SharePoint Holmes and the Event Error

Our new SharePoint intranet is getting its final shape, and now that we have the different sites and the news in place, we can start working on other things.

The case

One of those “other things” is the Events calendar, where we share important events within the organization. As these are published on the intranet home page, we needed to give people access to the Events list in the home site only, to avoid them being Masters of the Intranet. πŸ™‚

We created a group of Event Publishers, added that group as Contributor to the Events list, and instructed them how to create a new event. (It works much like creating a page or a news item, just with extra predetermined columns).

The form to add a new event from the Events web part.

Shortly after we gave out the instructions, questions started to roll in. Some Event Publishers had no issues at all, but some reported strange error messages and could not publish their event. It was time to see if SharePoint Holmes was still around!

The investigation

  • I checked permissions. Yes, this group had Read access to the intranet site (this is not a given at this moment pre-launch!) and Contribute access to the Events List. So far, so good.
  • I asked one of the users to show me what she did. She did as instructed – clicked on “Add Event” from the homepage and added a custom image from her PC
This is a custom image that was stored on her PC
  • When she clicked on “Add image” she got the following error message. The same happened when she wanted to add something “from the web”.
I had never seen this error message before!
  • It was a rather mysterious error message, that I had never seen before, but it looked as if it had to do with the image and uploading.
  • I wondered if it could have to do with the fact that she did not have Contribute access to the homepage, so I asked her if she could create an event directly from the Event list. She could add the event without issues, but there was no option to add an image.
The “new event” form from the list looks much different from that form from the webpart
  • I then asked her to repeat it from the web part, this time using an image from the Stock Images. The event was published to the homepage smoothly.
  • This somehow felt like News, where images are being stored in a separate Site Assets library. (Except Stock Images or Organizational Assets; those images do not get stored)
  • I checked if Events were stored in the Pages Library, as they looked much like a page. They were not – they were stored in the Event list.
  • I then checked the Site Assets library, and in the folder “Site Pages” there was a subfolder called “Event”. In that library the Event images are stored.
Apparently Event images are stored in the Site Assets library.

The solution

We did not know that Event images are stored in the Site Assets library when we started, so we had not thought about giving them Contribute access to this library.
We added the Event Publishers group as Contributor to the Site Assets library, and then every Publisher could add events without any error messages.

The Event calendar. The middle item has been created from the Event list directly and has no image.

We could have asked them to use images from the Stock Images or Organizational Assets only, but we felt that was too restrictive. Our education folks have custom images to brand their events consistently, for instance. We could have added those to the Organizational Assets but giving everyone access to the Site Assets is easiest and saves us a lot of instruction and support. πŸ™‚

About SharePoint Holmes:
Part of my role is solving user issues. Sometimes they are so common that I have a standard response, but sometimes I need to do some sleuthing to understand and solve it.
As many of my readers are in a similar position, I thought I’d introduce SharePoint Holmes, SharePoint investigator, who will go through a few cases while working out loud.

Troubleshooting external access to SharePoint sites

We frequently get questions about external contacts that can not access SharePoint sites that they should have access to. Well, access and permissions are troublesome in all organizations, but access issues for external users can have additional causes and solutions, so here’s an overview to help Site Owners and support and admin people (such as myself) to identify and fix issues.

The site owner can check the first 4 items, and if that does not work, the support and admin folks may be able to help with 4, 5, 6 and 7.
It always helps to ask for a screenshot of the error messages, because you can already learn a lot from those.

It is wise to advise external users to log in with their browser in private or incognito mode, especially if they are from an organization that also has Microsoft365. It will avoid account mixups.
Thank you, former colleague Anita, for reminding me!

1. Does the user have access?

Let’s make sure that is not an issue, right? Check if the user is a Guest on Teams, or in case of a stand-alone SharePoint site, check if this person has permissions. Please be aware that external users only become visible in SharePoint permissions after they have been in the site once. So, if you can not find them in the Visitors or Members, it does not mean they have not been added.
In the screenshot below, I have already added someone with a Gmail account, but that person has not yet accessed the site. You may want to check item 2 first.

External users are only visible when they have accessed the site. Most annoying!

2. Has the user seen the invitation?

Warn your user that the invitation may end up in the Spam, Junk email, Unwanted items or whatever their non-regular mailbox is called. My invitation to a Gmail account was considered Spam, and my invitation to a Hotmail account also ended up in Junk mail. Messages in Gmail Spam are deleted after 30 days (see below) and in Hotmail Junk in 10 days, so your external contact may never have seen their invitation!

