I very recently had a conversation with a client about implementing email notifications for his online community built with my software. There was, of course, an urge in him to notify users every time the equivalent of a thread is created or responded to. There was also the need for an email to go out as soon as a personal message was received.

For the latter, I was on board; but for the former, I had to make a point– no matter how subjective. My point was that I will unsubscribe from any site’s mailing list the minute I get an email with things I don’t care about. Emails are on the level with text messages for me, arriving on my phone with an envelope notification, pining to pull me away from reality the minute it arrives. And it’s not that my time is money, but because I loathe spending time reading random minutia that I hate your everyday “engaging” emails (especially when they arrive every day).

Needless to say, I made the point that when designing a product and how it will send out notification emails, it’s important to remember:

  • You’re not the only site that any given user is a member of.
  • People have vastly varying degrees of tolerance for emails meant only for getting them to your site again.
  • Don’t automatically opt users in. Unless your software is going to take me out to dinner and learn my quirks first, don’t assume you know how I like my email notifications. Instead, give me the choice and demonstrate why your notifications will be useful to me.

On a related note, LunchTable just got email notifications today, unsent until you subscribe.

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