1886: Typing Notifications

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Typing Notifications
Over the years I've decided I'd rather have them on than not, but I'm glad there aren't "has opened a blank note to compose a reply to you" notifications.
Title text: Over the years I've decided I'd rather have them on than not, but I'm glad there aren't "has opened a blank note to compose a reply to you" notifications.


Randall has sent an instant message to someone and is now watching the screen expecting a reply. The message contains simple questions about a show Randall had undertaken and he insists on an honest answer, which would indicate that this is an emotionally fraught question for Randall and he has anxiety about the answer. His anxiety is compounded when the phone indicates that the respondent is typing a response, but then pauses, resumes typing, and pauses a second time, before sending a simple "It was great!"

Typing notifications, often called "typing awareness indicator," is a feature of some instant messaging systems. It lets you know when the other person in a conversation is typing and preparing a reply. It may appear in different forms, like the literal text "[Contact] is typing." or often has a empty answer (possibly a different color) containing three animated dots. It gives the sender confidence that their message has been received and the other one is working on a reply.

However, in this case, when the final response is received it is the anodyne "It was great," suggesting that the first two deleted drafts could be far more critical. The fact that you know that a message has been deleted or edited twice provokes you to imagine what the deleted drafts may have contained. Additionally, the notifications could be misleading; the distant contact might just have been doing something else at the same time, had an unsteady internet connection, started typing in the wrong conversation, or corrected a typo. However, because Randall has interpreted the long pauses the same way one would read face-to-face interactions, the typing notifications make it seem like they weren't honest.

If one partner of a conversation takes their sweet time to reply, possibly deleting their text and starting from scratch as shown in this comic, the typing notification feature can lead to anxiety, as the person waiting for a response starts to overthink the issue. Thoughts come to mind like the other person might not be honest, try to carefully word a sensitive subject or not care enough about you to quickly reply. If finally the answer arrives and consists of just a laconic "ok" or similar, these feelings become even stronger, leading to thoughts like the other person is trying to hide something. This phenomenon has become so widespread that many people have written about it in newspapers and blogs, calling it texting anxiety.

The caption below the screens summarizes that what Randall dislikes the most about these systems of notification that the other party on the conversation is actively working on a reply is the lengthy alternation between indications that the other party is composing a reply, amidst pauses wherein one presumes the other party is thinking carefully about what they are wanting to say, then more typing as in response to their deep thinking, etc. until at the end of this extended period when one expects the other side to have written a book's worth of notes given the time and work they appear to have dedicated to the reply -- and all they get is a simple 3-word reply. It leaves him wondering what all the other party really typed, and really thought, that they ended up not sending. This type of notification was mentioned as rule no. 1 in the much later 2235: Group Chat Rules.

One way around giving your text receiver texting anxiety would be to open a blank note and work out what you want to say there. Since you're not typing in the messaging app, there's no typing notification.

In the title text, Randall expresses that he likes to watch when the recipient reacts and is trying to write an answer but he's also happy to not receive notifications that the texter is composing a response in a blank note file. Typically, one composes responses in blank notes when they need to be careful or thoughtful about how they respond (as well as avoid alerting the recipient, via the notifications, that they've received their text and are preparing a response). If Randall were to be notified about such actions, it would confirm his above fears that the writer was being tactful and guarded in their response, which would just lead to more anxiety about what they were trying to hide. Also, it would expose him if he wanted to compose his own message privately.


[A sequence of eight panels representing the same conversation in an electronic chat. The header always reads:]
What did you think of my show? Did you like it? Be honest!
[The reply area on the first seven panels is empty, but on the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 7th the input is activated and showing three dots.]
[On the last panel the reply area reads:]
It was great!
[Caption below the panels:]
My least favorite aspect of typing notifications

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Sorry for the double explanation, if there was any notification that someone else had added an explanation before I was done editing (I saw an empty explanation when I started editing) I missed it. I went (mostly) back to the first explanation. 17:19, 6 September 2017 (UTC)

I believe that in some instant messaging systems just by clicking in the text box or just by changing focus to the text box causes a notification to the other person that you are typing. So, if I click into the text box and then go to another application and come back and resume focus, multiple notifications are sent, and there is an expectation that a message is coming that never comes. Rtanenbaum (talk) 17:23, 6 September 2017 (UTC)

Hey, WhatsUp??? --Dgbrt (talk) 18:24, 6 September 2017 (UTC)

I miss ytalk (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~) 02:03, 7 September 2017 (UTC) Wouldn't this comic make more sense if Randall were the person REPLYING to the chat message, not the person who originally sent it? although that would probably mean that we were seeing the chat window from the perspective of the anonymous second user...

