I recently got a question about how one would keep up with a discussion hosted in Microsoft Office SharePoint 2007. There was the misconception that whenever a new item was posted in the discussion, everyone in the site would get a message. SharePoint, by default, does not send an e-mail to every user when new items are created in a discussion. However, there are a few choices:

1) Configure Alerts

A user can request to be notified of new/changed items in SharePoint by using e-mail alerts. To set this up, simply navigate to the discussion/library/list and select "Alert Me" under the "Actions" menu.Alerts will show up in your inbox, with a link to the new/changed content. There are several options for type of alert (new, changed, deleted, all) and frequency (immediate, daily, weekly).

2) Connect to Outlook

Another thing you can do is link to Outlook. You'll find this in the discussion's "Actions" menu as the "Connect to Outlook" option. Outlook will synch with SharePoint and you'll see the new items there, much like a DL + rule to move to folder. In Outlook 2003, this is a one way synch and the items are read-only in Outlook. In Outlook 2007, this is a two way synch and you will be able to change/add/delete items in Outlook with the changes sent back to SharePoint. Please note that this will make Outlook talk directly to the SharePoint server and this does not flow via Exchange.

3) Get RSS Feeds

In the 2007 edition, we also natively support using RSS feeds for the same purpose. The "View RSS Feeds" option is also under the discussion's "Actions" menu. You get this ability by default in all discussions/libraries/lists in SharePoint. You can even have an RSS feed based on a SharePoint Server search result. With RSS support in Windows Vista/Internet Explorer 7 and also in Outlook 2007, that's pretty convenient. Again, this will go directly between your RSS reader (IE7 or Outlook 2007) and SharePoint, without flowing via Exchange.

4) CC the Discussion

Maybe you do want an e-mail-based discussion but you also want to archive the thread in a discussion list. In that case, you can also set the discussion list to accept e-mails and CC that e-mail address. To setup the discussion to receive e-mail, navigate to Site > Discussion > Settings > Change E-mail Settings. This does not offload the e-mail system, but will save the information in SharePoint where it will be archived and searchable.

We do need to figure out what works best in each case. I'm not suggesting we do all four :-)