighted, personalized) with rich cards and way more interactive notifications? No need to dive down into apps — you could interact with a notification right on the first screen of your smartphone.” (Martin Hoffmann)

Rich cards, that provide a photo, a graph, text or video, right from my lock screen. That would be easy access!

Another idea: Notification with buttons! Save an article to your reading list, “Remind me later” or deactivate future notifications (Johannes Klingebiel and Katharina Krueger).

Push when a bomb hits…

We don’t want to be bothered — but real breaking news we’d love to have fast. Before they are on Twitter. Or like this: Pre-sorted by relevance from your friends. “You get a push notification when 10 of your Twitter Followers retweet a story.” (Christoph Schlemmer)

… and it’s only a few blocks away

Old rule: news that happen next to you are more important than on the other side of the earth.

One of our Digital Journalism Rocks members, Kari Cobham, already uses it in Atlanta:

“Since we operate in the local news space at Cox Media Group, we’ve been experimenting more with geo-targeted segments to avoid overwhelming all news app users with alerts that might not be relevant. It’s also allowing us to personalize the language a bit more. WSB-TV in Atlanta has seen some great success with open rates above 40%. We target usually just within a county, unless it’s a city-specific story, but that’s rare. (For some context, Atlanta news is very county-based.) Users only get the alert if they have location services on and have previously opened the news app alert in that specific county.”

But is location the solution? Or do you have to go further? Think about the context a user is in right now, his personal preferences (Martin Hoffmann).

Push when we had chosen to get pushed

Well, we couldn’t really agree on that one…


  • I want to create my own homescreen or decide which topics I am interested in… as well as I want the machine to learn from my behavior. (Mario Geisenhanslüke)

Or don’t personalize?

  • I recently visited the SmartNews app guys, who are using algorithms, but to choose the most important news. They are very careful about personalization, it is only the powerusers who want this, regular folks want something functional and ready to use. (davidtvron)

Maybe the clue is — again — to add some context:

  • I always wonder why I get ALL news in the morning. When I sit in the train in the morning I want to read what happens in politics, maybe weather or traffic. In lunchtime bigger background stories and in the evening culture, sports and events. So let’s called a scheduled notification but customized for my needs. (Jan Oczenasek)

Let us follow stories

We can help the machines learn. We know what we want — so just give us the opportunity to tell that to your super-clever software, so it remembers next time. Like these two ideas:

  • A button on every news article, similar to a like-button, which enables or deactivates push notifications. So you’d give the user 100% control about the notifications he wants to receive. (Johannes Klingebiel)
  • A mobile push alert that take you to the story, but also notifies a user of the writer’s relevant follow-up tweets. I often see reporters sharing tidbits about a story they wrote that didn’t make it into the article, or even elaborating on a point they made. (kmattio)

Actually, there was one app that had this kind of notification implemented. The former Editor-in-Chief of Circa shared his insights in our Community:

At Circa, we were extremely conservative with push notifications, we mostly left it to the user to choose stories to “follow” to receive notifications on and even then we only pushed when the story had a significant update…..for those who preferred a morning/evening digest, you could open the Wire section for a quick rundown of 50% editor chosen “need to know stories” and 50% inbox of updates to your followed stories. That 50/50 split was intended to break the “filter bubble”. Another innovation of ours was when we pushed a notification, we jumped you to the section of the story where that update fit, so you didn’t have to read redundant background information on a story you’ve already read. (Antony de Rosa)

Let me opt out of pushs — intelligently

There isn’t just On and Off. Give some power to the user and let him limit the amount of notifications. If he can choose, how many he want to receive, he’d rather choose some than none and your app is still in the game (and on his homescreen). (Johannes Klingebiel and Christoph Schlemmer)

Push on the right medium

When we talk about notifications — why does it always have to be a news app? Teens hardly use “oldschool news apps”, but Messenger like WhatsApp. And when it should be an App — make sure, that it works synchronized on every device we use. (Mario Geisenhanslüke and davidtvron).

And, for the nerds among us, another feature: “Implement Google news alerts in news apps. So an app could send me every article, which matches the keywords I’ve entered previously.” (Johannes Klingebiel)

And here is an App that is already doing it right

Breaking News

found by Christoph Schlemmer and Ole Reißmann

Two of our Community members mentioned the Breaking News App from NBC. You already can follow topics or regions there what makes it the “best notification user experience so far.”

So, dear publishers, can we maybe have some of these features? We love being informed, really. We don’t want to turn off push notifications. But you can do better. So could you start improving in this area? Please?

Best, your Digital Journalism Rocks Community

Further Readings

found by Christoph Schlemmer

Nieman Lab has a series of great articles on push notifications, one story on the “Breaking News”-App and one story about the New York Times using notifications:
On Push Notifications

Push it — How Breaking News Notifies Users Of News Stories Before They Become Big

Push it — A Look Behind the Scenes of a New York Times Notification

found by Jan Koenig

Betaworks is at it again. They organized a whole event called Notification Summit in October. You can find summaries and videos of all sessions here.

more thoughts by Melody Kramer

Personalized text messages: The new push notification

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Lina Timm

Lina Timm

Digital Enthusiast. Journalism and Startups. Program Manager @MediaLabBayern. Founder of digital-journalism.rocks.