The case for read receipts

Since iOS 5 and the introduction of Apple's Messaging platform (introduced as iMessage, now just called Messages) the option has been available to send read receipts to let your contacts know whether or not you've seen their message. This feature has been around for more than a year now and I'm shocked by the number of people who don't take advantage. Is it simply the masses haven't dug around in their settings and don't know this option exists? Or does the general dislike of read receipts from email carry over to the messaging platform?

Let's tackle that second one first. I understand why read receipts gets a bad name. While its use has (thankfully) diminished over the years, it still exists in the corporate world. The problem is, people just can't seem to accept that we don't always respond to messages immediately. When you receive a read receipt but not a reply there's some awkwardness. Obviously, you're being ignored, or this is some kind kind of personal affront. I get it, and for this reason I've completely disabled read receipts on my email clients because I don't need that kind of drama in my life.

I'm going to advocate for the concept of read receipts in Messages nevertheless. For me, Messages is a different type of communication. I use Messages as a way to send quick snippets of information in situations when I'd like a response sooner than email, but the matter is not urgent enough to warrant a phone call. (I must have missed the generation where texting became a primary form of communication - I just don't get that.) For those types of messages, it's helpful to know when my message was seen because I may need to follow-up.

Still, some will be concerned using read receipts in Messages will create the same problems we have with read receipts in email. Personally, I've found it helps avoid more problems than it creates. Just a few nights ago someone sent me a message at 6:06 letting me know a group was meeting at 6:30 for dinner and inviting me to join. I was at the gym and left my phone in the car so I didn't see the message till after the dinner started. Because I regularly send read receipts, my friends knew I hadn't seen their message yet and wasn't just blowing them off. Because messaging is different from email and people typically check their messages much more frequently than email, the assumption from the other party is more likely to be their message was received but is being ignored. Read receipts solves this problem.

So here's my plea and my promise. Please, turn on read receipts for Messages as a courtesy to your friends. But, in doing so we all have to accept that not every message will receive an immediate reply and that's okay.

If you're ready to move forward with read receipts, Lex Friedman at Macworld explains how to use the feature as well as offers some additional iMessage tips in this article. Gizmodo has a piece on iMessage etiquette that offers some tips on how to use read receipts, and how to selectively avoid sending them.