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Forums Notification: Past Changes to Forums Email Alerts RRS feed

  • General discussion

  • What is Happening?
    Forums will be changing how it delivers live alerts to users in our next release, September 30th, changing from Live Alerts services to our own SMTP based delivery.

    Forums have leveraged the Live Alerts service for years to send email alerts to customers. The next release of forums, September 30th, will require Alerts subscribers to provide an email which they will need to validate to continue to use and benefit from the alerts feature.

    Why is this Happening?
    Email notification is a very important feature in the forums application, about a half million alerts are sent a month. Replies, Answers flagged are a few events that trigger an alert if the user has subscribed to a thread.

    Changing forum alerts to our own delivery vehicle gives the forums team an opportunity to replace a historically troubling dependency. Too often we hear complaints from users of not receiving alerts. The Live Alerts service is a bit of a black box hosted on very outdated services with too high a failure rate. We often hear from users failing to subscribe, reporting errors which are very difficult to diagnose and correct. Having direct control over sending the emails should allow our team to better diagnose and correct failures.

    Changing how we send emails to users gets us a step toward potentially broadening the alerts we make available to customers. We have many requests to extend the alerts functionality to offer more options and having this new system in place gets us closer to enabling some of those features.

    This work will also enable users to change and share single email destinations, enhancement requests we have been hearing about for years.

    When is this Scheduled?
    Next Forums release scheduled for September 30th, 2010.


    Customer Experience and Impact
    The big change for customers is that they need to supply a valid email address if they want to continue to receive forums alerts.

    All users’ alert history will be preserved in the system, users will not have to re subscribe to previously subscribed threads. They will simply need to provide an email to receive any new alerts after the September 30th release.

    Forum users that are signed in without a valid email address will see an obvious yellow notification box in the right rail explaining the system needs their information to send alerts.

    This links to the forum settings page where the user will enter in their email address. The forums system will send a validation email to that address with a link enabling the user to activate the email for further forums alerts.

    Users that have not given us an email will be redirected to the forums settings page to provide a valid email address when they click “Alert Me” icons.

    The Live Alerts provided a couple of conveniences the new alert system will not. The Forums Alerts will no longer support mobile delivery options or live messenger “toast” notifications. Also, the emails send will have a more basic template with fewer visual distractions. We plan to iterate on these templates going forward based on user feedback.

    Users will however, have control over the email delivered to, a continually asked for feature and point of confusion for forums alerts users in the past.  Users will also be able to associated multiple forum accounts with a single email. This is another frequent ask, mostly from product groups that want to leverage a distribution list for delivery. If the DL has an email box associated with it, this should be possible after this release.

    Where Can I See This?
    An early build of the forums settings page is in our CTP environment. This environment is a test environment for early preview. Urls are below.

    MSDN Forums
    TechNet Forums
    Expression Forums
    Microsoft Forums


    Users can visit the current build by going to the above urls and signing in. This is an early build of the functionality we plan to release at the end of the month. Known issues:

    There are a few minor visual fit and finish changes we still have in triage

    • Help file content is in process of being updated
    • Localized strings are still pending for non en-us
    • Email Templates have a few changes pending

    Further Messaging and Communication
    This is a substantial change to the system so early notification to customers is important. I will be posting to the forum issues forum as well as the moderator forums on TechNet and MSDN in the coming days. This communication will give them an early look at the CTP environment and offer them the ability to ask questions about the changes in the forums issues forum.

    Questions or Comments: Reply to this Post.


    Community Forums Program Manager
    Friday, September 17, 2010 9:25 PM
    Answerer

All replies

  • Users that have not given us an email will be redirected to the forums settings page to provide a valid email address when they click �??Alert Me�?� icons.
    Please make sure that alerts can still be registered without registering an E-mail address, e.g. for those who use Alerts only as a Flag filter.   I am actually just as happy going into  My Alerts  occasionally and seeing what has changed as receiving multiple E-mails for those threads as they typically list threads in non-subscribed forums, e.g. posts I made in threads which have been moved.
     
     
    Thanks
     
    Robert Aldwinckle
    ---
    Saturday, September 18, 2010 12:38 PM
  • 1) Earlier today (Mon, Sep 27, 2010), under My Alerts-->Configure Alerts, the following message to ALL users was posted (in red):
     
    Thank-you for your interest in Windows Live Alerts. After much consideration we have decided to discontinue this service as part of the Windows Live offerings. Please sign up with Windows Live Alerts partners directly to  receive their newsletters or other content updates from them. Hotmail Calendar Alerts and reminders will continue to be managed by Windows Live Alerts for the time being.
     
