Understanding and customizing notifications on The Reef's forum and Nextcloud instance

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Content

1. Introduction

2. Notifications in the forum

3. Notifications in Nextcloud

1. Introduction

Upon joining, new @reeflings are asked to create accounts on several online services, which are the channels of digital collaboration for The Reef. This can create some frustration and delays with people who are unfamiliar with those services, and are not yet in the habit of checking them to see what’s new. Against this problem we have a powerful weapons: notifications. Receiving the right amount of notifications, on the right channel, can make our workflow inside The Reef much easier. In this wiki, we cover notifications as they work in our two main collaboration tools: this forum and our Nextcloud instance.

2. Notifications in the forum

The Reef’s forum is located at https://forum.thereef.brussels or The Reef - Edgeryders, and uses a forum application called Discourse. The Edgeryders Discourse has its own (quite good) documentation, covering everything from creating accounts to how to post.

First of all, we need some vocabulary to understand how to work with notifications.

  • Categories is the name used in Discourse for forums. For example, #the-reef is a top level category in Edgeryders. #the-reef:the-reef-documentation is a subcategory of #the-reef. A category usually contains many topics.
  • Topics are what most forums call threads. They consists of an opening post, followed by many replies.
  • Posts are, well, individual posts within a topic.

Notifications in Discourse appear as blue dots in various places, for example a blue dot next to the title of a topic means that there are new posts that you have not read yet. The most important place where notifications are displayed is your avatar. If you have unhandled notifications, your avatar shows a blue circle with a number, representing the number of notificiations you have not yet seen. Clicking on the avatar shows the list of notifications, with the most recent one at the top.

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If you are not on the forum, Edgeryders sends you notifications by email. These might get sent to spam, especially if you are using Gmail, so check your spam folder, and ask us for help if notifications that you want get sent to spam.

You can select how many Discourse notifications you want to see. There are three places you can do this from:

  1. In your own user settings.
  2. For each category.
  3. In each topic.

We recommend leaving the default notifications settings as they are.

Learn more about default notifications settings

Your default user setting say only one thing: when you post in a topic, Discourse marks that topic as Tracking for you. Tracking means that, upon navigating to the forum, you will see a count of the new replies to the topic since you last visited. If your post gets a direct reply, you will get a notification. Notifications are sent by email, unless you have a tab with the forum open; in the latter case, you will see a little pop-up notification to the top right of your screen, depending on your browser.

To change your default notifications settings, click on your avatar to the top right of the screen, then on the pawn icon to the right, then on “Preferences”:

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At the category level, we recommend this: navigate to page with #the-reef’s category, click on the bell icon to the right of the page, under the description text, and set to “Tracking”.

The descriptions of the various options will tell you exactly what they do, but “Tracking” means that you get notified of every new topic in the category (but not of replies).

If you have one or more topics that you want to to follow more closely, navigate to the end of each topic, click on the bell icon and select “Watching”. This will send you notifications for every reply to that topic.

3. Notifications in Nextcloud

3.1. Enabling notifications in Nextcloud

Nextcloud comes with a system of notifications. When admins create a new user, notifications are by default all disabled, with very few exceptions (for example: when a user’s password was changed).

In this situation, it is hard to keep track of what is going on in The Reef’s Nextcloud instance if you don’t know what you are looking for. To mitigate this problem, users can visit their Settings => Notifications page. You access it by clicking on your avatar to the top right of the Nextcloud window.

At that point, just tick the boxes relative to the notifications you want to see.

Notice that there are two columns of tick boxes, one for push notifications and one for email notifications.

3.2 Types of notifications: push

Push notifications are visible from the Nextcloud interface. When you have new notifications, a red dot becomes visible on the bell icon next to your avatar. To access notifications, click on the bell icon itself.

3.3. Types of notifications: emails

Email notifications are, well, notifications sent to your email address. The process described above explains how to choose which notifications you want. Nextcloud allows you to choose the frequency with which you want to receive notifications. If you choose “Hourly”, “Daily”, and so on, Nextcloud will not email you immediately notifications, but rather wait (an hour, a day and so on, depending on your choice), and group all notifications that happen during the wait in one single email.

A special type of notification is the daily summary. You subscribe to it in the usual way. It sends you a daily email with everything that has happened in Nextcloud.

Some email providers like to send notifications email to spam for no reasons: Gmail is particularly bad. If you worry that email from The Reef’s Nextcloud might end up in spam, the usual solutions apply: look in your spam folder, whitelist messages coming from tabdigital.eu addresses (the company that provides us with Nextcloud services), or ask Team IT for help.

3.4. The Activity application

The Activity application is accessible from the blue bar at the top of the Nextcloud interface.

Activity gives you a log of everything that happened on The Reef’s Nextcloud instance. To the left, you have a set of filters: for example, you can choose to see only your own activities, or only the activities concerning file changes. It is complete and easy to use, but it does not “notify” you anything: it waits for you to open it, rather than pushing information to your email. If you are the type of person that makes some time to catch up with The Reef (for example, once a week), opening Activity might be a way to start your work session, as it tells you what has been going on.

There is a way to use Activity for proper notifications. The Settings menu gives you the option to create a RSS feed with your activities. Advanced users can use the RSS feed in combination with IFTTT to create personalized notifications (example: “send me an email when calendar events are changed or created”).

This is called a “pull” approach to notifications, because it implies you actively consulting Activity as a way to stay informed.

3.5. Customizing the Nextcloud Dashboard

The Nexcloud Dashboard is the welcome screen in Nextcloud. I have set it up so that it tells me, at a glance, what I consider to be the most important things that are happening on The Reef’s Nextcloud. This another example of “pull” approach to notifications. My dashboard looks like this:

For me, the most important things are Activity, Tasks and Events. You might have other priorities.

To customize the Dashboard, scroll down until you find the Customize button and click it. You are presented with a list of widgets that Nextcloud can put on your Dashboard screen. Tick the ones you want, untick the ones you do not want, and you are done.

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