May 8, 2021

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Why is Clubhouse so addicted to notifications?

5 min read


I’ve learned to dread Clubhouse notifications. They blow my phone dozens of times a day, all hours of the day and night.

My childhood neighbor has just joined the application, do I want to “welcome” them? What about the guy I had three dates with six years ago? Someone is talking about podcasting. Someone else is talking about crypto (there is always someone talking about crypto). Notifications are constant.

Sometimes I wake up to a stream of notifications about conversations I missed because I was sleeping. The worst part is when I try to swipe up a notification and accidentally tap it instead, which throws me straight into the room I was trying to avoid. I cringe at the thought that one day I might accidentally join one of those dreaded “welcome” rooms for an ex or elementary school acquaintance.

It’s not that I don’t like Flag, the buzzing audio chat startup that has exploded in popularity in recent months. Even as an infrequent participant, I enjoyed many of the conversations I participated in. But the app sends a lot notifications. Even by Silicon Valley standards, clubhouse notifications are on a whole new level.

Here are a few times you might see a Clubhouse notification:

  • The moment someone you have already registered in your contact list joined the application

  • When someone you follow in the app starts a room

  • When someone you follow speaks in a room

  • When someone you follow plans a future conversation

  • When a conversation is scheduled for a club you follow

  • If someone you know asks you to join a room

Sometimes notifications come in for no discernible reason: someone you don’t know and don’t follow is talking in a room about a topic you don’t care about and never followed. “It’s like the app pesters me every time someone I follow does anything on Clubhouse,” says Jane Manchun Wong, app developer and Clubhouse user.

A Clubhouse spokesperson noted that the app “new user manualWhich says “Notifications are important in Clubhouse because everything is live, and we encourage you to manage them according to your preferences.” He notes that users who feel like they are getting too many notifications can change their settings to “very rarely.”

It is true that the application allows you to adjust the frequency of notifications, ranging from “never” to “very frequent”. But even seemingly modest notification settings can result in an endless stream of alerts.

I have a hundred users and 10 clubs on the app, far fewer than any of my other social media accounts. Still, I get two or three times as many Clubhouse notifications as any other app. With in-app notifications set to “normal” – the app’s default setting – I received 50 to 60 notifications per day, according to my iOS screen time reports. When I dialed the frequency to “very frequent,” my daily notifications climbed to over 70. Sometimes I would get multiple notifications within seconds of each other, often about the same conversation. In a single week, I received 414 notifications from Clubhouse. It was more than what I had received from any other social app, and hundreds more than any app except Messages.

Even people who are fairly active on the app report being overwhelmed by the number of notifications. So much so that complaining about the frequency of Clubhouse notifications has become something of a meme.

The problem isn’t just that the constant alerts seem spammy and disruptive, but the nature of Clubhouse and its chats that is missing and disappearing is that notifications can end up being a source of stress. “The number of notifications, even when set in the ‘Normal’ frequency level, is quite high,” says Wong, who regularly participates in Clubhouse discussions. “Sure, it keeps me up to date with what my friends and who I am are up to, but it gets pretty distracting and keeps me in a constant FOMO mindset.”

FOMO dynamics are no accident. The nature of Clubhouse, which requires users to log in live, capitalizes on users’ fear of missing out. Forget to check your notifications and you might miss the next Elon Musk moment. It’s a tactic that has been particularly successful over the past year as a global pandemic has turned our social lives upside down. In an age when so many people are hungry for social interactions, the Clubhouse can be a welcome distraction.

Even so, there are consequences when an app goes too far in notifications, says Pamela Pavliscak, Pratt Institute faculty member and author of Emotionally Intelligent Design: Rethinking the Way We Create Products.

“There’s a ton of research on the psychology of notifications, and how they stress us out and leave us overwhelmed,” Pavliscak says. “They let us feel FOMO. They have a physical effect on us which can increase our heart rate, our breathing. So there are psychological effects, there are physical effects … there are a lot of potential layers where notifications can disturb us and in a negative way. “

The fact that Clubhouse is so happy to receive notifications also goes against the idea that our phones really shouldn’t be pinging us all day and night. Features like Apple’s screen time controls and Google’s “Well-being” tools on Android grew out of growing concerns that our devices were taking up too much of our attention. Facebook and other social media apps were among the main culprits, in part because of their reliance on excessive notifications to keep us hooked on their platforms.

But Facebook at least offers pretty granular (albeit somewhat obtuse) notification settings so you can turn off the ones you don’t want. Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok offer detailed notification settings in the same way. Clubhouse does not. You can change the frequency, although the app does not offer an explanation of the difference between “frequent” or “normal” notification levels. You can also “pause” them all together, but there’s no clear way to tell, turn off notifications when your contacts join or turn off notifications from specific users.

Admittedly, Clubhouse is a very different app from Facebook (although Facebook tries to create its own version service). For starters, you don’t have to spend a lot of time physically looking at your screen to use the app. There is also no way to “catch up” if you have missed something. But that’s not a good reason not to give users more control over the notifications they receive. Just adding more detailed settings could go a long way in making the app less spammy. It could also reduce our collective FOMO.





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