HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The Economist’s Tom Standage on digital strategy and the limits of a model based on advertising
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Oct. 22, 2013, 2:58 p.m.
hero-safari-push-notification

Push notifications aren’t just for your users’ phones any more

With the newest version of OS X and Safari, news sites now have a new way to push their stories in front of readers — on desktops and laptops instead of just phones and tablets.

Back in June, Apple announced its new version of OS X for Macs, which goes by the name Mavericks. One of the less noticed features was something called Safari Push Notifications, which promises to allow websites on Macs to do what apps on phones can:

Interrupt you.

(In the best possible sense of interruption, of course.)

For news organizations, those interruptions come primarily through the breaking news notifications you probably get from your favorite news organizations. We’re in an era when news consumption is less about discrete times — reading your newspaper at the breakfast table, watching Walter Cronkite at 6:30 — and more about digital news seeping into the nooks and crannies of your day. In that context, smart notifications are critical to news organizations’ efforts to reach their audience where they are.

Today, Apple released Mavericks and announced that, unlike previous major updates, it’s free — which will help its adoption rate. And we’re already seeing the first news organizations taking advantage of the opportunity. MacRumors noticed last night that The New York Times, among other sites, was on board. In its demo today, Apple showed off Major League Baseball sending alerts for scores. On its preview page, Apple shows a CNN desktop alert.

What do you need to know about Safari notifications?

  • They’re relatively straightforward, technically. I spoke with Dan Burcaw, CEO of Push.io, a firm that handles the smartphone push notifications backend for a number of news organizations, and he said that, in tests with partner sites using their solution, setting up Safari push could take around 30 minutes’ work, with only a drop-in line of JavaScript necessary on the news site’s server. (Push.io isn’t ready to announce pricing for the service yet, he said. You can set up a push server on your own if you’d like, but for smaller operations without the IT team to work on it, hiring someone else to handle it for you will probably make sense.)

    This file, for example, is the JavaScript that powers NBA.com’s instance of Safari notifications. You can see The New York Times’ code at the bottom of this file.

  • They require permission from users. Once you install that code, a Safari Mavericks user who goes to your website (or a specific page on it, if you’d prefer) will be asked whether they want to accept notifications. (You can see a version of that dialog here.) We’ll have to see whether most outlets choose to make that appear on every page of a website, the homepage, or on a special signup page.
  • Safari doesn’t have to be running for a notification to be delivered. Notifications can only be turned on in Safari, but you can be in another web browser (or in no browser at all) and the notifications will still arrive. But when they are sent, it appears, clicking on them will open Safari.

On their own, Safari Push Notifications won’t revolutionize anything. I suspect many American news sites have audience shares like Talking Points Memo’s, which on Sunday noted that around 23 percent of its audience is on Macs, but only a minority of those are using Safari. (I’m a Chrome/Mac guy myself.) Further slice that crowd to include only those who’ve upgraded to Mavericks and you’re looking at under 5 percent of users at most sites for the near future.

But Chrome has its own notifications system (although one I understand is not as developer-friendly as Apple’s — but I haven’t tried it out). More systems will follow, and — hopefully! — someone like Push.io can do the job of abstracting a method of triggering all of them at once. And while the number of readers who use Macs and upgrade to the latest software is small, they’re also disproportionately the sort that spends a lot of time and money online.

I think this is a big deal. We know that a lot of digital news consumption happens at work. And we know that, for many people who want to keep up with the latest news, Twitter or some other social network is probably the best way to do that in real time. (Twitter’s “experiment” with @EventParrot shows they’re well aware of the power of news push notifications.)

Safari push and what will follow it promise a way for the nowness of breaking news to be transferred to the desktop environment — but with the relationship being directly between the news organization and the audience. Add the possibilities of personalization — interrupting me with only the news I’m really interested in — and you have the sort of high-value feature that can build loyalty.

I’m sure there’ll be some growing pains along the way — people who commit to too many notifications and get overwhelmed, for one. But even through the momentum is all in favor of mobile, people will still get a lot of news at their desks for the foreseeable future. And this shift will help news organizations reap a little bit more of the benefits.

POSTED     Oct. 22, 2013, 2:58 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The Economist’s Tom Standage on digital strategy and the limits of a model based on advertising
“The Economist has taken the view that advertising is nice, and we’ll certainly take money where we can get it, but we’re pretty much expecting it to go away.”
Why Storyful is expanding its business to work with brands
It’s one element of a broader expansion for the social news agency, which is also growing its product team and working on improving its core trend-detection technology.
An ad blocker for tragedies: How news sites handle content around sensitive stories
For stories like the Germanwings plane crash, The New York Times and many other publishers flip a switch to remove ads to avoid unwanted connections.
What to read next
2481
tweets
Millennials say keeping up with the news is important to them — but good luck getting them to pay for it
The new report from the Media Insight Project looks at millennials’ habits and attitudes toward news consumption: “I really wouldn’t pay for any type of news because as a citizen it’s my right to know the news.”
926The next stage in the battle for our attention: Our wrists
News companies have moved from print dollars to digital dimes to mobile pennies. Now, with the highly anticipated launch of the Apple Watch, the screens are getting even smaller. How are smart publishers thinking about the right way to serve users and maintain their attention on smartwatches?
792A wave of distributed content is coming — will publishers sink or swim?
Instead of just publishing to their own websites, news organizations are being asked to publish directly to platforms they don’t control. Is the hunt for readers enough to justify losing some independence?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
FiveThirtyEight
Grist
The Huffington Post
Center for Investigative Reporting
Semana
The Daily Voice
Baristanet
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
Next Door Media
San Francisco Chronicle
Newser
GlobalPost