Notifications: uselessness of

Ted Gould ted at
Wed Feb 25 18:05:45 GMT 2009

On Wed, 2009-02-25 at 19:14 +0200, Lars Wirzenius wrote:
> Notifications are always interruptions. When something new pops up on
> the screen, it interrupts my thought and my work, and if I'm "in the
> zone" (also known as "in hack mode"), that interruption may cost about
> fifteen minutes of effective work time.

First off, wow.  For Lars version 2.0 I'd recommend working on that
context switch time! :)  Most studies put it at a few orders of
magnitude lower.

> I don't like it when those things happen. All applications should, in my
> opinion, strive to interrupt the user as little as possible, especially
> by default. If the user really wants to be notified of every incoming
> e-mail, that's fine, but by default, in my opinion, the Ubuntu desktop
> should consider the vast numbers of people who use their computer as a
> tool, rather than as a toy. (I'm sure more people use computers as toys,
> but they should then be happy to go through the menus to enable all
> sorts of notifications.)

I think that your categories present a false choice.  I would argue that
most people use their computers to communicate, whether that be for
entertainment or for productive pursuits.  So, when communication that
requires immediate feedback as another human being is waiting on their
response that is important to them.  Sometimes people turn off the
ringer on their phone, but for most that is a rare occurrence.  (off
completely, not vibrate)

> The notifications I would like to see are for serious things: when I'm
> about to lose data, or cause a security breach to happen, or endanger
> someone's health or property. Trivial stuff like new e-mail or IM
> messages or highlighted lines on IRC should be turned off by default.

So, we've thought about that :)  The reality is that you want different
level of notifications at different times.  Sometimes an interruption is
okay and sometimes it certainly is not.  For instance, someone IMing you
"wanna take a long lunch?" while you're giving a presentation to your
boss.  The problem is that it's hard to detect what people's intentions
are when they're using their computer.

We're using a few things, like if the application is full screen to
detect presentations.  Something we'll probably look at is what you've
set your IM status to (for instance "busy").  The Fedora guys have
implemented some of this type of status information into gnome-session,
but unfortunately have not discussed it publicly or spec'd it.  So we're
not building on it today.

> Most applications don't have a way to configure off notifications.

I believe this is incorrect.  Evolution, Pidgin and Rhythmbox all do.


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