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Last update: August 2021


How Topics supports Customers and notification categories & channels?

The OpenBack solution has a feature-set called Topics, which are essentially a way for apps to fine-tune their notification UX.   Topics can be used for many things, and ultimately are a way for users to express interest and learn more about a particular subject or category, by receiving all push notifications for that category. (Subscribing of a user can also take place on the app backend as well as device-side, pubsub style.)  In iOS devices, this feature builds on iOS Categories. And in Android, it builds on Channels and adds capabilities to Firebase topic messaging.

For example, a mobile game might have various different use cases for push notifications. Depending on how often they want the app contacting them, the user might subscribe to “Friends are online,” “Bonus/Seasonal levels are available,” “Battle royale is beginning” depending on which Channels they’re interested in.

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android channels notification topics

What Are Notification Topics / Android Channels / iOS Categories?

The concept of Topics or Categories for push notifications appeared on the scene in 2017, with Android 8.0 Oreo’s Android Channels. It was effectively a way to organize push notifications into groups according to their subject matter. This group can then be turned on or off by the user, depending on whether they’re interested. Android users can subscribe or unsubscribe from Channels in Android Settings, which means they don’t need to go into the individual settings for each app. The app then creates and manages Android Channels locally on the device. For Android OS, every push notification must include a channel by default.

For iOS Categories, the app controls the UX, so it can pass in a deep link which shows in the OS level notification settings. Push notifications must then be declared in the pList in advance. For local delivery, they can be handled dynamically but must be integrated into the app UI. To send remote/push notifications, include the category name in the payload. This will then be handled locally once it reaches the device.

What Is the PubSub Model?

PubSub, or Publish-Subscribe, is a messaging pattern where the app doesn’t send notifications to specific segments of users. Rather, they categorize notifications into various Topics or Channels. It’s then up to the user to subscribe to whichever Topics they want to hear more about.

According to the Android Firebase docs section:

“Based on the publish/subscribe model, FCM topic messaging allows you to send a message to multiple devices that have opted in to a particular topic. You compose topic messages as needed, and FCM handles routing and delivering the message reliably to the right devices.”

For example, users of a weather app could subscribe to the “Inclement Weather Alert” channel to receive warnings about dangerous weather conditions. If they don’t subscribe, they won’t receive that particular group of notifications. This model puts control over which and how many push notifications a device receives into the user’s hands, as the app has no knowledge of which users are subscribed to which Topics. Many developers prefer this model, as it offers greater potential for scalability than the traditional client-server model. It also allows servers to communicate asynchronously.

How Can OpenBack Help Customers Use Notification Topics?

OpenBack’s Topics feature-set can be leveraged on device using the OpenBack SDK as well as using our backend APIs.  So apps can create or subscribe to a Topic device-side or from the app’s backend, which is then synchronized across the OpenBack solution, automatically supporting both Android and iOS. A user can be added or removed form a Topic either from the app’s side, or from the server side. When sending a push notification, specify the Topic name in the send request.

Topics have an great potential to ensure users receive content that’s personalized to their interests. For example, a newspaper app might have many different types of news that it publishes every hour. You neither want to send your users notifications suggesting they read content that’s irrelevant to them. Neither do you want to ping them every single time an article goes up. On the app, the user can say they’re interested in “sports,” “business,” and “travel.” Then the OpenBack SDK would add the user to those 3 Topics on the backend. When a notification is categorized in one of those Topics, it will automatically go out to the subscribed users.

OpenBack  makes it easy and intuitive to set up different Topics, and then handle users being subscribed or unsubscribed as it makes sense. To learn more about Topics and how to set them up, get in touch with one of our experts.


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