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We've all seen the plethora of requests out there to have notifications added for this, that, and the other thing. Most of the people who are against such notifications are against them because they'd be annoying, and I agree with them. I'd prefer only seeing that number up in the corner for something important that actually requires my attention. This request is an attempt to create a middle ground, where users can receive such notifications that "something is up" on the not-as-vital-but-still-kinda-important stuff without the users who don't really care being irritated.

How do we indicate a user has "updates"?

The first key aspect of this request is being able to differentiate between a normal notification and what I'm henceforth calling an "update." This would work similar to how the achievements icon works, which shows a number for reputation changes and just lights up green for general badge updates, etc.

Red Inbox Icon

When you only have updates waiting for you, the inbox icon's color will merely change to the same red color, rather than showing a number. This will let users know that there's something they might want to look at, but it's not a full-out notification. So those users who don't care about them can safely ignore the icon in this specific case. (Perhaps it could use a less obnoxious red. I don't know, it just looks funny to me.)

How do we display them in the drop-down menu?

I'm also stealing some design decisions from the achievements menu for this one too. Just saying "you have new decline messages" or something of the sort isn't really useful unless Stack Exchange implements some global page where you can view all of these things in one spot. Personally, I don't think that's such a great idea. So instead, we can display the counts of each update under the respective site icon for wherever those updates are waiting. Each count will be color-coded depending on what type of update it is, link to the corresponding page on that site where they can view that information, and of course have a tooltip to explain what the count represents for those who are unfamiliar. Here's a basic example:

Basic Example of Updates

In order to not be overwhelming or irritating to users who might not care as much about them, it would be a good idea to always limit this to one line, no matter how much stuff the user lets accumulate in there. In order to achieve this, we could simply list out sites that fit onto the one line until we're out of room, and then just display the Stack Exchange logo with the number of other sites that also have pending updates yet to be seen, like so:

Full Examples of Updates

And here's an alternate version using grey icons instead of colored backgrounds, for those who think all the random colors would make their eyes bleed (I completely agree):

Full Examples of Updates - Non-Colorized

As far as sorting, there are two logical options:

  1. Sort the sites by total number of updates for each site.

  2. Sort sites how they are sorted in the Stack Exchange menu (Your Communities first, in your selected order, then ordered by reputation).

Personally, I think the second option would make more sense as it will always bump the updates for the sites in which the user is more interested to the front of the queue, and then they can potentially dismiss everything else they don't care about once those are out of the way.

How do these updates get dismissed?

First and foremost, simply loading the inbox drop-down will clear the red coloring off of it once it's closed. Whether you act on any of the updates is irrelevant. That shouldn't clear the updates themselves though. It's very unlikely that a user is going to get through all of those updates in one page view, which would actually require opening them all separately in new tabs. So clearing them all out after one drop-down load would be pretty counter-productive. Removing the red color indicates that there's no new updates since the last time you looked, but you should still be able to access any updates you haven't actually visited yet.

I propose clearing out the count for each update counter once the user has visited the actual page that corresponds to the count. This would work similar to how the tab counts on the profile work. Your reputation change since the last time you viewed your reputation history keeps building up until you view it again, then immediately resets to zero and goes away.

I also propose having an "x" icon (as seen in the full example above), or some sort of dismiss button, at the end of the line so users could quickly dismiss all notifications across all sites, without having to click through to them one at a time. It should probably have a confirmation dialog to prevent accidental clicking and to explain that it affects all sites, but would be very handy for users who just want to clear out all the numbers.

So what all should show up in here?

Some of the better ones I've seen that I think would make great additions to this are:

  • Flags which were declined.

    This could link to your flag summary page. The page itself would need its long-overdue revamp in order to be sortable by declined flags, as well as when those flags got declined. It's certainly possible for a user to cast a page-full of flags and then have one from before all of those end up being declined. We shouldn't start directing users there with updates if they still have to dig through a pile of flags to find a needle in a haystack.

  • Suggested edits that were rejected.

    This could link to your activity tab on your profile, narrowed to the suggestions option. We took a huge step in the right direction now that the list actually shows you which edits were rejected.

  • Posts you downvoted that have been edited.

    This could link to your votes tab on your profile, narrowed to the downvote option. As I've pointed out on another post, it should be relatively easy to fix up this list and let users find "edited" posts. Each vote already has a status of whether its been locked or unlocked, and since a vote can only be unlocked by an edit to the post, you can naturally assume that a post has been edited if the vote is unlocked. A smple indication of the vote's lock status somewhere on the line would suffice - no need to look up and determine if the post was edited or not.

  • Questions you closed that have been edited.

    This could link to your votes tab on your profile, narrowed to the closure option. Marking these, though, would be a lot trickier than marking unlocked downvotes as explained above, and I haven't really thought of any decent way to go about getting that information without creating new variables or a lot of overhead. We also have to consider when a question has already been reopened, or the close vote is not from the current closure (it got reopened then closed again) as marking it would not be relevant to that user any longer.

  • Something happens on a question you've favorited.

    This could link to your favorites tab on your profile. I don't really think this one needs any further information.

  • Your posts which were recently deleted.

