Using iPhone Apps to Curb Email Based Notifications

Sunday, 21 February 2010

I get a lot of email. Most of it — since its managed to get past my barrage of server side and client side spam filters — is actually relevant in some form or another. The problem is that relevancy depends on context. Do I want to know that I have a new follower on twitter equally as much as I want to read an urgent email from my boss or a family member? Probably not.

I do my best to sift through the noise, but the best way to get to the signal is just to cut out the noise as much as possible in the first place. Social media presents an interesting challenge. Sites like Twitter and Facebook are constantly vying for our attention and unfortunately, using email as a medium to do it.

One solution that has been working well for me is using iPhone apps as replacements for email notifications from these services. I find that a push notification to my device is much less invasive than an email and there are a number of cleverly crafted iPhone apps that make use of push notifications and simple "dashboard-style" overviews which make it easy to keep from resorting to email.

Here's a quick list of services who's notifications I've turned off and the corresponding iPhone apps I'm using instead:



  1. New Follower Emails: Email when someone starts following me
  2. Direct Text Emails: Email when I receive a new direct message

I've replaced new follower emails with BirdBrain. It's probably my favorite app of the bunch. Not only does it tell you who has recently started following you, but it gives you a ton of useful statistics and information for pruning your Twitter social graph. (Including my favorite, the "Nonreciprocal Following" list.) This app also makes it almost comically easy to see who the "I'll follow you if you follow me" people are.

Direct text emails are a perfect candidate for Push notifications. I use Tweet Push which has the added benefit of sending me notifications for @replies. Boxcar is similar app.

It should be noted: You can set up twitter to send your phone SMS messages for direct message notifications but, like email, these come into an "inbox" that has to be viewed and marked as read, which is what I'm trying to avoid. Also, before I finally succumbed to an unlimited text messaging plan, I found that Twitter was eating into a significant amount of my SMS message quota.



  1. Messages
  2. Wall Posts
  3. Friend Requests
  4. Friend Confirmations
  5. Photo Tags
  6. Events

I'm not a big fan of Facebook and hardly use it, but I still want to know if someone's trying to get in touch with me through the service. Sadly, the Facebook iPhone app only covers a handful of the (numerous) notifications they send, but it in practice it does a nice job of cutting down on the email that's sent.



  1. When people comment on your photostream
  2. When your contacts upload new photos or video

This one's a bit of a cheat. In conjunction with the (very decent, but ultimately insufficient) official flickr app I've subscribed to an RSS feed of all comments on my photostream as well as all uploads by my contacts. (The links are in the account page.) Since they're just Google Reader subscriptions, they come up in my iPhone's RSS reader: Byline.

Moving Forward

With just these email notifications turned off I've significantly reduced the noise in my email inbox. I'm constantly looking for new apps to add to my arsenal so if you know of any other iPhone apps that can be used in a similar fashion, let me know in the comments!