Explicit Opt-In

March 19, 2024

Apps that deliver content are great up until the moment they start delivering content you don't like. Then it becomes a game of whac-a-mole.

This feels completely avoidable by making sure every piece of content that shows up in any meaningful way on your device is explicitly based on a choice you made to opt-in. But we still haven’t learned this lesson, since at least when email started.

If we frame every new thing firstly as a request, then we could theoretically cut down significantly on what actually ends up getting to us. Here’s how I imagine that happening, using email as an example:

  1. Everything that is explicitly from a trusted source goes into the Inbox.
  2. Every new thing that arrives to you, goes into Requests.
  3. Requests are bundled by sender. You can filter by frequency or recency, but everything from a single sender or format is always bundled. Seeing the total number of messages sent with a particular sender or format should make it easy to determine whether you want to see this stuff in your Inbox or never see it again.
  4. If you open a bundle and approve them, their messages are now sent to the Inbox. If you never approve a sender, they remain in Requests. If you deny them, they are immediately deleted upon receipt.
  5. Now, everything in your Inbox is only stuff you explicitly allowed.

This could be applied to social networking services as well. Account visibility should be totally separate from the ability to directly reply. Replying and sending messages should always first be initiated as requests.

If an account on social media has not been approved to reply to the account, their reply exists but is not visible from the original post to anyone but the account that replied. They must first be approved to reply for others to see it. Their reply is always visible from their own account page, but it is not publicly linked to the original post.

This holds everything in moderation and users approve new requests by account rather than by reply, which would be far more tedious. At any time, the ability to reply to a specific person could be revoked.

Taking an explicit opt-in approach across the online spectrum of services would free us up from the seemingly never ending onslaught of notifications, emails, and spam.

We could stop all of it.

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