Why do people uninstall apps? Appiterate conducted a survey and discovered one reason stands above the rest: annoying push notifications.
This probably shouldn’t come as a big surprise: just about any app you download these days wants to send you notifications. The vast majority of them are promotional, harassing you to open the app. In many ways, one of mobile’s most powerful features is turning into a spam factory.
Appiterate’s advice is common sense: “The good practice here would be to make the notifications absolutely useful for the user.” They should be valuable to you.
One of our most popular features at Breaking News is push notifications, but the same breaking stories aren’t valuable to everyone. So in the new version of our iOS app — Android coming soon — we enabled you to “alert” any topic you want: cities, countries, companies, people and even specific stories. We also write the notifications so you can read them without having to open the app.
So far, the new custom alerts feature is tremendously popular, and users are creating their own personal alert services. We put together this tip sheet on how to best personalize push notifications. And coming soon: even more features to make your push alerts absolutely useful at the speed of Breaking News.
As NASA’s Maven rocket launched toward Mars, we published a breaking news update. A few minutes later without our knowledge, Twitter resent our @breakingnews tweet as a notification to an unknown number of users as part of the ongoing test. Within moments, we began receiving complaints blaming @breakingnews for notifying them without permission.
Within an hour, the complaints numbered into the hundreds. Many said they reported @breakingnews as spam or blocked our account for interrupting them with an insignificant story. A few said they were pleasantly surprised by the story.
We contacted Twitter to ask to be removed from the experiment, and we’re contacting everyone who complained to apologize for receiving a notification from us without permission.
We’re intimately aware of how people don’t like being spammed with breaking news stories that don’t matter to them. In fact, we just created a product that aims to solve that problem: a personalized Breaking News service, available on iOS and BreakingNews.com, where you can control the news you want to see.
As we’ve learned over the last few years running @breakingnews, push notifications are different than Tweets in a timeline. Due to the interruption factor, there’s a higher expectation of importance and relevancy. That’s why our new Breaking News app enables users to set their own custom alerts for topics and stories that matter to them.
@BreakingNews@Twitter I have a news app on my cell for a reason. And it’s not so Twitter can send me mandatory news notifications. #kthx
We’re huge fans of Twitter — in fact, I believe we were the first news organization that began with a Twitter account — and the Twitter Media team has been very responsive to us. We just hope today’s experiment isn’t a sign of where Twitter wants to take the news – back in time.
Breaking News’ own Stephanie Clary (@sclary) shares her favorite five alerts in our new iOS app. She receives a push notification the moment there’s a new development with the NSA story, Apple or the media industry. She also gets alerted when news breaks in Seattle or South Korea.
Let us know your favorites by tweeting or posting on Tumblr with the hashtag #myBreakingNews. Learn more about how you can get the most out of Breaking News’ custom alerts.
Tips on how to customize your Breaking News alerts
For several weeks, our team has been using the new Breaking News app — now live on iOS with Android coming soon — and we’ve learned some nifty tricks and tips for getting the most out of the new features. Let’s start with alerts.
Alerts power your real-time push notifications. While our editors still send out alerts for the biggest stories, you can configure you own alerts for a wide range of topics and stories. The moment there’s a significant breaking update, you’ll get pinged. You can set an alert for an ongoing story on the fly — just tap the alarm button — or configure topics in advance by searching for them:
Here are some of our favorite topics to alert:
Cities - The most common alert on all of our of phones is where we live. I searched for “Seattle,” tapped the bell icon and added it to my list of five alerts. Whenever there’s a big breaking story in my town, it triggers a push notification. Keep in mind we’re not a local breaking news source — that’s your favorite TV station or newspaper — but we’ll alert you when something big is breaking.
Countries - Add a country to get alerted whenever major news breaks there: Australia, Israel, China, Finland and India are just a few countries our users have alerted so far. If you alert a topic with lots of updates, i.e. “United States,” we’ll warn you:
Companies - If you work for a large company that’s often in the news — say, Microsoft or Boeing here in Seattle — then alerting it in Breaking News is a great way to keep track of major developments. A few folks on our team are following Apple (the most popular alerted topic so far) and Google. Again, we’re covering larger breaking developments, and not every company update.
People - You can track prominent people in the news by alerting their names. For example, Hillary Clinton or Elon Musk are popular options. Here’s what it looks like as a push notification:
Markets - If there’s shaking in the US financial markets, you’ll receive an alert with the “markets” topic. Other handy business topics to add to your alerts: earnings and mergers & acquisitions.
Air travel - If you’re a frequent business traveler, then search for “air travel” and add it to your alerts. Get pinged about major airport delays, emergency landings and any issue that sparks significant flight delays.