Invitations easily end up in Spam or Junk mail!

3. Has the user’s invitation expired?

External users need to do their first log in within 90 days, or their invitation expires.
In Classic team sites, the Site owner will see this in Site Settings > Access requests and invitations, under “Show History”. If it says “Expired” you may want to add the user again.
In Communication sites, check Gear wheel > Site Information > View all site settings > Access requests and invitations.
I could not find this option in other site types, and adding “/Access%20Requests/pendingreq.aspx?mbypass=1” to the root did not help either.

Here’s where you see who has been invited.

4. Does the user log in with the exact email address as per the invitation?

This is a frequent cause of problems. If you have added your externals with their Outlook or Hotmail account, they can generally access smoothly; if they have a Gmail, Yahoo or other free mail account you can warn them to expect issues, but if they have an email account for work, using their own domain name, you can not tell whether they can expect issues or not.
Externals should access with a Microsoft account. So if you give someone access with their Gmail account, they are prompted to create or use a Microsoft account. This is not always clear, I have found.

Gregory Zelfond has created a good overview of what the external user sees, and how they should proceed.

Another issue can be if the user has multiple emailadresses, and they access with the wrong one. We recently had an issue where the person had two very similar addresses. It was not clear to both the external and the site owner that he was logging in with @organization.eu, while access was given to @organization.nl ! It was clear from the error message, but you know how people can panic over error messages πŸ™‚

SharePoint admins may use the follwing Microsoft info when trying to help the Site Owner:

Error when an external user accepts a SharePoint Online invitation by using another account

“Access Denied”, “You need permission to access this site”, or “User not found in the directory” errors in SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business – scroll down to see some trouble-shooting for external users.

5. Is the site accessible for external users? (admin only)

Another reason for issues can be that the site is internal-only. In my organization sites are by default internal, but when external access is needed, we can open them up. When people request a new site and they specify that the audience contains external users, we make it accessible for externals from the start. Otherwise, it needs to be changed when the need is there, but site owners do not always know or remember that most sites are internal-only.
An admin can check the sharing settings in the SharePoint admin center.

This site is accessible for external users.

6. Is the external user listed as a Guest user in the Admin center? (admin only)

External users added to Teams will be visible straight away, but again, for stand-alone SharePoint site they need to have accessed the site first. If they are mentioned, they have access and have been able to access this or another site in your tenant.
If they are not visible, it does not necessarily mean they have not been added.

Guest users have their own list in the admin center

7. Has guest access expired automatically? (admin only)

This is a relatively new feature in the SharePoint admin center. You can limit the time that a guest has access, counting from the moment the guest has been given access. After the time has expired, the site admin receives an email and can extend the period.

You can set an automatic guess access expiry in the SharePoint admin center.

Personally I would welcome the option to set an expiry time after a certain period since the last log-in, but “from the moment you have been given access” does not make much sense to me. You can be in the middle of a project and then get kicked out because it has been 60 days since you were given access and the site admin has overlooked the email or forgotten to extend your access? Most annoying!

8. Has the other organization blocked access to external networks?

Sometimes the employer of your external guest does not allow access to external networks. You will not know, and it is up to the external guest to find out. There’s not much you can do about it, except giving the external person an account from your own organization.

Access to Teams

Although external users can have difficulty accessing a Team as well, access is much easier to check than in stand-alone SharePoint sites. Permissions to a Team are easier to check, and guest users to Teams are immediately visible in the Guest users in the admin portal, while SharePoint users only become visible when they have accessed the site once.

Did I miss anything?

Have you found a frequent issue with external users and how have you solved that? Would you know where to find the Access requests and invitations in modern non-communication sites? Or do you have another question or remark? Please add them to the comments!

How to link from a SharePoint page

Did I tell you we are finally moving towards a SharePoint intranet?

We are currently training staff to publish pages and News on SharePoint. Many of them are very happy with the ease of creating pages and news articles, and the fact that you can so easily embed pictures and video. (The old platform can handle one picture or video per article)

One common question is: how do we create links from a page or News article?

Let’s discuss some options. Do you want to link to just one site, page or document? Of do you want/need multiple links on your page? And do they need to be functional and modest, just pretty or attention-grabbing? SharePoint has something for every occasion πŸ™‚

I have made examples in a Team site, but it works the same in a Communication site.

