Social Networks and Email

April 27th, 2014

Social Network, (noun). A service designed to email you updates about things you and your friends do on the social network.

It’s crazy to me why social networks think I need to be emailed about activity that takes place on the social network. The whole reason I signed up for the social network is so that I had a place to go to see that activity, if/when I wanted to see it. Not because I wanted to fill my inbox with notifications about things that happened on social networks.

My “favorite” message from this week was a notification from Twitter telling me about my activity on Twitter this week: I posted a single tweet.

Now, I will admit, sometimes email notifications can be useful, like if someone sends you a message that you might need to respond to. Maybe you want to have control over what photos you are tagged in and would like to be notified about that.

But why on earth do I need to be emailed about my own activity?

"Also send me emails when: I subscribe to new channels." – YouTube notification settings.

I’m not advocating that these options need to go away. By all means, if you want to offer email notifications for your social network, you’re free to add them. It’s (apparently) trivial to do, and I’m all for giving people options and control. I am, however, advocating that these not all be ON by default.

Signing up for any website these days tends to be an open invitation to your inbox. Social networks inundate users with email reminders, no doubt causing the overloaded users to even further disregard their already full inboxes for longer periods of time.

If you need to email your users to remind them they signed up for your service… you’re doing it wrong.

In the past two months I have even begun to receive emails from companies trying to remind me that I unsubscribed from their email notifications… I kid you not.

Ford, asking me to verify my email (multiple times), though I didn’t give it to them.

Microsoft, asking me to re-subscribe:

Finally, I decided to take a quick look at some of the social networks I subscribe to, just to get an idea of their notification settings.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but Facebook (currently) has 39 different notifications which can come to you via email. Google+ has 32, Twitter has 21, and LinkedIn has 18. I have none of these boxes checked, but I’m pretty sure they still send me email anyway.

Here’s my full list:

I can’t help but wonder how many people simply mark these emails as spam, possibly the easiest and most inefficient way to make sure you never have to see them again. The geek inside me cringes to think of the wasted internet traffic, the spam filters learning from bad data sets, and countless hard drives at Google filled with nothing but messages from Facebook.

Ultimately, this is nothing but a cranky geek lamenting the difficulties of maintaining Inbox Zero. But, like many annoyed and irritated people before me, I have a dream. A dream that some day we can put this petty promotional pestering behind us. We aren’t going to create a utopia based on email notifications. Believe me, that timeline does not end well.

So maybe this is a plea to all future endeavors. When the current regime of networks crumbles under their overloaded SMTP servers to make way for new and glorious methods of sharing and collaborating, maybe… just maybe email notifications won’t be on by default.