"In the title text, Randall expresses that he likes to watch when the recipient reacts but he's also happy not to receive that attempt as an empty reply." It's not what I understood. I understood that the recipient could open a blank note on another application, type a reply taking all the time he needs, then copy-paste it on the messaging system. This is exactly what I do when I don't want to trigger typing notifications, and Randall writes that he prefers not to know that. 07:55, 7 September 2017 (UTC)

"Typing notifications" means NOT Randall is typing notifications. He is watching a notification showing someone is typing/working on an answer to a message Randall has sent. And there is no "another application" in the comic at all. And your idea even doesn't match the rest of the explanation. --Dgbrt (talk) 13:16, 7 September 2017 (UTC)
Well it says open a note - which might be an application, especially for mobile systems there are applications with names like that. And a new document in a writing application was my first interpretation too... I found the interpretation that quoted quite unlikely too, as Randall (if this is about Randall at all) said he likes having it on.
Cmon, that extra app is sending notifications through the messenger app?
This "typing awareness indicator" is typical for messenger applications, not only on smartphones. When the reader of the message presses something like the reply-button a note is opened and this action is visualized to the sender. But anything what the reader is typing is not visible until the send-button is pressed. The point is, you can see that the recipient is working on a reply, how often they start again from the beginning, and even when you got no reply you can be sure your text was read and your partner has tried to send an answer. And besides of that, why using an extra app for typing when features like autocomplete belong to the keyboard app?--Dgbrt (talk) 17:51, 7 September 2017 (UTC)
Actually, I agree with ol' 108 162 here. I interpreted that it's not RANDALL'S show, but that it's Randall who is having trouble composing a reply, but this notification has revealed this trouble. He's been discovered! Otherwise this person would have no idea of Randall's struggle, this way he/she still gets some of the hurt that Randall was trying to save them from with "It was great!". "Opening a blank note" is unquestionably another app on the same device, the words "open" and "blank" indicates this must be digital. It's not an "extra" app per se, every iDevice I've seen has an app called Notes, and my Android phone has a similar app for typing up notes, both part of the device's OS. I do such things all the time (the only ExplainXKCD explanation I've written is still sitting in an electronic note, where I composed it in the first place in order not to keep a browser window open that long and to avoit edit conflicts). Randall is saying that he uses a Note application to avoid the situation depicted in the comic, to avoid showing a typing notification when he wants to give his reply some serious consideration before comitting to it, so he dreads the day that devices add to the typing notification with a Typing In The Note App Notification (which would be a joke, since this IS a comic, and that's impossible). Randall might be inclined to think typing notifications should be discontinued, to go back to hiding what he's doing until he's ready, but for what he says in the title text as to why he wants it to stick around and why he keeps it on. NiceGuy1 (talk) 03:43, 8 September 2017 (UTC)
Again: "Typing notifications" means NOT Randall is typing notifications, he gets notified that someone else is typing. --Dgbrt (talk) 11:50, 8 September 2017 (UTC)
There's nothing that says Randall is the one receiving the typing notifications. I contend that NOT Randall is the one receiving the typing notifications, and Randall is cursing the existence of typing notifications because they are ruining his attempts to be tactful. After all, why would he be talking about avoiding them by using a Notes app if it wasn't him triggering the typing notification? RANDALL is the one saying "It was great!", I'm telling you. NiceGuy1 (talk) 03:39, 9 September 2017 (UTC)
Let me try it this way: Let's call the other person Megan. I think we're looking at Megan's phone or message app. She asks Randall what he thought of her show, and says "Be honest!". Randall at first decides to be honest and starts typing, which Megan sees that he's typing. Then he deletes that and probably tries to be more tactfully honest, and Megan again sees that he was typing. Then he deletes that and just types and sends "It was great!". After this conversation Megan confronts Randall about it, asking why he hesitated, what was he going to say, etc. and Randall realizes that without Megan receiving these typing notifications from him, she never would have known he struggled over what to write, and saying "It was great!" would have worked. Then in the title text he explains how he can't completely hate typing notifications, because he keeps them on himself. So as a compromise he avoids this by typing replies in a separate Note app, but he fears the day that it sends notifications about that as well (which is a joke, since it seems impossible that the text or message app would monitor the usage of a separate Note app). NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:03, 9 September 2017 (UTC)
So, why just read the comic pictures and let's assume Megan got the message and hesitates to answer. At the second attempt she types more but then she cancels again, then no action, and finally just a kind response. ALL THIS is shown in the comic, but maybe it's not Megan. And I recall: "Typing notifications" means NOT Randall is typing notifications, he gets notified that someone else is typing. --Dgbrt (talk) 21:00, 9 September 2017 (UTC)
It doesn't matter which person in the comic is Randall. The situation is bad for both of them. It is very, very clear that, as the others have suggested, "opened a blank note to compose a reply" means someone is writing a reply in another application to prevent typing notifications. It is an anti-notification technique, and notifications for an anti-notification technique would be completely counterproductive. That's the logic behind the title text - Randall is glad this imaginary, counterproductive, and terrible feature doesn't exist. Again: it doesn't matter, at all, who is typing. The grammar basically makes any other interpretation impossible - he's definitely saying, "I can tolerate normal typing notifications, but I'm glad these silly hypothetical notifications aren't real."--Mythnut (talk) 17:18, 11 September 2017 (UTC)
I'm not sure why you think "typing notifications" means it's NOT Randall typing (Megan typing, to use my example). Other people can get typing notifications as well, like from Randall typing. I see it that this comic is called "Typing Notifications" because he's complaining that his friends are getting Notified when he's Typing. Yes, it's possible that this is Randall's phone (or messenger app), but it makes less sense that way. It makes so much less sense that I feel 100% sure that Randall didn't mean it that way. The technique he describes in the title text is about HIM avoiding sending typing notifications, it only makes sense if the comic's typing notifications are also Randall typing. This technique is about the typist keeping a secret from the recipient, he wouldn't be promoting people keeping secrets from him (in fact, saying he likes to keep notifications on means he likes it NOT to be secret). Though, as Mythnutl says, it doesn't matter much who is who, in this situation both people suffer from the typing notifications. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:12, 12 September 2017 (UTC)