Science - One of the most popular alerted topics is science, averaging around three updates a day. Most are focused on space, such as “New study: There are at least 8.8 billion stars with Earth-size planets in the Milky Way.” Whoa.
Media - We work in the media industry here at Breaking News, and this topic is one of our favorites. We’re alerted whenever there’s a breaking development in the world of media, spanning television, digital, newspapers and magazines.
Earthquakes - For news and seismology junkies, the “earthquakes” alert is a great way to instantly learn of a significant quake anywhere on the planet. You can also alert severe weather topics like “hurricanes” and “tornadoes,” too.
There’s a just a few of the thousands of topics you can alert. For now, you can alert up to five at the same time, and we’ve made it easy to swap out old topics for new ones. If you don’t want push notifications bothering you at night, head over to settings and set up your quiet time.
Let us know your favorites by tweeting or posting on Tumblr with the hashtag #myBreakingNews.
We’re looking for a Seattle-based associate editor
Breaking News has an opening for a full-time associate editor based in Seattle. We’re looking for a Twitter-addicted journalist with a knack for quickly discovering stories, vetting them on deadline and smartly condensing it all into well-written alerts.
Ideal candidates will enjoy working in a vibrant, fast-paced startup environment that blends editorial and technological innovation. This is the best of both worlds: a startup that loves to break the mold, supported by a large media organization who gives us the freedom to invent.
This is an evening/night shift (~2-11 p.m.), which means you’ll see sweeping sunsets over Elliott Bay from NBC News’ new office in the Columbia Tower. Apply right here.
We’re excited to announce a brand new version of our free iOS app and BreakingNews.com site rolling out today that let you decide what’s breaking news to you.
Fueled by mobile phones, the volume of breaking stories has grown immensely. In fact, it seems like just about everything is #breaking these days, factual or otherwise. The more stories are breaking, the less they matter to you.
That’s why we’ve reinvented Breaking News around you. We’ve combined the lightning-fast speed and rumor-free reliability of our editorial team with powerful new features to enable you to control what you want to see. When you open the app or visit the site, you’ll see a real-time feed of everything by default. Then you can personalize on the fly, no registration required:
Alert - Inside the app, tap the alarm bell above an item and you’ll get real-time push notifications whenever news breaks about that specific topic. You can also search for your favorite topics to alert (swipe to the right). For example, here’s what I’ve alerted on my phone:
Seattle - Where I live football - I love football media - Media industry news NBCUniversal - Our parent company Elon Musk - I’m a fan
Whenever a significant story breaks in any of these topics, I receive a push alert. I glance at the phone and I’m instantly up to date. For now, you can set up to five alert topics at the same time. By default, our editorial team will also send you push alerts for the biggest breaking stories.
Mute - Conversely, if you don’t think something is breaking news, you can hide it. We’ve heard the complaints thousands of times: “That’s not breaking news!” Now you’re in control.
You can mute the obvious annoyances — for me, I muted Miley Cyrus — as well as unwanted stories that are overwhelming your feed. I’ve also muted tragic stories that became emotionally taxing over time as well as to avoid spoilers for big live events that I’m recording on TV (i.e. the PGA Championship).
There is one caveat: if you’ve muted a topic that suddenly becomes a very big story, our editors will alert you anyway. We discovered that users don’t want to miss out when big news breaks.
Whoa! - We’ve never been a fan of a “like” button next to a breaking story, so we’ve created something new. When you’re surprised by a breaking update, tap the “Whoa!” button to register your reaction with other users. You can also choose to share the update seamlessly on social media, email, SMS or read-later services. As you “whoa” updates in real-time, you help power a list of the most surprising stories, photos and videos at the bottom of the feed.
You can also pinpoint breaking alerts on a map (swipe to the left in the app), save topics to keep track of them and receive occasional “editor’s notes” with inside guidance around conflicting or inaccurate social media reports. Stay tuned for an updated Android app with these new personalization features, coming soon.
If you have any questions, take a look at our FAQ page, send us a tweet to @breaking or drop us a note via BreakingNews.com. And if you didn’t watch it already, play our entertaining two-minute launch video starring Arthur Roberts (above).
(Post by @corybe. A huge thanks to our entire team for creating the new Breaking News!)
Q - When is the updated Android app coming out? A - Around the end of the year.
Q - What about Windows Phone and Blackberry? A - We’ll tackle a Windows update after we get Android out the door. Sorry, we’re not planning on offering a Blackberry app. :(
Q - Can I sync my personalization settings across the app and website? A - Not yet. That’s coming soon.
Q - Why did you only offer five topic alerts? I want more! A - We wanted to start slow and see what happens.
