What is a notification?

Suggestion: Add some language to the top of the notifications tab of the preferences page to briefly explain the nuances about what Discourse means by the word “notification”. A first attempt:

Below, control which kinds of events you’ll receive notifications and how you’ll receive them. You can also control the notification level for categories and tags here.

By default, notifications will first appear as an indicator above your avatar. You can also turn on desktop notifications if you want to be alerted when the app is open but not in focus. But if you’re not around, we’ll email you for the important ones.

In the various notification drop downs (like the one in the screenshot below), it may also be nice to link to the notifications preferences page to help people discover this.

Visit your notification preferences to refine how you receive notifications.

I did a little “hallway usability testing” yesterday. After showing someone the how they could subscribe as “Watching First Post” to the tag for the new weekly newsletter we’re piloting, I watched him click around various places to try and grok what these words in the dropdown really mean: “You will only be notified of the first post in each new topic in this tag”.

At first I thought he was confused about the differences between watching and tracking, etc. But after a minute or two I asked him to speak aloud about what he was doing as he was exploring the preferences pages.

In the end, what stood out to me was his statement that, “what I’m really to figure out is ‘what is a notification?’ Is that a desktop notification? an email? what does notification really mean?

I then pointed out this part of one of the pages he had clicked through (the Emails tab of the preferences page):

That helped to clarify, but he spent most of his time on the Notifications tab while exploring, which is what led me to suggest that we add this language to that tab.

Another observation is that he did not ever click on the nested Categories or Tags submenus under Notifications until I pointed them out, which is why I suggested also including links to them in the verbiage above.


The icon for the notifications tab is a speech bubble. That used to be a fourth button, along side the avatar, list, and magnifying glass. The notifications menu and the user menu were merged, to save space, but the icon was kept for every other reference to Notifications.

Why don’t we change the icon to a silhouette with a dot next to it? Sort of a stylized representation of how it shows up in the UI, like it used to be.

I still don’t understand what Discourse notifications are.
First, the user menu displays a long list of events, which you can’t clear.
There’s a “dismiss” button, which doesn’t dismiss anything, just marks all items unread.
This behavior makes it really a log, not a notification list. This is also inconsistent with how notification system work on other platforms. There’s always a way to clear the list, and to choose which events should trigger a notification.

Did you read the text @mcwumbly proposed, above? Does that explain it for you?

Also I edited the copy for “in this tag” to say “with this tag” since a tag isn’t exclusive like a category is.

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Yes, I read @mcwumbly’s description, but didn’t make it any more clear to me.

The only kind of event the Notification Preferences allows me to switch off is Likes.
It doesn’t let me choose how I’ll receive the notifications.

Then, my main source of confusion is a preconception of what a notification is. To me, it’s a short informative note, which once dismissed, doesn’t bother me again. It’s not an email and definitely it’s not a complete log of all my actions.

Knowing, that every time I click the avatar menu, I’m gonna see a long list like the one below, is quite stressful. IMO it’s just too much persistent information for the end user.

It sounds like this is your personal preference, so maybe you could change your site’s CSS so the “read” style is invisible / hidden?

Otherwise you could perhaps pick another free open source software that works more to your liking?


@codinghorror, I love Discourse. I was just trying to explain the reason why the notifications may be a source of confusion.
I’m used to a notification system on a Mac, which is very unobtrusive. This makes me biased towards it.

Thank you for the tip on hiding notifications with CSS.

.notifications ul li.read {display: none;}
completely removes the dismissed and read notifications from the menu and resizes the list accordingly.
You can still see the complete notification log at [your-domain]/u/[user-name]/notifications