As more and more social products and services emerge, product designers have to decide whether to use read/view receipts in their creation. Read receipts (typically passive notifications) are an intriguing feature addition that have the ability to dramatically increase engagement amongst users of a product or service.
Let's examine a few of the areas where read receipts are present and contribute to user sentiment.
The iPhone is a natural example of read receipts in action. An iPhone user can choose to opt into sending read receipts for iMessages in the "Messages" tab under settings. As a result, any message read by a user who has enabled the feature will passively send a timestamp notification that the sender's iMessage has been read.
iMessage read receipts are a hotly-debated topic. Gizmodo ran two posts on the issue — one in favor, one against. In summary, read receipts can be great for communication, as it cuts down the number of unnecessary messages one has to send. On the flip side, it can lead to user anxiety if a sent message goes unanswered for too long.
Path is another great example of a place of read receipts in action. The social networking application is geared toward close friends and family, imposing a strict limit of 150 contacts on the network. Each update includes the number of people who viewed the update, as well as the thumbnails of the specific users who viewed the update.
A Quora user, Luke Bornheimer, recently wrote a great analysis on Path's user-viewing functionality. He sums up Path's use of views in a single sentence:
As a user, it adds to the intimacy of the app and the overall experience of the service.
If anything, Path's use of views enhances the service and the company integrates them the right way.
Facebook Messenger released Version 1.7 back in May, and the most notable feature upgrade was the addition of read receipts. The read receipts would show up at the bottom of the message after a recipient opens the message on desktop or mobile.
Shortly after this took place, Facebook announced read receipts for groups, which sparked a bit of controversy as to what Facebook considered a "read." It appeared to be an exploratory feature, however, and it is unclear whether Facebook will release group read receipts to all, or simply phase it out.
Earlier this month, Quora announced "Views," a feature that demonstrated the interconnected nature of the Quora network. Users' thumbnails would show up above any post that was read (Quora did a fairly good job at sharing what counted as a "View"). User backlash was rampant and yesterday, the Q-and-A site announced they were removing Feed Stories about Views.Initial response to the addition of this feature has been fairly negative — headlines about the initial feature launch also didn't put Quora in the best light ("A Further Blow To Online Lurking", "Caution, Lurkers", "The Latest Way For Employers To Spy On You"). Quora's implementation of views shows that read receipts and view lists may not work for all services, especially ones that rely upon public crowdsourcing (like Quora itself).
Jonathan, our Partner and Design Lead, weighed in with his thoughts on read receipts from a personal standpoint:
"Personally I appreciate read receipts in almost every situation, both receiving and sending them. Transparency of data is ideal for me — I'd like to know when something has been read and, conversely, I have no problem with people knowing whether I've read something or not. If anything this reduces anxiety and confusion, and gives you a clear path. I hate ambiguity ... aside from when it's deliberate. I'm sure there are lots of legal reasons this would be impossible or unsettling."
Chris, also a Design Lead, weighed in with a more general product perspective:
"I feel like products that gain value from user collaboration, such as any of our apps, need these receipts. They not only make the data more transparent, they give the owner of the content the power to know who is invested enough to even read something and gives them a chance to nudge them if they haven't. When so many people do their work over the web, these receipts let us know that people are present even if they are 1000 miles away."
Do you like read receipts in the various products and services you use, or do you think they have a negative effect on your experience? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.