Designing an email notification system that respects your inbox

The thought and design process behind the new email notification system.

Illustrated image of a fox receiving notifications

Live email notifications about padlet activity is one of the most frequently requested features in the history of Padlet. The advantages of a good email notification system are clear to see: automated, relevant, live updates make collaboration easier and more efficient. But as we all know, emails can be spammy, distracting, and annoying in our inboxes.

At Padlet we value our attention, we value our time, and we hold our inboxes to be sacred. We also believe that Padlet is useful and email notifications can improve Padlet by facilitating collaboration.  In order to create a notification system that improves padlet and respects your time, inbox, and attention as much as we respect our own, we set the following goals:

  1. Never send useless emails
  2. Don’t clutter inboxes
  3. Set good defaults
  4. Offer complete control
  5. Make it easy to unsubscribe

Here’s how we met these goals in the implementation.

1. Never Send Useless Emails

The most basic measure we took was to establish a minimum bar of relevance for any email notification that we send. We won’t send emails about a weekly 20% off sale (we don’t have those), we won’t send you emails pestering you to visit Padlet for no reason, and we won’t send you emails about anything unrelated to your account.

The Notifications page in your settings, showing the default notifications settings for padlets

The emails we send will always be about the activity of padlets and accounts you follow, activity that relates directly to your account, and major feature releases.

2. Don’t clutter your inbox

We ensured that all emails about the same padlet will be threaded. This was not simple because different email clients, such as Gmail, Outlook, and Apple mail, use different rules for threading, but it was essential for us to implement because it reduces inbox clutter significantly. Threading the emails also makes it easier to read multiple notifications chronologically.

A screenshot of a threaded email about activity on a padlet called "AI Generated Drawings."

Additionally, we won’t continue to send you emails about a padlet you haven’t visited in a while. If you’re on pace to receive more than three emails about a padlet you haven’t visited, we’ll send you one email informing you that there’s a lot of activity, instead of bombarding your inbox.

3. Set good defaults

We carefully chose a subset of event types with the highest likelihood of relevance to the highest percentage of users, and by default, we send email notifications only about that activity. We don’t email you about every comment and reaction on your padlets, but we do email you about new posts. We don’t email you about every new remake, but we do email you when you’re invited to collaborate.

The Notifications page in your settings, showing the default notifications settings for general notifications

Whenever we release a new feature, we don’t want to burden the user with additional choices or force them to learn a complex new system. All changes should improve Padlet straight out of the box. The default settings will improve Padlet for almost all users without requiring them to lift a finger.

4. Offer complete control

Even the best defaults won’t work for everyone. Customizing your email notifications is easy. You can control which padlets and accounts you follow or toggle email and push notifications for a wide variety of event types in your notification settings.

The Notifications page in your settings, showing the default notifications settings for accounts

You can also use this page to get lost in the beauty of our brand new UI or bask in the virtuous glory of our brilliant default settings.

5. Make it easy to unsubscribe

In the event that you receive a notification that isn’t relevant to you, we’ve made it easy and simple to unsubscribe. At the bottom of every email there is a link that you can use to unfollow the padlet referenced by the notification with one click. There is also a link to your notification settings so you can make whatever specific changes you want.

A screenshot of an email notification about a new post in a padlet called "AI Generated drawings." The post subject is: A Shepherd leads a flock of horse sized ducklings across Iceland in the style of cubism. The photo is an AI generated image of that description.

Modern email clients come with another feature: an unsubscribe button built into the client itself. To provide this button for you, we send a “List-unsubscribe” header with every email notification. When you click this button, your email client sends a message to an email address we set up which programmatically reads the message, identifies you and the padlet you want to unsubscribe you from, and makes the appropriate API calls to unsubscribe you.

Simply put: we handle the complicated stuff so that everything is easy for you.

This was our thought and design process behind the new email notification system. We hope you like it. As with all good software, Padlet is alive and subject to improvement. If you have any suggestions on how we can improve this feature, any other existing feature, or what new features we can add, please reach out to us on our contact form or on twitter @Padlet, we’ll respond!