Take charge of your phone's notifications with Pushover

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: August 20, 2012

If you're anything like me, your notifications are a mess. No, I meant it. A complete, total mess. Almost as bad as my address book. (Don't believe me? Look here.) I have so many applications, networks and services that are constantly running, pulling and pushing data, polling, and firing off notifications for each and every action.

It's as if all developers think users need and want to be updated along each and every happening within an app.

Truthfully, however, I would prefer most things to happen in the background and have only the most important notifications grab my attention. I don't need to know when a single file I sent to Dropbox is finished uploading. Chances are, I loosely watched it upload and already know when it's finished. Likewise, I don't need to know the picture I sent to Facebook has finished uploading. And I definitely don't need to know each and every time someone follows me on Twitter. (I love each and every one of my followers, but I would much rather receive a mention than a generic notifications.)

Luckily, things are looking up for mobile users. Google recently added the ability to turn off notifications from specific applications. If there is a rogue app that keeps sending advertisements to your notifications or incremental, insignificant pieces of information that are quickly dismissed, you can put an end to it pretty quickly and with relative ease. And in the upcoming iOS 6 update, Apple has added a mode called Do Not Disturb. For those times you need peace and quiet, like at night or while in a meeting, you can flip on this new mode and silence all incoming notifications, even calls. But this does little to tidy up your notification shade, it simply puts it out of mind … temporarily.

Simply cutting off all notifications works, but it isn't the best solution either. Thankfully, some applications let you fine tune what appears in your notification shade (or Notification Center if you prefer iOS devices). But it never fails, no matter how much fine tuning, sorting and filtering that I do, I always end up with a ton of automated, unimportant trash in my notifications.

The silver lining here is that some software developers are starting to get the hint: notifications are for important information only. Everything else can wait. Luckily, while Google, Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry work out how this is best handled, there are a few ways you can take charge of your own notifications.

Earlier this morning Adam Dachis of Lifehacker explained how you can employ the application and online service called Pushover to better utilize notifications and get more of what you want while cutting out everything you don't need. What is Pushover, exactly? Coming directly from the Play Store description:

"Pushover is a simple push notification service that integrates easily into web apps like IFTTT, network monitoring systems, shell scripts, and anything else that needs to send alerts to your mobile devices."

What that means is you can setup your own notifications and fine tune exactly how they display, when they come in and what content they display. When I first heard of Pushover a few weeks ago, I immediately purchased it and setup a recipe on IFTTT (If This, Then That), a trigger and action web service that lets users "create powerful connections" across an array of different web services. My recipe, to no avail, was an attempt to get true push notifications for Twitter on Android. Since IFTTT only polls every 15 minutes, notifications actually come in slower than having my preferred Twitter application poll every 10.

But as Dachis explains, the potential of Pushover is great. You can remove the need for certain applications and free up some storage space using IFTTT and Pushover. For instance, Dachis explains how to create a Pushover notification to alert you when it's about to rain using The Weather Channel via IFTTT. Dachis also explains how to notify yourself of new job postings on Craigslist, when someone adds a file to your Dropbox or if you receive an important email through Gmail.

Using IFTTT and Pushover, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of possibilities for notifications, and I've been exploring more and more with them over the last few weeks. This morning, I took Dachis' advice and made a weather notification for when it's about to rain. I also created an IFTTT recipe to notify me via Pushover any time I create a Bitly short URL. And this afternoon, I plan to setup some Dropbox notifications and anything else that might strike me as useful or interesting.

For those truly interested in making the most of your notifications, Dachis goes on to tell how you can use Pushover's API to connect your own app or third-party applications. And you can tweak them even further with a small amount of programming knowledge.

Best of all, Pushover is not only for Android. Pushover applications are available on iOS and Android and will set users back $3.99 a pop. And once you set everything up, it's good to go on any Android or iOS device you activate it on. Simply install the application on a new device, login and enter a name for the device. Presto! Your Pushover notifications will immediately begin to appear.

I can see how $4 and several hours of tweaking would be too much for some to take on. But for me, Pushover has been a modest improvement to the constant onslaught of notifications I receive on my handsets. I haven't taken it to the extreme yet, but I'm constantly tweaking my notifications now, working towards a better system. So far, so good.

Tell me, readers. Have any of you found a better notification system than what your mobile OS of choice offers out of the box? Have any of you used Pushover to take charge of your notifications? Or is there a simpler way you have found that works for you?

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