    2) It appears to contradict your earlier message (Brent Serbus, Community Forums Program Manager, Sep 17, 2010):
    "Forums Notification: Changes coming 9/30 to Forums Email Alerts"
    Do you still see light at the end of the tunnel ?? or the Alert Notifications issue is now dead and users just have to move on ??
     
    Regards.
    Monir
    Monday, September 27, 2010 4:19 PM
  •  
     
    No contradiction that I can see. Brent wrote changing from Live Alerts services to our own SMTP based delivery.  All that happens on 30 September is that you can no longer subscribe to or configure alerts at alerts.live.com. You've never been able to do that for alerts from the forums, so no change there.

    Noel
    Tuesday, September 28, 2010 12:35 PM
  • So there's hope! Thanks Noel for the clarification.
     
    Regards.
    Monir
    Tuesday, September 28, 2010 1:30 PM
  • Yes, as the alerts folks phase out their back end, we will be introducing ours. We ARE the live alerts partner you'll be 'signing up' with. I'm a little surprised about their announcement, but it is actually a good thing. Hopefully people won't be super confused a few days from now. Re: Robert's request to use the live alerts functionality not as a way to get email alerts but to instead provide a flagged or favorites list, that isn't really what the live alerts feature was built for. We don't have the option to get an alert but not get it. I suppose you could create an email rule on your client if you really don't want the emails.
    Community Forums Program Manager
    Tuesday, September 28, 2010 11:05 PM
    Answerer
  • Hi Brent;
     
    1) I've just received an Alert (email) Notification for the 1st time in over a year:
    From: Windows Live Alerts From Microsoft Community Forums
    To: monir.......
    Subject: Forums Notification: Changes coming 9/30 to Forums Email ...
    It felt like winning the Lotto, although I've never won one, but it felt like that anyway!
     
    2) Realizing that your new Alert delivery system is probably in its final stages of debugging, I decided not to access at this time any of the links on the MS Alert Notification (e.g.; "Add more alerts", "Go to my alerts ...", "...set up with MSN Mobile", etc.) and wait till it is officially launched.
     
    I for one would like to thank you and your team for resolving the Alert issue once and for all (hopefully to the satisfaction of the majority of users).
     
    Kind regards.
    Monir 
    • Edited by monirg Wednesday, September 29, 2010 6:40 PM typos
    Wednesday, September 29, 2010 1:33 AM
  • Re: Robert's request to use the live alerts functionality not as a way to get email alerts but to instead provide a flagged or favorites list, that isn't really what the live alerts feature was built for. We don't have the option to get an alert but not get it.
     
    My point is being able to list my Alerts is currently available functionality which is not being specified by your above description.  I wanted to register that it is useful, in fact more useful than receiving an alert, and I would like not to lose it.  There seems to be a trend in MS lately of removing useful functionality for no good reason and I wanted to try to ward off something like that happening here.
     
     
    Robert
    ---
    Wednesday, September 29, 2010 1:15 PM
  • Trying to clarify. What does and does not show up in My Alerts will not change at all, the only immediate changes in functionality on 9/30 will be that mobile delivery and Live Messenger email 'toasts' will not be supported (and the templates are a little less visually appealing). The change we are making is that we are going to be sending emails instead of the live alerts infrastructure, which to date, has not been very reliable or predictable.

    Now, if you use the Alert Me functionality as a convenient way to 'favorite' or keep track of threads you are interested in, you can still do this. The difference here is that historically if you used this feature and never got alerts (because the live alerts infrastructure wasn't working or broken) one could precieve this feature as ONLY a thread tracking "my alerts" list (because they potentially never got emails).  Well, we actually want to send emails when people ask to be alerted. So I guess you could look at this as fixing an existing feature by ensuring the emails are actually delivered, far different than 'removing useful functionality for no good reason'. I'm a little surprised by how that was phrased, as I don't think it represents what is happening here.


    Community Forums Program Manager
    Wednesday, September 29, 2010 5:57 PM
    Answerer
  • Now, if you use the Alert Me functionality as a convenient way to 'favorite' or keep track of threads you are interested in, you can still do this.
    Good to know.
     
    The difference here is that historically if you used this feature and never got alerts (because the live alerts infrastructure wasn't working or broken) one could precieve this feature as ONLY a thread tracking "my alerts" list (because they potentially never got emails). 
    FWIW I got E-mails but didn�??t really want them (so, for example, I have no idea if there were ever some missing.)
     
