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Is there a way to subscribe to a question and be notified more frequently than once a day? I'd like to be notified immediately on any posts to a question.

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6 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

If we make the email too aggressive, it's a substitute for visiting the site, and it kind of destroys the whole community aspect.

I think we're all in agreement that in a social/discussion forum it's OK not to have email notifications, because in a social/discussion forum that's would be, well, antisocial.

In tech support forums, the question is whether you prefer to build up a group of people who hang out, thus making benefit #2 more likely to happen, or whether you prefer to make sure that customers get prompt replies to their posts, at the cost of sacrificing benefit #2.

Email is for the less urgent stuff where you're busy and don't have time to check the site.

Part of the implicit contract at SO is that you "pay it forward" and help others answer their questions while you're getting an answer to your own question.

edit: you can now notify every 3 hours, just click the Stack Exchange global inbox in the upper left, then click "email settings". Select every 3 hours.

email me my unread inbox messages every 3 hours

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Don't email notifications force you to visit the site as well? –  Casebash Sep 23 '09 at 8:55
    
Emails from SO tend to take 2 or more days to get to me. Is GMail just slow in delivering them? I've tested this by writing dates on some of my posts and on comments I leave, and Yeap! 2 or more days. –  jp2code Sep 25 '09 at 13:09
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It wouldn't be a substitute for visiting if it just said "you have XX new messages, click here to view them". Currently you copy in the full messages / answers, which is rather annoying: it makes me read them twice. Just the link, keep it simple, I'd say and then there's nothing anti-social about it –  Abel Nov 17 '09 at 0:24
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I'm happy to pay it forward, but we're not living in the 90s any more. I shouldn't have to visit SO again and again just to see if someone responded to my comment I left on someone's question, just tell me that they did! –  Alex Black Dec 4 '09 at 3:42
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For example, this comment I left above, is there a way I can be notified of responses? Otherwise I'll just have to visit back here a couple times a day until I get bored or forget then I'll never back back and likely will miss responses. –  Alex Black Dec 4 '09 at 3:45
    
@Alex only way you can be notified of comment responses (as of today) is through the website IF your name is the only one mentioned in another person's comment, like in this case. –  Cawas Sep 21 '10 at 23:18
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I couldn't disagree more, Jeff. I know my opinion hardly matters, but you could arguee the samething against RSS. The only difference is that you can't reply to an RSS feed, but nobody is asking for an e-mail system or a newsletter. It's just an instant e-mail notification with a regular "no-reply" email. So we can instantly answer and keep track of things outside the site as well. RSS is just not made for notification and it lacks email features such as smartphones for starters. –  Cawas Sep 21 '10 at 23:20
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I completely understand the reasoning for not having instant notifications. The idea makes sense in a lot of ways. But when I'm working on something time-sensitive (and isn't all serious work time-sensitive?), why would I want to wait an entire day to see the answer when I could have found out in 15 minutes? I see no downside to optional instant e-mail notifications. –  Jason Swett Oct 7 '10 at 19:15
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@Jeff Atwood - For newer sites the problem is the new site isn't embedded into the life of the new user; that takes time. It's "out of site, out of mind" for most people. Email notifications for those people would encourage them to use the site more than discourage them. –  MikeSchinkel Oct 23 '10 at 22:47
    
@mike then they can use the existing email notifications -- problem solved! –  Jeff Atwood Oct 24 '10 at 1:43
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@Jeff Atwood, you wrote in part "Email is for the less urgent stuff where you're busy and don't have time to check the site." but for me, this is not the case because I frequently visit my e-mail inbox to check for updates from many sources such as customers, product support specialists, forums.asp.net, et cetera –  gerryLowry Jan 16 '11 at 14:06
    
@gerry then maybe you should look at stackapps.com and see if there's an app that will do what you want. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 16 '11 at 17:45
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@gerry and if you find something, please let us now. I couldn't find anything currently working good on stackapps or anywhere. –  Cawas Mar 14 '11 at 1:43
    
I applaud this decision, not necessarily because I care a lot one way or the other, but because SO is sticking to what they believe. Too many times applications get bloated because the owners can't say no and then the app explodes into a complex nightmare of options. Yes, many customers want this functionality, but is it really a big deal to log in and check? Let the app stay simple and clean. We need more of that in software development. –  Bob Horn Feb 26 '12 at 15:27
    
can I just say that having that notifcation setting there is the most absurd place. I have been using stack overflow for over a year and have been on and off wondering where the setting it, checking my profile, then checking prefs. It's only through doing a search for it that I came across this thread. –  Nicola Apr 7 '12 at 16:40
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There are options like StackApplet if you NEED to know about these things urgently...