Link opening behaviour

You may want to know that links to content within your tenant always open in the same window. Links to content outside of your tenant always open in a new window. I have been playing around with different options that I found on the internet, but no luck so far.

Make SharePoint Online Menu Items Open in New Tabs! – Views from Veronique (veroniquepalmer.com)

How to open SharePoint Online Modern SPFX links in new tab | Code2care

Suggestions welcome, as sometimes you want to keep people on your page and the link is supposed to be only a side-step!

1. In text

When writing a news article or explanatory text you may want to link to additional information. You can do this in two ways:

  • Linking to a page within your site: type [[ and the list of pages in your site will pop up and you just select one. It will be added with the page name.
Type [[ and the list of pages will show, just click to create a link
  • Linking to anything else: select the text and click the link icon
This is the only option allowing you to open the link in a new tab!
The links will be shown in the text.

If you want your links to stand out, you will need to use a separate web part for that. You can use a two column section where you have a link in the column next to the text, for instance.

The following web parts all handle links in different ways. I will show you how they look in edit mode, what the editing options are and what the end result looks like.

2. Link

The Link web part shows a preview of one link. It depends on the website whether a preview is available. As mine does not have a preview (What! I need to work on that!) I have linked to another very useful website. You just paste the link and the only option you have is to add alternative text or not.

In the screenshot below, from left to right: the empty Link webpart, the web part with link and preview, and the edit options.

If you work with SharePoint, you should follow Gregory Zelfond’s site, sharepointmaven.com!

3. Button

Again, this is for one link, which will be displayed as a button in the colour scheme of your site. You can determine the alignment, but that’s all. Our intranet sounding board contains a number of therapists, and they have warned us against making pages too full of stimuli. So this is a good option if you want to have a quiet, non-overwhelming page.

The Button web part. Very straightforward.

4. Call to Action

If you want people to do something, like register for a webinar or subscribe to a newsletter, a Call to Action webpart may be the best option. It allows you to write an explanatory text (“Attend a webinar”), add the action with the link (“Register now!”), add a background image and align the text.
You pick the background image from the same source as header images for your news items – is there a word for that place? Let’s call it link-picker-page.

This is where you pick images and links from. But not all web parts use this as a source.

The button will be in your site’s colour scheme. If only you could change that black background, it is very visible and sometimes clashes with your colour scheme.

5. Image

You can create a click-through image by using the Image webpart. You will immediately go to the link-picker-page. This web part has an option to add a link, an overlay text (off by default) and to add a caption.

Before we move on to the multiple-link options, let me show you what the web parts look like on a page. I have used three columns, so you have an idea of the relative size. The size can vary depending on the number of columns – the Call to Action and Image web parts will fill the column width, but the Button will always be this size.

This is what the single-link web parts look like.

6. Hero

If you prefer your page to be visually interesting, the Hero web part may be useful. You can choose anything between one or 5 links (also depending on screen resolution and the number of columns in the section) and you start with adding the link (you will go to the link-picker page), then click on the pencil in the bottom of the image to add an image, a call to action for the first item, etc.
This web part consumes a ton of real-estate and I personally think it is too much imagery, too little content πŸ™‚
There’s a lot to this web part and there is good help from Microsoft available: Use the Hero web part – Office Support (microsoft.com)

The Hero web part has many options

7. Quick Links

Another good option if you want to display multiple links. You can go from large image tiles to modest buttons (as below). You can have as many as you like, and you have a ton of options (352 to be exact) to display them. Click “Add Links” and you get taken to the link-picker-page to add the link, then you can adjust things with the pencil underneath.
This is my favourite as it is versatile and you can keep it compact, yet nice looking. The number displayed horizontally will adjust to the column.
This is my blog about it: 352 ways to show Quick Links in SharePoint – Ellen’s Digital Workplace (wordpress.com)

The Quick Links web part has a lot of display options. The Button option is my favourite.

What do all these web parts look like? Below is an overview of all options used.

This is what all web parts look like.

8. Navigation

Of course there is also the navigation menu that you use to link to the main parts in your site. That does not look as pretty as the options above, but it will be shown all over your site, so it has its own merits.

Just click the Edit button below (Team site), or next to the navigation (Communication site) and you can add links, sublinks, move, edit and delete them.

