ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!


Last time we talked about following a document. While the ability to follow a document is relatively new in SharePoint, alerts have been around at least since I started using SharePoint 2007. Alerts are more narrowly focused than the social tool: Following. By that I mean, alerts are available only to track changes to documents (or items in a list). You cannot create an alert on a user or tag. However, alerts provide some additional flexibility on what types of changes you want to track and when you want to hear about them. So let’s dive into alerts.

If I were to open any library or list, I can click on the Library (List) tab or the Document (Item) tab. In both ribbons, there is an icon with the name Alert Me in a group called Share & Track. Does Microsoft duplicate this feature on both ribbons for some reason? Actually, yes. The Alert Me icon in the Library or List ribbon is meant if you want to create an alert to changes to any document in the entire library or list. This feature is useful if you need to monitor whether others are adding, editing or removing documents or list items. On the other hand the Alert Me icon in the Document or Item tab can be used to monitor individual documents or items for changes. So the first thing I have to decide is whether I want to track changes to the overall library or list or to an individual document or item.

For the balance of this discussion, I will assume that I want to monitor changes to an individual document in a library. However, the technique that I will show here is essentially the same for monitoring changes to the entire library, an entire list, or just a single item in a list. I mention the differences at the end of this article.

If I want to create an alert, I need to select the document first by either clicking on a non-hyperlinked column within the document or preferably by clicking the check box in the first column of the document row.

Note, you may think that you can create an alert on multiple documents by selecting their individual checkboxes before continuing. Unfortunately, if you select more than one document, the Alert Me option in the Document ribbon becomes disabled. You can only create alerts individually on documents.

The image below shows the Alert me icon in the Share & Track group. I have already clicked on the lower half of the icon (where the down pointing triangle appears) to open the dropdown menu of options. In this case, I want to select the first (or default) option for this icon to set an alert on the currently selected document.

Next SharePoint opens a dialog which is rather long. Therefore, I will have to explain first the top half and then the bottom half. In the following image, you see the top half of the New Alert dialog. The first thing you need to do is to create an alert title. Because you can create many alerts on different documents in different libraries in different sites, you want to carefully name your alert so that when you manage your alerts (note the second option in the above dropdown) you can easily identify the alert that you may want to change or delete.

A side note on managing your alerts. You can only manage alerts within a single site at a time. You cannot see all of your alerts within a site collection or a SharePoint farm, at least not with the built-in tools. There are some 3rd party scripts that will help you see and delete alerts across all your sites. I may discuss this in a future blog.

Although I’m not going to go into detail here about naming conventions (that is almost like talking about religion or politics), you may want to consider the following factors in defining your alert name:

  • The name of the site/library
  • The name of the document
  • The type of change you want to have the alert monitor.
  • The frequency of the alert reporting

I will show you the latter two factors when we get to the second half of the dialog in just a moment.

The second thing you may need to do is define to whom you want to send the alert. By default, most users want to receive the alert themselves. In fact, unless you have owner rights to a site (as I do), you can only create alerts that you receive and you will not be able to enter users for this property. On the other hand, site owners can create a list of users separated by semi-colons to specify who should receive an alert.

In addition, you may or may not have the ability to send the alerts by E-mail or text message depending on how your SharePoint administrator has set up your system. I’ll assume that e-mail notification will be on for most users and create my alert that way.

Moving to the second half of the dialog, the next property of the alert I can set is to define which types of changes I want to see in my alert. Read these options carefully. Only the first option, Anything Changes, will report changes that I myself made to the document along with changes from others. I may not want to see my changes since I already should remember them. Therefore, the other three options become more interesting. The second option shows me changes that anyone but me made to any document. Again, I may not care so much about changes made to other people’s documents, but only documents that I added to the library. In that case, I might select the third option. Perhaps even that is too much information. Perhaps I want to know when someone else comes in after I have made changes to a document, whether I originally created that document or not, and may have made changes on top of my changes. Then I would select the last option in this group.

The last option I can set for a document alert is when I want the alert sent. I could ask to see the alert immediately (or at least within a few seconds). Unless knowing about the change is critical, this may be more annoying that it is worth. Perhaps I would prefer a daily summary of all changes made to the document. Sure that may mean that I may not be made aware of a change for up to 24 hours after a change was made, but that may be enough. Note that if I select this option, I will have to select what time of day I want to receive that alert. In the figure above, I selected to receive the alert at 1:00 PM.

Finally, I can choose to receive a weekly summary for the alert. In that case, I must define not only the time that I want the alert sent, but also the day of the week I want. For example, I might want to see my weekly alerts first thing Monday morning.

When I click OK at the bottom of the dialog, SharePoint saves my alert definition and begins monitoring for the changes I asked for. If any changes occur to the document in the current reporting period, I will receive an e-mail detailing the changes. If no changes occur, no e-mail is sent.

There is one significant difference when creating an alert on an entire library or list, I can specify whether I only want to see:

  • when new documents are added to the library,
  • when existing documents are modified in the library,
  • when existing documents are deleted from the library,
  • or all of the above.

Note, it is not possible with a single library alert to see only additions and deletions to the library. Either I have to deal with receiving a single alert with all changes to the library or I can create two alerts, one for additions and one for deletions.

So as promised, why would I use an alert over following or vice versa? First, I like getting email alerts about changes and not having to go to my Newsfeed page. Also I like the fact that I can customize the type of change to the document or the library that I’m interested in and not have to wade through changes that do not interest me. On the other hand, alerts do not let me following people or tags to let me know what else individuals are doing or where other similar content may be. I can also follow documents and libraries without having to implement e-mail or SMS services which alerts require.

So I hope now you know how to decide whether you want to follow objects in SharePoint or to receive alerts. Each has their place if you use them wisely.

C’ya next time.

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