Make unread counts optional. Or, Brent Simmons ruined me and I’m OK with that.

April 1st, 2014

There’s some conversation about whether or not applications such as Twitter, email, or RSS clients should have unread counts on their icons. I seem to think yes, but perhaps Brent Simmons ruined me years ago.

When he built NetNewsWire he never intended for people to think they had to keep up with every post from thousands of different feeds. He recently wrote:

And there was a tyranny behind keeping track of unread items and showing an unread count. People reacted in different ways, but many people felt like they always had to go through everything.

Did he ruin me? (I was a NetNewsWire user for a very long time and it was likely the first RSS reader I had ever used.)

I don’t know. But, I’m inclined to think that if people, like me, want to subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds and follow a lot of Twitter accounts … and still read every single post (again, like I do) they should be able to do that. Balance that with the fact that I feel that each developer should have an opinion and that it should be reflected in their applications and we’re in pickle… should these applications have unread badges or not?

It turns out, it can be solved pretty easily. Make it optional.

As developers of these applications you can decide to turn the unread count on by default or off by default, but at least the end user can choose for themselves.