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Push Notifications: Creation and Maintenance of Strong Digital Ties


While working on ARPANET in 1971, Raymond Tomlinson decided to use the @ symbol to allow for communication between users on different computers. This evolved into email and simple mail transfer protocol. Once smartphones entered the market, Blackberries, and later iPhones utilized this push technology to send users push notifications. Today, push notifications deliver smartphone (and computer) users information from a given source. Many of these sources are social media platforms and these push notifications both attempt to strengthen users’ digital ties to their digital acquaintances and to help the user expand their digital network by alerting them of potential digital friends and notifying them of their digital friends’ activities.


The first commercial uses of email and email addresses demonstrated the capabilities of push technology as well as allowing remote users to connect with each other and form digital networks of strong ties between users. When smartphones were relatively new on the market and social media platforms were on the rise, push notifications were used by treating each individual user as the ego in an ego network and pushing them notifications that were all about them. Users were notified when other users wanted to interact with them. These notifications told the users “someone is interested in you” in an attempt to create new edges between users (nodes) and to strengthen existing edges into strong ties between users.


As time passed, push notifications have become less relevant to the user (ego) and are used to push content that the user may be uninterested in. Rather than using push notifications to create strong ties, they are now being used to increase the user’s engagement time with the source. As notifications now alert users of friends’ activities and other things not directly related to the user, they are acknowledging the Triadic Closure Principle by attempting to connect two users who share a mutual friend. Push notifications are now somewhat more focused on maintaining the strength of these strong digital ties as companies look to keep users coming back to the platform because the many companies that use push notifications today are all fighting for the users’ attention and engagement time.


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September 2018