Notification Day

Steve Gillmor
Liner Notes
Published in
3 min readOct 8, 2015


On October 1, 2015 something amazing happened. It’s been a few days since the event and I frankly can’t remember much of the details of the Notification Summit. @John Borthwick and I had assembled as many of the developers, business executives, and just plain smart people we could attract to betaworks in New York. For quite some time we’ve had the feeling notifications was a game-changer, upending UI trends and workflow in the rush to absorb the mobile agenda.

Notifications bring their own immutable rules to the tech party. These electric objects sit at the cusp of alert, interruption, influence, viral, cloud, social, private, and most decisive — action. Any one or several of these elements disturb the fabric of discovery, serendipity, search, collaboration, politics, government, knowledge acquisition, sharing, and squirrelling of same. Each vector is a binary choice of the way forward, and the inevitable outcome of these new actions overturn industries and accelerate mass behavior.

If music is the interruption of silence, it becomes the template of rhythm which begets dynamics around context. The different forms of notifications emerge: the direct message, the social gesture, the forming of guilt by @mention association, the standup quecard comedy of tweetstorms, the insolence of laying out of the track. Some of my favorite notifications take the form of an arched eyebrow, a blatantly promotional retweet with tinges of irony, a carefully edited message that signals its value by what is left out and who is decorated by @mentions. This is email on steroids, the (b)cc: and to: lines sharded into the nuance of the elastic boundary of private and public.

At this intersection you can see these powerful tools pooling: @mentions, deep linking, the headless continuum of cross-app development. Each day new services appear that add to the feature set of this NaaS — Notifications as a Service. The core driver of app service multiplexing is the immutable fact that, short of overwhelming us with verbosity, aggressive marketing, or lack of understanding of the social grace of this new platform, you will remain active in multitasking memory. In turn, your silence and social nods create a roadmap for optimizing the intuitive connections that drive our imaginations and therefore innovation.

This is the amazing I spoke about earlier, where the group or hive mind that sits there in multiplexed memory lights up. This was early in Notification Day, where enough speakers and back and forth from the audience melded together in an interactive stew that mined the 50 or so people in the room. Enough time had passed to make clear the depth of these resources, so that the boundaries between speaker and questioner, host and audience, notification and payload morphed into something electric and quite breathtaking. It is surely on the recording of the moment, but no matter; the knowledge of that lurking possibility is enough to keep us engaged through fatigue, boredom, resistance to the lure of the new, whatever unfloats our boats. None of that matters.

Once that occurs, it reshapes the room, the conversation, the strategy. Without really knowing it, we created — all of us — the opportunity for this feeling to emerge at any time and across place. Gone was the stage, the cameras, the stream, the experts, the interns; in its place the possibility of exploring the unexpected across competitors, teacher and student alike. Yet it’s not some epiphany, but rather the slow steady energy of invention. I see this in many instances, most fascinating today Medium’s addition of @mentions and harvesting of notifications and deep linking in the enhanced mobile client. We’re seeing organic exploration of our future in an open and continuous reinvested culture. Wow.