2017 Gannett Foundation Award for Technical Innovation in the Service of Digital Journalism winner

Live Notifications

About the Project

Over the last year, the power of push notifications has become increasingly clear. News organizations are sending them with ever more regularity, while Google and Apple, the creators of the dominant mobile platforms, have released new technologies that now make a range of new formats possible.

The technological advancements, paired with an ever more complex landscape of news distribution, has created opportunities for publishers to creatively convey news on the lock screen with a variety of media.

The Guardian US Mobile Innovation Lab has been pioneering with its notification experiments. It has created industry-first live notification formats that take advantage of emerging technical capabilities. It has also brought utility and relevance to users’ mobile experiences, filling their lock screens with live coverage elements, rather than only links to content.

Their most impactful formats have been:

Live data through web notifications:
On June 23, 2016, the lab sent a set of notifications about the EU referendum, offering automatically updating results as well as reader interaction via a live poll. Sent via Chrome browsers on Android devices via

Live data with visualization:
On November 8, 2016, the lab and the Guardian created a single automatically updated notification containing continually refreshed vote results, displayed in a data visualization and annotated with key events. Sent via the Guardian’s iOS and Android apps.

Live video stream in an expanded notification:
On January 20, 2017, the lab sent a single notification containing a live video feed, annotated to give context, sent for the duration of the US presidential inauguration in January 2017. Sent within iOS on the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab’s app.

The live data notifications were built using service workers, an independent Javascript process that has limited access to browser APIs and allows us to send notifications to readers without the Guardian app. On election day, service worker technology facilitated a cross-platform user experience on the Guardian’s iOS and Android apps.

Live video notifications took advantage of a new iOS 10 notification content extension, released in June 2016, allowing an app to download or add custom content to notifications, including inserting a live video stream via an http live streaming video file.

The lab has looked at a number of signals to gauge effectiveness and impact:

  • Traffic: Continuously refreshed notifications provide users more opportunities to engage with live content. Users of election night alerts tapped to the Guardian’s live blog or results page about four times each, with 75% tapping at least once.
  • User feedback: Topical data-driven alerts are of high value to users during major events. In a follow-up survey after the US election, many mentioned willingness to become Guardian contributors because of the quality of information delivered.
  • Industry recognition: The lab’s notification innovations have been recognized in publications such as Nieman Lab, Columbia Journalism Review, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Google’s Android Developer blog.