The AdTech Industry is Ruining Web Push Notifications for PWAs

January 30, 2019

By the time web notifications are widely supported in all browsers and mobile devices for Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) to use, it will be too late. Most users will have already blocked or completely disabled them.

When pondering the possibilities of the web as the best application platform in existence, it’s hard not to get excited about the possibility of native-looking and native-feeling push notifications. Finally, you think – web apps for messaging and chat will be on-par with their native counterparts. No more apps to install, no more walled gardens or gatekeepers to deal with. It seems too good to be true – and it probably is.

Notification and location prompts have become such an annoyance on the web that there is already a big push from users to disable all notification prompts completely (and I don’t blame them!):

Firefox 59’s new setting for this in the main Settings screen

The sheer obnoxiousness of these prompts across many popular news and content sites are frequently the butt of jokes and comic strips like this one:

Probably close to half of the people reading this article right now (like you!) have already taken steps to either block push notifications completely, or just outright dismiss any prompt to allow them out of habit and muscle memory.

Push notification abuse by the adtech industry (and subsequent use on many popular websites) has significantly hampered the future adoption of Progressive Web Apps as native app replacements, and it makes me concerned for the future of PWAs in general. Now the barrier is not only getting users to accept push notifications, but also will have to include specific checks for push notifications being disabled, as well as browser-specific instructions on how to turn them back on to get the most out of your PWA. That’s a large hurdle most users won’t clear just to use your PWA, and it means that native apps (or at least native shells and wrappers) are here to stay for a lot longer than many of us who work on the web would like.

Discussion on Hacker News and Reddit.

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