To keep myself from getting distracted by too many notifications on my phone, I ask myself the following questions whenever a new category pops up:

  • Will I need to act on it? (Likes/favorites are nice, but I don’t need to respond.)
  • How time-sensitive is it? (“Your ride is here” is more time sensitive than planning a get together for next weekend.)
  • How important? (“Server down” is more important than a project update. A conversation is more important than a newsletter.)
  • Is it actually for me, or is it an ad for the app service?

Then I turn off what I don’t need, turn off sound on the less urgent ones, and customize sounds for the most important ones.

So I hear when a text or instant message comes in, but not email or social media. When I pick up my phone I see emails, mentions & replies, but not favorites or boosts, etc.

It helps me a lot with alert overload. YMMV.

I had to clean up a spam flood last week. A reader sent me an email that Speed Force’s Facebook feed appeared to have been hacked. TL;DR: someone had posted a couple dozen spammy pictures to the site’s Flickr group, which were then auto-shared to Facebook and Twitter. Fortunately there was no unauthorized access, just misuse of an open forum, or cleanup could have been a lot worse.

So I removed all the posts from Facebook and Twitter, replied to all the reports, posted an “oops” on each network and the blog itself, banned the spammy account, and tightened moderation on the group.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t auto-share anything that you don’t control.
  2. Moderate all the things!
  3. Maybe notification alerts aren’t such a bad idea after all.

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A few minutes ago, I was looking at the latest Stardust Photo Gallery [dead link] (nicely pointed out by Neil Gaiman himself). To save time hitting back repeatedly, I just opened a bunch of the thumbnails in tabs.

Audio started playing, “Congratulations! You’ve been selected for…” Then a second round started in, “Congratulations! You’ve been sel…” A third round of the same ad had started, all of them overlapping, by the time I closed the window.

It’s 2007. People multitask. All modern web browsers have tabs available, not just the alternative ones. The time when you could assume you had the user’s undivided attention is long gone.

Note that I can’t tell you what the ad was for. I don’t know which tabs were playing it, so I didn’t even see the visual portion. It accomplished absolutely nothing that an advertisement is supposed to do—unless you want ads to drive people away from your site.

Oh, yeah, before I forget: Stardust!

Stardust Inn (via

The recent controversy over Star 98.7’s decision to drop their morning talk show (since reversed) and try out a new format brings up one of those great mysteries of the ages: Why do so many radio stations play the same small list of songs over and over?

I understand the desire to play popular songs frequently, since it should improve ratings. I know record labels still pay radio stations to make sure their songs get played, even though it’s technically illegal. (They use intermediaries these days, but I don’t think anyone’s fooled.) But it seems to me that there must be a limit to the effectiveness of playing the same song over and over.

Heck, even Star, masters of the binge-and-purge playlist, got pissed off at Ryan Seacrest once when he played the same song 5 or 6 times in a row. This was probably 3 or 4 years ago, and I caught a few minutes of him saying that he didn’t understand what management was so upset about. “They’re always telling us to support the music,” he said.

Is that what it takes? Playing the same songs 10 times a day is OK, as long as no one song gets played 10 times in a row? Even though it takes up time that could be used to play more songs that might, radical as this might sound, get listeners interested in a new artist or album? That they might actually go out and buy?

In the late 1990s there were several LA-area radio stations that would play deep cuts off an album—songs that hadn’t been released as singles—or the album versions of songs that had. All gone. A few years ago, there was a station that had a policy of no repeats between 9am and 5pm. Gone.

Is it just the push toward the lowest common denominator, spurred on by the rise of giant radio conglomerates? (Clear Channel owns a huge chunk of LA radio.) Maybe. There’s a lot more room on satellite radio, and whenever I’ve been in a store or restaurant that plays satellite radio, I start hearing those album cuts and songs other than the Top 40 of a genre.

Of course, the way cable TV has gone—with former niche networks branching out for that lowest common denominator, giving rise to the lament of 500 channels and nothing on—this may be only a temporary renaissance. The same cycle of homogenization seems to hit all media, turning vitality into banality over and over.