Q - I’ve received a push notification for a story I didn’t alert. What happened? A - Our editors send alerts for the biggest stories in addition to your own custom alerts. These “big story alerts” will also override any topics you’ve muted. If you like, you can turn them off in the “settings” menu.
Q - I’ve alerted a topic but I’m not getting push notifications. What’s happening? A- First, go into settings>notification center on your device to ensure Breaking News’ alerts are active. If that’s not the problem, it could be because the latest development was not significant enough to trigger an alert. Or our editors may have mistakenly not included that topic in the update.
Q - Why are some items bold in my feed? A - To make it easier to scan. A darker background means it’s more important, as judged by our editors. The bold text signifies that you’ve either alerted or saved a topic associated with it.
Q - What are “Editor’s Notes?” A - We’re always evaluating breaking stories behind the scenes, and now we’re sharing some of our findings when there’s conflicting information or inaccurate details circulating on social media. It’s a way for us to offer editorial guidance.
Q - Who are your editors and what do they do? A - Here they are. They publish everything you see, night and day. Learn more about how we balance speed with rumor control.
Q - What happens if I alert AND mute the same topic? A - Aren’t you silly? The alert will override the mute.
Q - I follow you on Twitter. Why do I need your app? A - You can define your own Breaking News by controlling the stories you want to see, both in the feed as well as push alerts. Also, we publish a lot more inside the app compared to @breakingnews.
Q - Who owns you? A - We’re part of the NBC News Digital Group. However, our editorial team operates independently to ensure our coverage doesn’t show preference to any news organization.
Q - How does my news organization become a tipping partner? A - Learn more right here.
We’re putting the finishing touches on a brand new BreakingNews.com and app, rebuilt from the ground up around you. It’s been a huge project for us over the last six months, and we can’t wait to launch. If you’re interested in getting a heads-up — we’re close! — then sign up right here.
Why we’re focused on ‘time saved’ not ‘time spent’
First it was pageviews, now “time spent” has become the prevailing metric of success at many news organizations. “The fundamental challenge facing newspapers is to increase the time people spend on their content,” proclaimed Google Chief Economist Hal Varian this week. “More time reading the newspaper online translates into more online ad revenue.”
Poynter has even come up with a number. “Of the people who did not finish reading a story [on a tablet], they read for an average of 78.3 seconds before leaving the story entirely,” explains Poynter’s Sara Dickenson Quinn. “We’ve been calling this the ‘bailer’s point.’”
We had a bit of an epiphany at Breaking News after re-reading Clayton Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma.” Christensen explains that the true fundamental challenge of a company is to understand the job the customer wants to get done, and design products and brands that fill that need.
Just getting people to spend more time consuming your product doesn’t necessarily accomplish a job for a user; in fact, it may be creating a problem. People check their smartphones 150 times a day on average, and trying to force them to spend more time with your site and app may run exactly counter to their goal of quickly getting the information they need.
"Time spent" is a measure of consumption, not necessarily satisfaction. Similar to cranking up pageviews with slideshows, it’s susceptible to gimmicks that ignore what consumers are trying to accomplish, especially on a mobile device. For example, Poynter recommended leaving "gold coins" — a pullout quote or visual element that keeps the reader engaged — at those tablet "bailer’s points" to try to entice people to continue reading. Why not write those stories tighter in the first place? Or at varying lengths controlled by the reader? How about personalization to target the most meaningful stories to users? Or just certain facts? What about quick-and-easy ways to connect with friends and participate?
At Breaking News, we discovered that most users visit our apps in quick hits at high frequency. Given the short, instant nature of Breaking News and the massive shift to mobile — as well as listening to our users — we came to the conclusion that focusing on the consumer goal of “time saved” trumps the newsroom goal of “time spent.” People are busier than ever, and the volume of real-time information is growing exponentially. If we’re hyper-efficient at giving people just the news that matters to them, we save them time. And that helps solve a very modern problem.
We can’t open Google Analytics and find neat and tidy metrics for accomplishing consumers’ jobs. But there are a variety of satisfaction tools like the Net Promoter Score that can be combined with mobile metrics like DAUs (daily active users), retention/churn, organic virality and app store reviews to get a good sense of how well we’re meeting consumers needs.
Clearly “time saved” isn’t for most news organizations, but focusing on a job-to-be-done shifts our thinking to creating utility for people. If we’re successful, users will recommend our products to their friends, and they’ll keep coming back. That satisfaction will drive advertising dollars as well open up other potential sources of revenue.
As for Breaking News, our focus on “time saved” has led to a six-month project to meet our mobile consumers’ needs more than ever. Stay tuned for a big new release that takes these ideas to heart.