Notifications Are The Next Platform

Editor’s note: Anish Acharya is the co-founder and CEO of Snowball

As the world moves from web to mobile, we’ve been thinking deeply about how people will discover mobile products and services and how we will find and access all the things we need in our digital lives.

Search (largely Google) has long been the access and discovery point for web services. This model was pull-driven (i.e. we proactively find information on websites as we need), and worked pretty well as large category killers (Facebook, Amazon) owned the lion’s share of traffic (and revenue). Google was happily profitable owning the distribution channel. The mobile world started out as a pull-driven model — discovery and access was/is largely driven by a combination of the app store and the “grid of apps.”

This model, however, is starting to break, as some significant trends are driving it to failure. Primary among these is the volume of information that’s now available and regularly accessed; we have hundreds of apps on our phone (though we only actively engage with a handful), and without any real category killers, consumers are swapping new apps in and out at a regular pace.

Most importantly, our engagement is now defined by push-driven notifications rather than the traditional pull-driven experience. We’re “hunting and pecking” through our app grid a lot less; the apps that notify us (without over-notifying to the point of uninstall) are rewarded with our engagement (and our dollars).

Based on this data, our fundamental belief is that notifications represent the future access and discovery point for mobile services — that notifications will be the starting point (or “front door”) for all of the interactions on your phone.

There are a few important trends that are catalyzing this change. As noted above, notification volume is increasing at an unprecedented pace (Snowball data shows over 60 notifications/day for our Android users).

However, the richness and actionability of notifications is also taking strides forward — both iOS and Android are exposing more actions at the notification panel level, often eliminating the need to go into the app; think of archiving an email or quickly responding to an iMessage. The watch and other connected devices are driving apps to expose lightweight “app-less” interactions, and app operators are now focusing more on user touchpoints than in-app DAUs.

As the world moves from web to apps owning this “front door” represents a huge commercial opportunity; notifications will drive both engagement and revenue for the next generation of mobile companies.

Given this context, Benedict Evans provides a useful framework for thinking about Facebook’s recent efforts to turn messenger into a commercial platform.

Messaging is a logical start point; Snowball data shows that over 60 percent of notifications are social messages (almost 40 per day). Will Facebook Messenger subsume the notification panel?

Our data shows some interesting trends. As noted above, 60 percent of all notifications are social messages. However, our data also shows that users on average interact with 5.5 messaging apps weekly (does not count email)*. Though users regularly use over 5 social messaging apps, Facebook + WhatsApp represents an astounding 79 percent of all messaging by volume. This is incredibly high.

Notifications represent the future app interface, and Facebook is making a bold play to own them. Whatever party is successful will have to be thoughtful about social messages, as they represent the bulk of notifications by volume. What we’re seeing today is the first step toward monetization of the OS and the emergence of a new important distribution channel, and apps and platforms would be wise to think critically about it.

*Our sample set is admittedly biased: users who have self-selected as users of multiple messaging apps. However, our research shows that this isn’t far off from the “average” users — most folks who use multiple messaging apps weekly. We have processed millions of messages for hundreds of thousands of users.

Radu Bercan /