The navigation – adding a new link

Navigation – moving, editing, deleting, indenting a link.

Conclusion

You have many options to select the web part that works for you. I understand it is not always easy to choose the best option, but in general I would say:

  • Keep it simple; visually pleasing but not cluttered.
  • Use Alternative text with images whenever possible – you do not know if anyone in your organization has a temporary or permanent loss of vision and they may want to use the Immersive reader to have the page or news read aloud to them. (I assume the Immersive Reader reads the alternative text – not sure!)
  • Think about the future. If your page is there for a long time, think about the number of links needed over time. Will this stay the same or do you expect more or fewer items needed next year? If you expect that your 5 links of today may be 6 or 7 next year, it may be better to use Quick Links from the start rather than a Hero.
  • Do not forget about your navigation; as it is visible all over the site, you may want to use that for important pages rather than a pretty link on your home page alone.

Have I missed an option? Would you like to say something else? Please comment – I love to hear about your experiences and thoughts!

Your very own SharePoint page

As we are currently working on a new intranet (SharePoint! At last!) we are thinking about “personal” information on the intranet. So I am looking into web parts that can be added to a page, which will present information especially for you.
Of course, you can add document library and list web parts with a default view of “Created by = [Me]” or “Assigned to = [Me]” etc. but that is generally for a specific site that you work in, rather than being applicable to anyone in the organization.

But there are a few web parts which can be used centrally, on an intranet page called “My Page” or similar, that shows information just for you.

1. My News

The News webpart allows you to show News from the site where the web part lives, or from selected sites. Quite a pleasant functionality, I must say. But you can also select “Recommended for current user” and that will show you YOUR News.

This looks as the same News that is shown on the SharePoint landing page, but it will bring it into the intranet, which saves switching apps.

Microsoft info: Use the News web part on a SharePoint page – Office Support (microsoft.com)

Select this News source to give everyone an overview of their personal News on the intranet

2. Saved for later

This web part will show you documents and News items that you have saved for later. It corresponds somewhat with the “Favourites” on the Microsoft365 landing page, but it will only take news posts and “real” documents, presumably from OneDrive and SharePoint.
And of course it shows the same content as the Saved for later web part on the SharePoint landing page.

There are a few display options to choose from while configuring.

Microsoft info: Use the Saved for later web part – SharePoint (microsoft.com)

The configuration

For comparison: above you will see the items shown in Saved for Later, below are My Favourites on the M365 landing page. You see that Forms, Lists and an attachment in my Outlook are not shown in Saved for later. That is a little inconsistent.

My Favourites on the M365 landing page. The highlighted items are shown in “Saved for later”.

3. Recent documents

This web part shows documents you opened or worked on recently. There’s not much to configure, just the number of documents. It corresponds to the “Recent” tab of the M365 landing page, but then if it would be filtered for Office documents.

Microsoft info: Use the Recent documents web part – SharePoint (microsoft.com)

Recent documents appear to show only Office documents, not recordings etc.

4. Sites

This web part can show your frequently visited sites. You can select the layout and the number of sites shown. It corresponds with your “Recent” list on the SharePoint landing page. In my experiment, it did not show a webpart title upon publishing, so I had to invent my own.

Microsoft info: Use the Sites web part – Office Support (microsoft.com)

The Compact view shows small icons, the Grid view is larger but takes up more space.

5. Conversations (Yammer)

This Yammer web part shows what’s on the Yammer feed. Use the option “Home Feed” to make it personal. My web part is empty, as I am the only person in my tenant and have written all messages, but I hope you will get the gist. πŸ™‚

Microsoft info: Use a Yammer web part in SharePoint Online – Office Support (microsoft.com)

The Yammer conversations web part can also be made personal

6. My Feed

This will show a variety of items, such as appointments and files that you have shared or updated. In my own tenant it does not show anything, so I have used another tenant, hence the blurred info. You will also see more of the Yammer conversations web part πŸ™‚

Microsoft info: Use the My feed web part – Office Support (microsoft.com)

My Feed and the options for configuration

7. Tasks?

I have heard rumours about a Tasks web part but I have not seen it yet, so I do not know if it can show your personal Tasks from Planner and ToDo.

“See all”

All web parts have a “See all” option to display more. This is all shown in the site where you are, and generally in a card format.
The only exception is the Conversations web part, where the option is called “View all” and takes you to Yammer.