    This could link to your recently deleted posts page (accessible from the bottom of your questions or answers list). I believe the lists are actually separated currently, but I don't see any reason not to combine them into one list and just display whether it was a question or an answer, and it would make this a lot easier to track as you wouldn't have two different pages.

Did you actually read all that?

I'm sorry, I don't really have a summary or TLDR.

  • @random Well, it does make you read the whole post... – hichris123 Jan 28 '15 at 3:14
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    define "bate": "(of a hawk) beat the wings in an attempt to escape from the perch." Sounds like a typical @random edit summary anyway, so it all works out :) – Doorknob Jan 28 '15 at 3:19
  • Some clarifications: How does the "update" indication coexist with "notification" indications? If I have a comment and an update, will they both appear when I click the envelope? And how do you get back to the "update" dropdown list after you clicked it once? Is it always going to appear in the dropdown menu for notifications? – Y     e     z Jan 28 '15 at 18:32
  • I would slightly alter the declined flags to only be for declined flags with an explanation. – Y     e     z Jan 28 '15 at 18:32
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    @YeZ It would work exactly the same as the achievements icon - if there's only badges to tell you about, it just lights up the icon. If you have actual reputation changes, it displays the number. Opening the menu dismisses both. The updates would just be a line above the regular notifications. Same menu. – animuson Jan 28 '15 at 18:33
  • @animuson so they would still be there at the top of the dropdown after being dismissed? I could see some of the crabby people being annoyed by seeing that every time they clicked the notification button. Maybe it should get pushed down the list as newer notifications appear, and get bumped back to the top when a new update happens, like any other notification. – Y     e     z Jan 28 '15 at 18:35
  • @YeZ I did consider that, but I felt that the goal of making them easily accessible was more important than maintaining the timeline of notifications. It'd also require a bit more programming since you're not just using a static place ("this will always be here") and you have to determine where in between the notifications the updates are supposed to appear. – animuson Jan 28 '15 at 18:38
  • One (possible) shortcoming of the update based on vote-unlocked status, at the end of this post – Y     e     z Jan 28 '15 at 18:38
  • @YeZ My comments about the unlocked votes were only for indicating which ones were edited on the page itself, not for generating the update in the count. Updating the count would be a simple "upon edit, update this count for all downvoters" type of thing. When they get to the page listing downvotes, the simple thing to do is just check if the votes are locked or unlocked. – animuson Jan 28 '15 at 18:41
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    @animuson Was this posted before you started working at SE? Is something happening or is it actually a feature request? – ᔕᖺᘎᕊ Apr 10 '16 at 17:52
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    @ᔕᖺᘎᕊ Yes it was before I was hired, and I had forgotten I had even posted it before this ping. It's just a request and there's not currently anything happening with it. – animuson Apr 10 '16 at 18:02
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I find the plethora of colors a bit hard to differentiate at the bottom. The colorful boxes-with-numbers all blend in to each other, making it hard to tell which is for which site.

I suggest a light background color, such as the following:

light background

in order to help tell which notifications belong to which site.

I would probably make the colors a bit less vibrant and in-your-face (this is just a quick mockup), but the idea is the same.

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    I'm afraid this does not help much. If I'm greeted with this array of colored numbers, I'm probably never opening the inbox again. – user259867 Jan 28 '15 at 3:30
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    I added a completely non-colorized version to the request, which uses greyscaled icons instead. Takes more space which I originally tried to prevent, but there's not really another good option that doesn't cause eye bleeding. – animuson Feb 2 '15 at 4:59
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I think that this makes the notifications inbox way too complicated for ease of use.

A much simpler idea would be leaving that inbox alone, and adding another for all of these new notifications. I think the major advantage of doing this (besides the simplicity) is that it would leave the current "new answer, new comment, post edited, chat message" notification slot as-is, for the most important of the notifications, and all of the new, tier-two messages can be viewed separately.

However, I still think that if notifications for custom flag responses are ever implemented, they should still go to the old notification bar, because these are also a message that was typed directly for a specific user, similar to an answer or a comment.

  • That would be nice to have, but I doubt Stack Exchange would even consider adding another icon up in that bar for another inbox. There's just not enough room up there for more icons. My bar didn't even have enough room to display the Winterbash icon and it got pushed off to the left of the Stack Exchange button. – animuson Feb 2 '15 at 15:10
  • How big is your screen, @animuson? ....I'm currently looking at something 15", and it looks like there's plenty of room up there. I haven't used my 10" netbook in a while, but I think it was the same there, as well. – Shokhet Feb 2 '15 at 15:19
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    Big enough to have space on the sides. But screen size doesn't matter because Stack Exchange uses a fixed width. But you have to consider what all other users see. Think of someone like Jon Skeet who has a lot of extra numbers in his reputation or badge counts. Moderators already have an extra inbox for mod messages and another box for flag counts. You have a potentially large review count over to the right. There's tons of stuff already shoved into that bar. – animuson Feb 2 '15 at 15:21
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    Here is the top bar from my top site. I think there's plenty of room up there, but that's just my opinion. ....I asked about your screen size because even though it's fixed width, everything is tiny on my 7" tablet (if not using the app). – Shokhet Feb 2 '15 at 15:25

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