     
    Well, we actually want to send emails when people ask to be alerted. So I guess you could look at this as fixing an existing feature by ensuring the emails are actually delivered, far different than 'removing useful functionality for no good reason'. I'm a little surprised by how that was phrased, as I don't think it represents what is happening here.
    Understood; that would clearly be a fix for the people who weren�??t receiving E-mails who wanted them.   People who were not getting the E-mails and don�??t want them could have a legitimate claim about compatibility (e.g. the quirk they were exploiting not being supported by a new option).  The functionality that I wanted to make sure was considered useful, though not mentioned in your description, is the My Alerts list.   I didn�??t want to see it removed just because the focus in the functional description had been on marking threads and receiving E-mails when marked threads were updated.
    Pardon my cynicism but another reason for my thinking that the removal of the My Alerts list might be possible because of the new changed functional description is that enhancements to the My Alerts list have been requested and one way to deal with those would be to make the whole feature disappear.
     
     
    Robert
    ---
    Thursday, September 30, 2010 3:40 AM
  • I can't imagine removing alerts functionality, too many people use and find it useful. The last couple of years has been really difficult with regard to supporting this feature because of the 'black box' dependency, a stated failure rate that was accepted by the provider as within the limits and mediocre error handling/logging on our end (which we've since corrected). So it's going to be around and we really do want to expand on how users can keep track of what is going on in the system.

    With regard to the exploitation of the 'email' portion of the feature not working, I totally understand. Yet another case of how sometimes bugs can be considered features, I get that. Thanks for the reply, I appreciate it.


    Community Forums Program Manager
    Friday, October 1, 2010 12:58 AM
    Answerer
  • The change is working. The confirmation process was painless. I hope the email template changes are more visually pleasing. The font is harsh on the eyes, especially in the preview pane. (Outlook 2010)

    Thanks.

    Friday, October 1, 2010 11:53 AM
  • The new Alert (email) delivery system is working fine and satisfactorily.
     
    Cheers:)
    Monir
    Friday, October 1, 2010 1:50 PM
  • I can't imagine removing alerts functionality, too many people use and find it useful.
     
    This is still not acknowledging my point.   Your description omitted the My Alerts (listing) feature (and alert management in general).  I want the My Alerts feature and don�??t want to see it dropped because a major revision in the main feature, Alerts, only mentions marking threads and receiving E-mails when marked threads are updated.   In fact, I want to see the functionality for alert management enhanced (as described in other threads about the Alerts functionality).
     
     
    Robert
    ---
    Friday, October 1, 2010 2:18 PM
  • Hi Brent

    <<The Live Alerts provided a couple of conveniences the new alert system will not. The Forums Alerts will no longer support mobile delivery options or live messenger “toast” notifications. Also, the emails send will have a more basic template with fewer visual distractions. We plan to iterate on these templates going forward based on user feedback.>>

    Well, here's my first bit of feedback:

    I want to be able to distinguish from which set of forums a message is coming. The old system did that; this new one does not - not anywhere. Not in the subject line, not in the text.

    I follow a number of different forum sets (even within the MSDN group) and had set up Rules in Outlook to sort these into varous folders. As it stands, I now have no way of knowing from which set of forums a message is coming from...


    Cindy Meister, VSTO/Word MVP
    Sunday, October 3, 2010 9:07 AM
  • I want to be able to distinguish from which set of forums a message is coming. The old system did that; this new one does not - not anywhere. Not in the subject line, not in the text.
    Cindy, as a temporary workaround until they work out how to make it obvious which 'brand' is involved, you could tell your rules to filter on social.microsoft, social.technet, social.answers etc. These appear in the href tag of the links to the forum and the thread.

    Noel
    Sunday, October 3, 2010 10:45 AM
  • Hi Noel

    <<Cindy, as a temporary workaround until they work out how to make it obvious which 'brand' is involved, you could tell your rules to filter on social.microsoft, social.technet, social.answers etc. These appear in the href tag of the links to the forum and the thread.>>

    Unfortunately, this isn't going to work for me. The areas I want to differentiate are located on the same "brand" (private areas vs. public).

    (Also, I haven't a clue how to tell Outlook to scan the html tags embedded in an email message...)


    Cindy Meister, VSTO/Word MVP
    Monday, October 4, 2010 9:29 AM