Are we there yet?

I remember long road trips with my family when I was a kid. Partly out of boredom and partly to annoy Mom and Dad, my sister would start in on the familiar "Are we there yet" refrain. After a while they would just tune us out. (You'll see how this relates to Google Talk in a bit.)

About a month ago, one of my team members sent around a screen shot of a plugin/hack that Bruno Stuani had made for Google Talk that showed notifications when friends come online. I thought this would be a quick new feature to add to the next release. It would also be a great place to show the pictures feature we'd been working on. I coded the feature and we released it for alpha testing inside of Google.

(Fun fact: these notifications are commonly called "toasts" as they look like toast coming out of a toaster.)

Over the next couple of days, there was quite a bit of discussion about whether this feature was a good idea or not. Jon Perlow stated: "This is the worst feature ever. Shut if off please." Jon defends his statement in the next post. I think that this feature is a great way to keep up on what your friends are doing and see their updated statuses and pictures. If you have a really large Friend list it also helps you see deeper into that list. The idea behind the feature is sound, but I agree with Jon that we have more work to do here.

We eventually decided to turn the feature off by default, at least until we can find a way to make sure it didn't annoy users (or Jon). What helped convince me was that this notification might make all of the other notifications less useful. If there are too many notifications vying for the user's attention, the user starts to ignore all notifications -- just like my parents ignoring the annoying "Are we there yet?" cries of me and my sister.

So we're still working on fine-tuning this particular feature. If you have suggestions for it, or for other Google Talk features, please let us know here.

Joe Beda
Software Engineer
Personal blog: http://www.eightypercent.net

(Okay -- I admit that I was the one with the late Sam the ugly dog as my picture.)

[Edit -- 8:29pm -- Added link to Jon's post]

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