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Does it get updated instantly? –  rraallvv May 24 '13 at 14:19
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Sorry that I am not replying directly to Jeff's answer, it is too long for a comment.

Jeff, you made a kick-ass community, but I often find your take on usability strange. In this answer you are making two mistakes for that matter:

  1. You want to decide for the user how to consume your content. You fail to understand that most come here for the content, not the site or community itself. It is the same error some bloggers make when not including the content of an article in their RSS feed. They force users to consume the content in their way, not the user's prefered way.
  2. "Email is for the less urgent stuff where you're busy and don't have time to check the site". No it isn't. You do not get to decide or know what email is used for. Just because YOU use email that way does not make it true for others. I've seen people (mis)use email as a work log, legal proof, document/archiving system, work planning tool, and for realtime communication. It is up to the user to decide how to use it. If I voluntarily opt-in to instant notifications to get realtime answers via email that would be my choice. If I get too many I can switch it off.

My point in both statements: You are making unwarranted and unfounded assumptions and decisions about user behavior, mostly fueled by how YOU use them or how YOU think they should be used. The focus should be on the users of SO, not you. Usability is based on studying actual user's needs and behavior, not how you think they should behave.

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I agree 100% with Ferdy's post above. Also, I think that immediate email notification would actually help the site grow by eliminating "lag." Actual, real conversations would happen rather than the current stuttering in which there are long pauses between responses. –  Robert Frank Jan 20 '11 at 4:42
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Facebook sends a instant notification for everything and gives the user a whole lot of options of how to turn it on/off. Instant notification emails are like crack... they keep you coming back faster for more & more. FB has 500 million users so they should know something about building a social community. This StackOverflow community is absolutely awesome but having to repeatedly visit my browser window whenever I happen to remember is pretty lame. If my vote counts for anything, I say give me instant notifications so I can come back faster. –  Sparky Mar 18 '11 at 5:35
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Jeff, in his answer, wrote "If we make the email too aggressive" ... the solution is to make it an option.

Like many if not most developers, I use sites like so and forums.asp.net as adjunct tools to assist myself with multiple issues.

Sites like so and forums.asp.net circle our planet and thus developers in different time zones are responding to each others questions.

Scenario: a developer in a different time zone partially answers my question; a timely notice, which for me works best when it's by e-mail, allows me to respond and ask for clarification before that developer goes to bed and in the very least gives me the opportunity to resolve issues faster in calendar time. ~~ this is even more critical when the developer is about to go home for the weekend and might not get an opportunity to check so for a couple of days.

Therefore, why not make notification frequency an option; suggested values:
-- never
-- weekly
-- hourly
-- as it happens

From responses to this and similar questions, it seems that at least some members of the so community would prefer to be e-mail centric and thus would also prefer to have more frequent e-mails to bring us back to so when there are answers and comments that we might need to read more frequently.

regards ~~ gerry

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I agree. Not to beat a dead horse but instant email notifications keeps me on Facebook more than I should. If they want people to spend more time here, then give them that email nudge when something is posted. I'm never more than 10 minutes from my email but remembering to randomly come back to this site throughout the day may or may not happen. Now what I really don't understand is why we even have an instant email option in our profile here if it doesn't do anything. Now that's most odd. –  Sparky Mar 18 '11 at 5:40
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I don't think they want to become a spam bot.

I've had email subscriptions where the would send an email everyday, but I don't check my email that often. When I did finally get around to reading them, I didn't feel like going through and reading all of them, so I would read a couple and move on. The only thing is, it didn't take long before it would take more than one page to view just those emails. So I unsubscribed.

I really don't think we need more than one a day. It might even be a good idea to have a weekly version as well.

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Use the RSS feeds and load them into an email client (such as Thunderbird) and you will get any new activity that the RSS feed picks up. Or you can just use any other RSS feed reader like Google Reader (which is my preferred client).

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good idea! i think i will do this from now on! –  rushonerok Oct 19 '10 at 3:17
    
Any Idea how to best do that with web-based GMail? I don't do traditional email clients because my mailbox is large and its a chore to set it up every time I reinstall or switch computers (I'm an IT admin). Besides, GMail is superior :) –  Henno Apr 19 '11 at 9:49
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