With some of these (Atleast with Skype) the indicator only shows from a keypress for 5 seconds then stops it it could be that the person was very disinterested in the conversation and simply was not typing for a bit 12:17, 8 September 2017 (UTC)

Indeed, the inherent ambiguity is almost as frustrating when you're on the other end, sending a reply. Just yesterday a colleague interrupted me as I was typing a crucial reply over IM, and I'm sure it must have looked like I was indecisive when I wasn't. I would prefer the option to turn them off as a sender, as a matter of privacy. I suppose I should start opening new notes to compose replies. 01:32, 9 September 2017 (UTC)
It seems only two people here understand Instant Messengers. --Dgbrt (talk) 21:00, 9 September 2017 (UTC)
Here's how the Note thing works. We type in the Note App (or Notepad on a computer) in order to take advantage of a larger typing space, to not keep something open, or (like in this comic) to avoid letting the recipient know we're typing. After we've typed our response, and acted as our own editor checking it over, we Copy & Paste into the INSTANT MESSENGER and send it instantly. This way we're only "typing" in the instant messenger for a moment. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:12, 12 September 2017 (UTC)

»In the caption below the screens Randall reveals that the three-dotted(-animation) is his preferred version to get be informed that someone else is working on a reply to him.« Huh? Surely, the comic doesn't say that? It says that Randall prefers to having a typing notification over not having it. -- 15:11, 8 September 2017 (UTC)

I also very much disagree with the title text. He just says he'd rather have notifications than not. But he's glad that opening up a separate note to compose the reply doesn't also have a notification. Nothing about getting blank messages or preferring the "..." style notification. I'm sure "____ is typing" has all the same characteristics given in the comic.

[Hmmm, previous person forgot to sign] About the title text, "he's also happy to not receive notifications that the texter is composing a response in a blank note file.", this is absolutely unquesionably the incorrect interpretation. No matter which side of the comic's conversation is Randall, this must be the other way around. Since Randall prefers knowing when the other person is writing back to him - as stated in the title text - he most definitely would also prefer to receive Writing-In-A-Note notifications. His objection could only be that he's glad that using a Note keeps HIS activity secret, that they don't know he's doing it. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:12, 12 September 2017 (UTC)

This reminds me of the same kind of joke on another webcomic: “Jim is typing”, on The Doghouse Diaries (from late 2011). - Cos (talk) 11:42, 14 November 2017 (UTC)

I regularly assume websites are capable of keeping live statistics on their forms (like profiling my typing patterns, navigation, edits, etc), including unsubmitted/aborted content that may qualify as trash abandoned (and now public, so free to take) at the curb. Elvenivle (talk) 23:11, 15 July 2019 (UTC)

I vaguely remember seeing a study on what kind of facebook posts triggers people to type a reply but not publish it, and abandon it instead, but I cannot find it right now... But while searching for it I found this article about it from slate... --Lupo (talk) 07:18, 16 July 2019 (UTC)

Not really useful to add to Explanation, but one or other famously exuberant (and cunningly tactful?) socialite/whatever would allegedly attend many interminable premiers (and then after-shows) of plays and then, when asked by their reassurance-seeking stars what she thought about their performance immediately respond with theatrically 'congratulatory' hugs and smiles and fully effused voice saying "'Good' is not the word, darling!" ...Which probably doesn't work as well in text-only medium. Even/especially with smiling/hugging emojii as real-life, despite at least being an immediate 'positive' response. 10:32, 1 September 2022 (UTC)