Notifications For Better Engagement

One thing I’ve learned repeatedly over the years is that good notification systems create great engagement and encourage habitual users.

The biggest problem with any product/service is getting people to come back. “Drive by” users aren’t terribly difficult. Google will bring you those with a little work. However your business comes from users coming back repeatedly. Those are you’re true “users”. They are the ones who will bring others.

Today, I think Facebook and Twitter are the perfect example of companies who understand and utilize this strategy in a way that amazes me. Lets look at this:

Facebook

They are the biggest, so I’ll go through it first. The first method of notification is the obvious alerts when logged into the site. You can keep it open and use it as a client, it works great. Facebook also has one of the best email notification systems on the net. You can reply to a comment or message by simply replying to the email. No “app” to install. Even an old Blackberry can participate. Even people where Facebook is restricted but email works can participate (stereotypical corporate office). Email is the worlds greatest API. They take full advantage of it.

On top of that Facebook apps have push notification for smart phone users. Facebook also supports SMS notifications. They additionally support XMPP (Jabber) so you can use a desktop client with their messaging service.

One thing I never understood is why they don’t officially support and continue their desktop notification service. With a trivial amount of work it would be an even better retention method. However the API’s are clearly there for client support (several use it).

Facebook doesn’t exploit this system for marketing or PR. It’s just a useful way to interact with their system. It’s an interface. It’s an API.

Twitter

Twitter is another company that gets notifications. The most obvious again is their website. Secondly their apps support push notifications. Twitter is also pretty good about email notifications however they don’t accept replies over email. They also support SMS (i.e. “Text follow raccettura to 40404”).

Twitter lastly has an open API and even supports desktop apps like Twitter for Mac and TweetDeck. They encourage their users to stay on constantly and keep up. It’s part of what keeps users addicted to the service.

Again, they don’t market. They just keep users interacting.

Google+, Quora, etc.

I won’t judge Google+ just yet, they are pretty new still. Quora does a pretty good job with notifications however the balance between annoying and useful hasn’t quite been met, at least in my opinion.

It’s easy to overlook this “detail”, but for many users, this is the interface, realize it or not.
I won’t

Skype For iPhone

I’ve been a Skype user since 2004 when I first fell in love with the service. I used it a fair amount in college as a way to study for tests and work on programming projects with other classmates without having to sit in a library for hours. It was convenient to each code from home or dorm rooms, have a TV on, talk without a librarian getting upset etc. I can recall 7hr plus Skype to Skype sessions that didn’t cost anyone a dime.

I still find myself using Skype from time to time because it’s convenient, other people use/prefer it, and quite frankly, it “just works”. Not to mention a PC headset is often cheaper than one for your landline phone making it great for long calls when you want to be hands free and not use speakerphone.

iChat doesn’t compare either since it doesn’t support calling phones and isn’t nearly as good at dealing with firewalls and poor bandwidth, two frequent problems in college.

Skype for iPhone is rumored for next week. I expect it will only work when connected to WiFi and will otherwise be pretty similar to the desktop client. I’d also expect it to be in “beta” until the summer when push notification is released.

If it works, it will be awesome.

For anyone wondering: Yes, I tried Fring, and no it never worked for me. From what I can tell I’m not the only one.

iPhone OS 3.0 Preview Next Week

Apple has an event scheduled for next week which is presumed to be a preview of iPhone OS 3.0.

Want/Expect:

  • Copy/paste – Duh
  • Push Notification – Apple promised this back in the fall and has yet to deliver. I suspect we’ll at least hear something about it. I’m hoping it will still happen, though I wouldn’t say it’s a guarantee at this point.
  • Email Search – Search would be insanely useful and is a critical link for heavy email users. I think it’s likely iPhone OS 3.0 will have search among some enterprise friendly features.
  • Home screen Update – The current home screen was never designed for managing a multitude of apps that is now common (it was designed before Apple had an API). I see an overhaul in the cards 3.0.
  • WebKit Update – A lot of work has taken place with WebKit/Safari. I suspect some new stuff will trickle over to the iPhone including a JS engine update.
  • Video – The iPhone camera is capable of making video, Apple just doesn’t support it via software. Apple may remedy this now. Jailbroken apps already support it.
  • Tethering – Bluetooth and USB. Very likely since this is additional revenue for AT&T.
  • MMS – Lots of user demand for it (though I don’t really get why). I suspect if this happens video recording support is inevitable.
  • Flash Subset – Either a true subset of flash mainly to allow playing of h.264 video. I still highly doubt we’ll see support to play VP6 simply because it will kill battery life quicker than most users would appreciate. It also needs the ability to disable so flash ads in Safari don’t impact battery life. Apple could also take the approach of having a YouTube like partnership with more video providers since all people care about is video anyway.
  • Tons of little things – Apple always does this. I don’t expect iPhone OS 3.0 to be any different.
  • Desktop Support – As I mentioned before, the ability to run apps on your desktop. Not really expecting this, but I’d like it.
  • Desktop Sync – Lots of apps would like the ability to sync with their desktop counterparts. Currently they have to do this via WiFi and it’s not a great experience.

Those are my top guesses/expectations from the user perspective. From the developer perspective I’d expect a few new API’s to go with whatever happens up above and perhaps a few small surprises. I think the next generation of iPhones is likely to be sporting a multi-core processor though I’m not sure if Apple will say anything next week that would effectively confirm that so they don’t kill any of the iPhone launch buzz.

Edit [3/16/2009 @ 9:40 PM EST]: Added Desktop Sync

Where Is iPhone OS 2.3?

I’m somewhat perplexed with Apple’s iPhone SW update scheme since 2.0 was released. Apple has been somewhat erratic in it’s feature set and release schedule as of late. 2.0.x was obviously about big bug fixes and performance issues. 2.1.x was also largely bug/performance fixes plus a few enhancements like Genius playlist and usability enhancements. 2.2 was about small enhancements, street view, and bug fixes (mainly for Safari) getting the 2.x platform stable. Apple has been promising a push notification system since 2.0 but has been radio silence as to the status of this feature that developers have been waiting for.

Since 2.2 was released November 21, 2008, there have been no 2.3 seeds released to developers as far as I’m aware of. Apple needs to distribute seeds before a release to give developers a chance to update their applications as appropriate. Leaks are inevitable as various sites love posting this info and with enough developers, the odds of someone breaking NDA is inevitable. Considering there have been no leaks, it’s pretty safe to say 2.3 is either still under heavy development to immature for even a developer seed, or it doesn’t exist.

I suspect Apple has most of it’s engineers working on iPhone OS 3.0 which will likely launch with the next generation of the iPhone this summer. I suspect that’s when push notification will be addressed. Apple will need to give developers at least 2 months to play with it partially to shake out the bugs, and partially so it has some utility by the time of release.

This will be an interesting thing to spin in a positive light since Apple promised it would be seeded to developers in July 2008 and in users hands by September 2008. It was subsequently pulled from iPhone OS 2.1 and considered a bit immature by developers who played with it. That was back in August 2008.

I’m thinking there might be an iPhone OS 2.2.1 between now and June to hold perhaps a few bug fixes. I think the odds of an iPhone OS 2.3 release are growing slimmer due to June/July rapidly approaching.

I’m not alone in my thoughts. John Gruber thinks the same for the most part though is slightly more optimistic on the timeline.