Notifications are annoying. The funny thing is, they've been annoying for a very long time, if the bubblegum iMac is any clue.
The problem is, how does one go about differentiating "Your printer is low on ink" vs. "i think there's a meteor headed toward your house." There's also the problem that you no longer have one computer. You have several. You're staring at one, you might have another at home or work (depending on who's paying for the time you're currently wasting reading this) and if you're anything like me, you also have the sum total of human knowledge nestling against your left butt cheek. i'm talking about a smart phone, but feel free to keep thinking about whatever disturbing image you were having.
i've been working on this for a bit, and today i was listening to the second segment on Spark that talked about this a bit more. (Sorry for the crappy link, but that's the closest i can get.) If you don't have 12 or so minutes to listen to the segment, they talk about "smart notifications" that are aware of the context you're in and alert you properly. They were basing things off of what you're looking at, but there are other ways i can think of to determine where "you" are and how to get in touch with you without annoying the hell out of you. (Note: This may not be in v.1, my apologies in advance.)
But, that's still the crux of the issue. When someone wants to notify you in meatspace, it's kind of a one off thing. They have to find you and then talk to you. That means either getting up and walking to find you, or picking up the phone and dialing (potentially) several numbers, or sending you an email, fax, or Mariachi band. Granted, even those can be a bit annoying if they happen all at once and could drive you to unfortunate acts.
So, in the era of smart devices, how does one go about preventing people from pouring milkshakes on their
portable faxes laptops? i'm not quite sure.
We've wired things up so that the system knows when you've read a notification, and doesn't display it to you again, but that only works if things stay within our system. The various desktop and mobile notification systems are independent and aren't designed to talk to anyone other than themselves. That means if you've got an Android Phone, an iPad and are running Firefox, depending on how things are wired up, you could see the same notice three times. That could also be very confusing.
(My Mom recently had problems connecting to the web. During that time, she would complain that she was seeing the same email. No, she doesn't always recognize an unread from a read message because new messages usually push down older ones.)
Even if we do manage to get it right, there comes the question of determining what notifications are important. It might be that you're deep into coding something and don't want to be disturbed. In that case, popping up something annoying is a bad idea. Of course, if you're waiting to know if/when there are going to be tickets for an upcoming beer festival that normally sells out in about 2 minutes, you probably want to know sooner than later. Granted, you probably don't want to get that sort of "OMG! PAY ATTENTION NOW!" sort of thing at 3AM after a night of heavy drinking, and you absolutely do NOT want the originating site making those sorts of decisions.
That sort of thing leads to needing a programming language of it's own to deal with, which tells me that it shouldn't be in the main spec. This is why you build simple and extendable. If you need something handled "specially" you need more than one thing handled like that, and if you need "special" you should do it with a dedicated "special" thing. That's how the internet got built.
Still, i'd love having your input on all of this. Of course, we're going to try and formalize things and draft a protocol that goes through all the academic gyrations, but we'd love knowing if we're missing something interesting for you. Likewise, we'd feel better about some of the decisions if we can defend them.
So, have at it. In a perfect world, how would you like notifications to work?