A curious headline caught my attention the other day: “Notifications Are The Next Platform.”
It’s the sort of proclamation you expect from the headline’s publisher, TechCrunch, one of Silicon Valley’s most influential media companies.
Intuitively we know notifications are a big deal. Every single mobile app is built with notifications in mind. It’s almost as if software developers have conspired to think about all the creative and annoying ways they can interrupt our days and nights with beeps, bings, messages and texts.
Now, if you’re someone with the attention span of a gnat, it’s heaven sent. Download 50 apps to your smartphone and suddenly you’ve got a lot going on: Bing! It’s a weather update! Bing! You’ve got mail! Bing! There’s a meeting in 10 minutes! Bing! Bing! Bing!
On the flipside, I suspect most of us are not so excited. In fact, we’re not quite sure why notifications exist and we consciously turn them all off because they’re so %&(@# annoying.
We’re also subconsciously disturbed by the harsh reality of our digital age: we’re constantly distracted and interrupted. We’re interrupted by colleagues in our open plan offices, interrupted by 10 bazillion marketing messages every day, and even interrupted when we’re trying to sleep (big shout out to my four children!).
So the absolute last thing we’re actively seeking is more interruptions – sorry, notifications.
Next platform please
While you uncomfortably hold that thought, the next thing word in the headline to think about is “platform.” If ever there was a glorious, cultish word in the tech vernacular, it’s platform. We love a good platform.
We’ve got operating system platforms, hardware platforms, cloud platforms, browser platforms, storage platforms, runtime library platforms, content platforms, marketing platforms, advertising platforms, mobile platforms, coffee platforms… oh, wait. Make that cafe platforms.
Wikipedia, our definitive go-to for resolving all arguments, illustrates my point. It describes a computing platform as “whatever pre-existing environment a piece of computer software or code object is designed to run within, obeying its constraints, and making use of its facilities.”
Yadda yadda – in other words, platforms let us do things within certain constraints. Think about ye olde wooden soapbox in the public markets – it’s a platform for saying something and influencing people. The constraints might be how far your voice travels, and the number of tomatoes people were carrying that day.
Making sense of the platform mess
So how do we bring these ideas together, and what’s all the fuss about notification platforms?
The short story is you can expect push notification marketing to inspire a wave of rapid innovation – whether you like it or not.
Think about the notification panel on your smartphone as an example. It might become more dynamic in the future – send a text message or post to Facebook within the notification panel itself to save you from a terrible first-world drama, actually stopping to open the messaging app itself.
You can expect more innovation around the Apple Watch and clothes with embedded sensors, too. Companies developing apps or software for these “wearable” devices will be thinking about how they can control, or influence, a new default way of using mobile devices – glancing at notifications.
The Apple Watch is of course a glorified notification panel on the wrist. Sure, it’s pretty, but it’s primary role in life is to feed us a constant stream of beeps, bings and buzzes.
On the upside, there are some worthy applications beyond fitness tracking. It was great to read about the experience of 20-year-old deaf and blind British woman Molly Watt, who uses Apple Watch’s “taptic engine” to help her navigate around town. Different vibrations on the Watch tell her whether to turn right or left.
On the downside, consumers aren’t silly. They’re expecting marketers, or rogue spammers, will wreck everything. Scrolling through reader comments on the TechCruch article I came across this nice bit of insight from a bloke called Scott Robertson: “I think marketers will screw notifications up and have everyone blocking notifications for fear of annoying marketing messages. You can always trust marketing to screw everything up. For e-mail, they brought spam, for websites, banner ads and now re-targeting. And for mobile – notifications.”
Of course, in each of Mr Robertson’s examples we know that solutions exist. We’ve largely controlled spam and blocked banner ads, or simply ignore them.
But when you bring this all together it begs an important question: if we believe notifications have joined the lofty platform ranks, how will it change marketing? How will brands take advantage of this new platform? How will people react to sponsored notifications on their wrist? Will developers develop a notification filter to screen out the dross?
If you’re a pragmatist like me, it’s safe to say the notification platform’s rise will be equal parts fascinating and frustrating. Either way, you can’t ignore it. Google has announced the latest digital tipping point: more Google searches now take place on a smartphone than desktops and tablets combined across 10 countries including the US and Japan.
That means two things: eyeballs love the small screens inhabited by notifications, and marketing budgets always follow eyeballs. Bing!
Mark Jones is chief storyteller + CEO at Filtered Media, a leading brand storytelling agency. Subscribe to The Pioneers, Filtered Media’s newsletter for digital pioneers.
This story was originally published on Which-50. Mark Jones is a guest columnist for the publication.