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People are complaining that Facebook is ‘ruining its products’ with an onslaught of relentless notifications

People have reported seeing more and more notifications from Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 12:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 12:28pm

By Zoë Bernard

Cesar Kuriyama, who created the popular app “1 Second Everyday,” is sick of Instagram.

“Telling Instagram ‘no’ is like a part time job,” Kuriyama says.

Kuriyama is referring to Instagram’s repeated requests to send push notifications, the regular alerts sent to users about activity relating to their account. While the idea behind push notifications is that they keep users tuned in to relevant information, people are complaining that the alerts are not only relentless, but also unnecessary.

“It’s like harassment,” says Kuriyama. “It’s like, ‘Please stop trying to get me to click ‘yes’ on notifications when I’ve told you ‘no’ like five times already.’”

Notifications on both Facebook and Instagram (which is also owned by Facebook) have inspired plenty of criticism in the past. But in recent months, people are complaining that they’re only getting worse.

After Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, early Instagram employee Greg Hochmuth said he noticed a shift in the company’s direction. At its core, Instagram had always been centred on its users, said Hochmuth. But after Facebook bought the company, Instagram’s focus gradually shifted from user experience to a different point of focus: Metrics.

“Increasing usage was key,” said Hochmuth. “The motivation for why things were added to the product became very different than the user-centric framing which I think Instagram used to have.”

That Instagram had become increasingly preoccupied with garnering new users under Facebook’s newfound ownership wasn’t all that surprising, said Hochmuth.

A controversial memo from Facebook vice president Andrew “Bos” Bosworth that was leaked earlier this year emphasised the company’s quest for growth, by whatever means necessary.

“[G]rowth tactics are how we got here,” he wrote. “[...] We do have great products but we still wouldn’t be half our size without pushing the envelope on growth.”

“It’s all about getting you to respond: What can they do to keep you in the app?”

“Facebook, for better or for worse, is extremely metrics driven,” said Hochmuth. “Once it picks a metric, it will optimise that metric to a tee. Over time, that’s what happened to Instagram more and more. It’s all about getting you to respond: What can they do to keep you in the app?”

In recent months, Facebook’s answer to this question seemingly lies in a barrage of pesky notifications from its two leading social media sites. While the motivation behind notifications is to presumably engage users, people are complaining that both companies’ alerts have begun to rub them the wrong way.

For Steven Schlafman, a New York-based investor at Primary Venture Partners, Instagram’s repeated requests to send notifications have been an enduring source of tension.

“Whenever I opened the app, I’d find the ‘turn on notifications’ prompt every single time,” said Schlafman. “I kept saying no, but then, sure enough, there it was again and again: Turn on notifications! Turn on notifications!”

Schlafman estimated that Instagram asked him to turn on notifications at least 50 times. Finally, Schlafman said he decided to take a break from the platform.

Schlafman’s point of contention with Instagram is simple: “It’s just not a good user experience,” he said. “They’re clearly not listening to their users. They’re putting their growth goals above their current users’ experience...and it’s like: Blech.”

Issues with notifications aren’t just relegated to Instagram, either.

Influencer Julius Dein, who has 15 million followers on Facebook, said that he’s noticed a gradual decline in the quality of notifications he receives.

“[Since April], I’ve been alerted to far more ‘junk’ notifications,” Dein said. “90 per cent of it is irrelevant — groups I followed years ago, people commenting in groups I followed years ago ...”

Dein said he’s found the deluge of alerts to be so meaningless that he’s given up on them altogether.

“I’m not even checking my notifications anymore at this rate,” he said.

These “junk” notifications have crept into Facebook Messenger’s app as well. It, too, has begun sending out a redundant form of alerts, letting users know that they’re successfully connected to a new friend on the Messenger app.

The notification, which appears as a new message in both Facebook’s primary platform and the stand-alone Messenger app, is such an obvious ploy for attention that Buzzfeed called it “the worst thing on Facebook.”

While notification settings can be managed and changed, the default alert for Facebook’s products is set to harness the maximum amount of noise. When I checked my own notifications, I found that 44 Facebook-connected apps, most of which I had never used, were set to send notifications. By default, Facebook had my profile tuned in to multiple expired fundraising events, 38 Facebook groups, birthday alerts, close friend activity, and its “On this Day” feature.

Because the alerts don’t contain meaningful information, people like Dein are choosing to ignore them altogether, allowing potentially important information to slip through the cracks.

It’s easy to dismiss these notifications as trivial annoyances, but Kuriyama believes there’s something more insidious at stake within Facebook’s product design.

Kuriyama describes Facebook’s incessant notifications as “mind hijacking.”

“Facebook keeps coming up with more pointless things that they need to notify you about,” said Kuriyama. “These are stupid, lazy excuses to send you notifications. It’s pure noise.”

At best, the notifications are irritating; At worst, they’re intrusive.

Former Facebook president Sean Parker once described the company’s notifications as “little dopamine hits” and admitted that the company has wired its product to exploit human psychology. At best, the notifications are irritating; At worst, they’re intrusive.

Joe Fascone, who describes himself as an infrequent social media user, experienced the company’s intrusive tactics firsthand when he deleted Instagram’s app from his phone in February. In his absence, the company reached out via SMS in what Fascone describes as a tenacious attempt to lure him back to the site.

The messages, which Fascone posted on Twitter, inspire a particular strain of internet FOMO: “You have 6 new notifications on Instagram,” the company nudged on Valentine’s day this year.

Between February and May, Fascone said he received at least 15 SMS messages from Instagram.

“The persistence was impressive,” said Fascone.

One wrinkle in Instagram’s outreach process: Fascone said he doesn’t remember ever opting in to receive SMS notifications and that he’d never been contacted by SMS before deleting the app. (Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on this issue.)

“I feel like there is this inclination to push the envelope beyond the users’ practical privacy expectations and to get more engagement,” said Fascone. “It’s a big turn off for me and many others.”

Kuriyama believes that Facebook’s push for deeper engagement is fundamentally misguided.

“Facebook’s badge of honour is how long they can get people to stay on the app,” he said. “It should be the opposite. They should be asking themselves: ‘What’s the value that we add?’”

See Also:
Top tech talent is losing interest in working for Facebook
Facebook made a quiet change to avoid another data disaster
Generation Z is obsessed with this US$20-a-year Instagram alternative

Read the original article at Business Insider