Rethinking Instagram Post Notifications

I primarily use Instagram to discover and appreciate artists, and as a source of creative inspiration. There are so many talented creators posting work on the platform — gdbee, thundervoice_eagle, lauracallaghanillustration, renclopes, locastro, arinze are some of my favorites — but the fact that I can only look at my feed a few times a day, coupled with Instagram’s algorithm ensuring I don’t really know what I’ll see when I open the app, leaves me wondering what I’ve missed out on. So I was stoked when Instagram introduced their post notification feature.

Post notifications are easily enabled by tapping the “…” and choosing the aptly named option.

It seemed like a great solution to my frustrations and I turned on post notifications for many of my favorite artists. Then I promptly began to ignore most of those notifications.

I found myself repeating two patterns of ignoring: I would either get a notification in real time but not open it, or I would wake up in the morning to a lock-screen full of post notifications and do nothing about them. This seemingly helpful feature was not helping me at all. I took a closer look at the underlying patterns and interactions of the post notification UX to understand why it wasn’t working for me. Here’s what I found…

  • Immediate & non-immediate notifications — Not every notification warrants a quick response. Instagram post notifications fall entirely into the category of “non-immediate.” I’m almost always busy doing something else when I receive one, which is why I will almost never take action on it.
  • Global clocks — I follow artists from around the world. I get their post notifications in the middle of the night, while I’m asleep. This is obviously not useful.
  • Notification traffic jams & context-switch friction — The prior two issues build up over time and lead to a congested notification list. When I finally get the time to review all of the new content that has been posted to Instagram, the process is not ideal: Tap notification →Instagram is launched →Post is loaded →Look at it →Return to notification list →Repeat for each thing I want to see.
I’m sure these lead to wonderful things, but it’s way past my bedtime.

Once I identified the underlying kinks in the interaction model, I almost immediately came up with a solution—the digest post notification. I bounced the idea off my most favorite person in the world — who also happens to be a world-class designer — who also happens to be my wife — as a sanity check, headed over to the whiteboard for a quick wire framing session, and then jumped into Sketch to do some final design.

The Instagram Digest Post Notification Workflow

This pattern is made up of the following elements:

  • Allow the user to choose between receiving post notifications when the post is made, or in digest form.
  • If digest form is chosen, allow the user to choose when they receive the digest notification.
  • Send the digest notification to the user at the specified time. Indicate the number of new posts in the notification’s message.
  • When the user responds to the notification, navigate to their digest stream so they can view all new posts.
  • Alternately, allow the user to access their digest stream via the profile page.
  • Synchronize what posts have been viewed in the digest stream to keep the data set from going stale.

I realize that Instagram mainly concerns itself with showing us ads. But I don’t think this workflow is at odds with their business goals as they can insert sponsored content into the digest stream. This modification to the post notification feature seems like it strikes a good balance between meeting user’s needs and making money to keep the service alive.

What do you think? Does it hold up? Do you think this UX pattern would be useful for other apps that provide non-immediate notifications?

Product designer, iOS developer, illustrator.

Product designer, iOS developer, illustrator.