A Dark Pattern for the Force of Good?

We all need a little push now and then.

a geek trapped in a cool guy's body presents an article by Jason Kemp 2016-09-12

Do you get a lot of push notifications? You probably got, like, eight just reading this sentence.

Every app seems to want to push something to you.

The Apple App Review Guidelines state, section 4.5.4 (emphasis mine):

Push Notifications must not be required for the app to function, and should not be used for advertising, promotions, or direct marketing purposes or to send sensitive personal or confidential information

What is a push notification from the Facebook app but an advertisement telling you you’re not on Facebook right now? That is why you get them if you allow notifications from Facebook. You likely don’t care that Aunt Mildred likes the same cat-falls-off-the-roof video you do. But Facebook wants you to care, wants you to open the app from that notification, spend five minutes looking posts that include ads so Facebook makes money. The push notification is about them, not about you.

Your human brain is wired to notice notifications and act upon them. Companies know this.

My personal use of notifications has dropped dramatically since I made the conscious choice to disallow them unless I could obviously benefit from that particular app giving me notifications. I think I only have two or three apps with push turned on, out of 10-12 that I use regularly. Writing this post is making me consider turning it off for one of them. (As I was writing this, I did an audit of apps that could notify me: it was much higher than three. I turned a few off but kept most on. I had forgot most of them because I don’t get push notifications regularly from those apps. When I’m flying, Air Canada can push to me, for example.)

It is tremendously freeing to not get notified. I can’t quite pay attention like I was able to before I had a mobile device, but it’s way better without push notifications. I’m sure it would be even better without Twitter and Instagram, but people without vices are boring.

If you’d like to start to live distraction free, I suggest just turning the sound off notifications. There are other tips on timewellspent.io.

I don’t want this to be a polemic against push notifications; they are useful in various contexts. I want Messages notifications, for example. But they are an insidious time suck when not useful, benefiting the app, not the user. We only have so many hours in our life. I am wary of them; we should all be.

And now the rub: should I have them in Kapowski?

Kapowski would have two, maximum, local user notifications. One, to remind you of your upcoming weigh-in; the second, to tell you it’s weigh-in day. Both are optional, of course.

Let’s go through the whole premise of Kapowski again (always useful when in doubt about a feature). Kapowski makes it easy to track progress during a physique transformation by ingraining a habit of measuring yourself once a week and keeping the measurements all in one place. The pressure of a photo shoot in your underwear every week might just make you put the fork down early and exercise just a bit more. (That’s what I’m hoping it does for me.)

The point of Kapowski is to form the habit. The ideal use of Kapowksi is once a week. Take picture; compare from the before photo; close ’til the next week.

Notifications are a good way to nudge people to form a habit. If you’re not used to weekly weigh-ins, then a notification is a modest little reminder.

I have to check if the app can clear notifications on the user’s behalf (I’m pretty sure this is the case).

Then we will have everything I’d like in a notification as a user: an ethereal reminder mid-week: “If you’re not allergic you should eat more broccoli.” Huh? What is this? Oh, yeah! I have a weigh-in on Saturday.

Then, on the day: “You should weigh in today. Why not now?”

I don’t think that’s too pushy.