UX question, handling notifications

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Ok, just a random note. I was going to post this on Google+ but figured I'd get a broader reach here on my blog. Lately I've run into two sites that handle notifications in a way that kinda bug me. I wanted to see if it bugs you too. I'm also curious if folks think my ideas for improvement makes sense, or if perhaps something else would be better.

The first example I want to share is Stack Overflow. When you have a notification, it modifies an "inbox" icon at the top of the page giving you a numeric indicator of the number of messages. I didn't take a screen shot before I cleared them (and that's the important point I'm getting too) but this is what I'm talking about:

Clicking on it opens a list of your most recent messages. Again, I didn't take a screen shot of this, but unread messages will have a darker background. This is nice as it makes it obvious which messages are new.

So far so good, but the problem I run into is that when you have two or more unread messages, as soon as you click one, the entire list is marked as read. I know this will happen, so it actually prevents me from clicking sometimes as I don't want to respond unless I have time to respond to all of them.

Agreed? Shouldn't it keep the messages as unread until you actually view each page? I can see the flip side to this as well. If you have a butt load and don't want to read them all it would be a pain to click them all, but perhaps a small link in the dropdown could do a "Mark All Read" action.

The next thing that bugs me is Google Plus and their notifications. When you click, you see a nice list:

Notice how you get an abbreviated version of the post/comment in question. If you click, it switches to a detail view, in context, which is slick, but when you click back, it deletes the notification. What ends up hitting me is I simply want to read the comment now but may not want to respond till later. Having it automatically hide is a nuisance if I plan on responding later.

This used to be more of a pain as it was difficult to find the previously read link, but now it is at the bottom of the list. It's still behavior that bugs me though.

So to be clear, I do not think I can do better UX than Stack Overflow or Google (grin), but I was thinking about these behaviors and just wanted to see what others thought as well.

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About Raymond Camden

Raymond is a senior developer evangelist for Adobe. He focuses on document services, JavaScript, and enterprise cat demos. If you like this article, please consider visiting my Amazon Wishlist or donating via PayPal to show your support. You can even buy me a coffee!

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Archived Comments

Comment 1 by Raymond Camden posted on 10/2/2014 at 6:52 PM

Adding my own comment. ;) I just realized - I think Facebook is doing this perfectly. They don't mark all as read when you click on a notification, they have a way to mark all as read, and they have a way to clear individual items out.

Comment 2 by Kevin Boudloche posted on 10/2/2014 at 9:12 PM

I like the way stackoverflow does it because I don't look at it as responded to, I simply see it as it's notifying me that something happened. Once i click on that icon and open it up, I see that things happened. If I want to go back later and react to it, I still can, because notifications stay in that box for a good while.

I don't use google+ or facebook enough to comment on the other two areas.

Comment 3 by Jason Fisher posted on 10/2/2014 at 9:16 PM

Agree with the points you are making, although I find the Facebook implementation incomplete, too, just because the titlebar marker goes immediately back to 'inactive' after opening the list, even if only one (or none) of several messages / posts have actually been read. Makes it tough to tell whether all have been read without going back to open the menu over and over as you work through the list.