The list of things that WhatsApp has gotten right over the past several years vastly outreaches the number of things that didn’t work well. Many of those successful features are standard fare details present in other messaging apps that WhatsApp has managed to perfect, and those little check marks that appear next to your messages aren’t any different. That said, based on quite a few searches that I’ve seen on the subject, there are many users who don’t know what they mean, which causes all kinds of confusion when they start showing up in various forms. A single check mark? Double? Double blue checkmarks? Read on for details concerning WhatsApp’s read notification system, and how it can affect your experience while using the app.
Read notifications aren’t a new thing for digital communications platforms; you’re going to find them more often than you aren’t, but they’re still a tricky feature to wrangle, and they often appear in different ways depending on the messaging platform that you’re using. If you’re used to Messages on iOS devices, you’re probably accustomed to simply seeing “Read” beneath individual text messages after you’ve read them, or after they’ve been read by the person you sent a message to.
WhatsApp’s checkmarks indicate the same thing, though the interpretation of those little symbols doesn’t necessarily mean that you know how to use them effectively. Like any other WhatsApp feature, read notifications have their own set of “best practices” that, when followed, will help you to be a better communicator.
Further complicating this otherwise simple subject is the fact that WhatsApp’s read notification checkmarks aren’t consistent across all of the messages that you send and receive. Without delving into the app’s “help” listings or your own investigation, there’s no part of the app that goes out of its way to tell you why, either. The actual answer has to do with your personal privacy settings inside of WhatsApp. This will also be covered in our guide, in the interest of being truly comprehensive!
Messaging and Read Notifications
If you’ve been using an email service at any point in the past twenty years, you’re more than likely familiar with the read notification system that’s used to tell senders when a recipient has opened and read a message. They’ve been the subject of business ethics conversations (which is laughable, in this writer’s opinion) due to the implied pressure placed upon recipients to respond to messages immediately. After all, if a sender sees that read notification, shouldn’t they expect a return message immediately?
The answer, of course, is hell no. On email and any other platform, there exist multitudes of reasons that a person isn’t going to respond to a message immediately, and this is true for both business and casual environments. More to the point, this implied pressure isn’t what read notification systems were ever intended for, in the first place. Their actual purpose is plain and simple, in easy writing right in the title of the feature.
They notify a sender that their message has been read. Any implication that we make up from there–like a need to respond immediately–is entirely on our shoulders.
Most read notification systems do three things, in sequence:
- Tell you when a message has been sent
- Alert you that a message has been received
- Inform you that a message has been opened
That last bit of specific language is important, because even though the feature is usually referred to as read notification (or “read receipt”) the “reading” part of that is almost always implied. The notification shows up when the message is opened, and there is no actual way to know if a recipient has read the message itself. An unnecessary complication in language? Maybe, but that’s how the term is referred to, and it’s not going away.
WhatsApp Read Notifications
Those three responsibilities of a good read receipt system are exactly what WhatsApp’s checkmarks indicate, which probably makes a lot of sense, now that you can think about it under the proper light.
- A single grey checkmark means that your message has been sent
- Two grey checkmarks mean that your message has been delivered
- Double blue checkmarks indicate that your message has been read (but really, opened)
It’s almost a mark-for-mark copy of the way that most read notification systems work, and that’s not a bad thing. It would be fairly odd to differentiate from a system that’s been working across most email and messaging platforms for more than a decade.
Also similar is the fact that nowhere in the WhatsApp messaging system is there any implication of pressure to respond to a message as soon as you’ve read it. As usual, this trend is created purely by the people who are using the app. In the next section of this brief guide, we’ll discuss some of the “best practices” that you can put into action regarding read receipts and your messages.
How to Use Read Notifications
It should be said outright at least once that read receipts are a notification system, not a promise of an immediate response. I know, I’ve said it four times, now, but it really is that important to hammer the concept home for the sake of emphasis. Our culture in 2016 is positively hooked on digital communications, and we actually stand to lose a lot of our interpersonal communication skills due to bad habits developed on chat applications and messaging systems.
If you want to keep up good habits, on the other hand, here is a set of basic rules that you can follow. They’re guaranteed to help you be a better communicator in online spaces.
- A “read” message does not entitle you to an immediate response. (There, I’ve said it five times.)
- If a message has not been delivered yet, you have not been blocked. The recipient just hasn’t opened WhatsApp.
- If you become frustrated with read notifications, you can turn them off.
- A “read” message that doesn’t receive a quick reply does not imply that you are being ignored.
- Wait an appropriate amount of time before repeating a message or sending any follow-up queries.
- Don’t forget to respond to messages eventually. You don’t have to be immediate, but it’s poor practice to leave someone hanging.
This collection of advice might be fairly basic, sure, but they can be put into practice in both casual and professional messaging. Does your own behavior match up with this list of advice? If you have anything you would add to it, personally, be sure to let us know in the comments at the end of this article!
While a vast majority of applications have read notification systems, they don’t all have options in their settings that allow you to disable them. Thankfully, WhatsApp does, but there are a few caveats that come along with this, as well.
Firstly, it’s a fairly easy thing to do. Tap the Menu icon, followed by Settings, Account, and then Privacy. From this menu, you can turn off Read Receipts, which will have two effects on your WhatsApp messages:
- People will not see read receipts when you open their messages.
- You will no longer be able to see read receipts when others open your messages.
It’s a two-way street that has to either be enabled or disabled for the feature to work. Overall, this is a good thing; it prevents users like those we’ve described above from monitoring those read receipts like a hovering helicopter, eager to rain down passive aggressive expectation of a prompt reply from escaping the read receipt system, themselves. They’re either on, or they’re off. There is no halfway in WhatsApp.
Of course, if you’ve been happily using WhatsApp without knowledge of the read notification system thus far, you’re probably safe to turn it off if it doesn’t interest you. Like many tertiary features of the app, it’s a useful tool when it’s both used right and both sender and recipient have an interest in the information that it can provide.
In the end, there’s nothing particularly new, groundbreaking, or innovative about the WhatsApp read receipt system. It’s not a boring or worthless addition to the messenger either; it’s a standard-fare feature that’s expected of a modern messaging app in 2016, as is the option to turn it off if you’d prefer not to use it (and would prefer others not to use it with your messages.) What’s of greater importance is understanding the best way to implement it in your day-to-day messenger activities.
We hope that our brief guide has shed some light on the issue, and maybe even helped you to decide whether or not you’d like to use this minor little feature of WhatsApp Messenger. Those little checkmarks can carry just as much significance as we choose to put in them, but by my advice, I recommend using them as a simple tool to make sure that your messages are getting where they need to go! Let us know if you have any remaining questions about WhatsApp or its read notification system, and in the meantime, consider sharing this article on Facebook and Twitter!