What do I think?

In general, this is interesting functionality. Some of these web parts are already available in other places in Microsoft365, but it can give your colleagues a good overview of their stuff, and save time switching apps. It is not new – at an earlier employer we already had personal tasks web parts back in 2005, on SharePoint 2003. But that did not look as good and was not as easy to configure as this πŸ™‚

It can also help bring home the message that Microsoft365 is a fully integrated suite of tools.

The look-and-feel is quite pleasant, but be careful with the number of items you make available, and the layout, as it can easily become a very long page. Below a screenshot of what I ended up with, while finding out what was available.

Of course it will be interesting to see how people will respond to a page that has all their own information “on the intranet”. We need to inform people that the content will be different for everyone.

Are you using this in any way? Any thoughts and suggestions as for the perfect page layout? Please let me know – screenshots also welcome!

The end result, but I am sure this can be layed out a bit better.

Some intranet promotion videos – part 8

I have a few intranet videos lined up that I would like to share.

1. Mobile app for a German wind turbine service organization.

This teaser is quite nice as it shows the benefits of the new intranet app for a real-life person, in this case a service engineer. It is a little rehearsed, but it is good to see someone NOT in the office sitting in front of a PC.

It sounds as if the intranet is for corporate info but also plays a large part in keeping the organization connected.

There’s a QR code at the end, and yes, you will be able to download the app, but you can not log on, of course. The next video (no sound) shows what you can do when you have downloaded the app and have signed in. It also has some nice suggestions for your profile picture.

Uploaded April 2021.

2. Demo for a new school intranet

This demo is first of all nice because it is SharePoint, and quite recent as you can see the App bar. The content is what you would expect from a school intranet, with information about the curriculum and exams, a Staff Hub and a Student Hub and so forth. It is quite long with more than 7 minutes, but it is a good showcase of SharePoint site functionalities.

The intranet is for a scondary school in New Zealand.

Uploaded May 2021.

3. Teaser/demo for a revamp

A subtle, tongue-in-cheek teaser for the redesign of an old (SharePoint) intranet that was outdated and looked it, too! The new design does not look like SharePoint, but when you look at the tablet and phone display, you will see it is the SharePoint app. I assume they have some “shell” around it. This revamp was done in 2018, so around the time that the new SharePoint site designs were introduced. If only they had known! But I am guessing here.

This intranet is for a US state child support programme.

Uploaded May 2021.

4. Introduction/teaser for managers

This is a video for managers of a company that works in the construction & engineering, operations & maintenance, staffing, security and defense business in the USA. It informs management of the revamp of their intranet. It could have been a nice teaser, but instead it is a rather overloaded PowerPoint, both content-wise and visually.
I do not think that management will be interested in the name of the platform (it is not SharePoint, although they appear to use sites), for instance. They will be interested in what’s new and how it will help the organization communicate or engage or perform better.

I was quite shocked at the Must-Reads: information that employees will have to confirm they read it. Although I sometimes wish we had that at my organization, I think it is going too far – you will end up with a ton of mandatory reading as everyone will think that their info is essential.

Well, I will be curious what management thinks as the preview will be on May 25th and the launch is June 2nd!

Uploaded: April 2021.

That was all, folks! See you next time!

Image by Photo by Ingo Joseph from Pexels and a bit from myself. Person Recording A Video Β· Free Stock Photo (pexels.com)

List Alerts Rule

When the Microsoft Lists app was introduced I was a bit apprehensive, as I did not really know what all the fuss was about. But now that I have worked with Lists, I am starting to see the light! A few things that I like:

  • You can create personal Lists, which appear to live on OneDrive (as the URL for a list starts similarly, but I have no clue where to access them on OneDrive)
  • The options for colour and icons (trivial, but nice)
  • The ability to create a list from an Excel file, see my earlier post
  • The templates with content
  • Rules. You can create Rules to send yourself an email when something happens in your list.

But…you can also set an oldfashioned Alert. So, guess what I am going to do in this post? Ah, you know me by now. πŸ™‚

Setup:

I used an Issue Tracker list in a personal and a SharePoint version. (In SharePoint, you can use “Add an app” from the gear wheel menu, or “New > List” or “New > App” from the Site Contents page)

I have set one Alert (for new items) as I know how that works

I have also set all the Rules, as I am curious what I will see, two in the Personal version and two in SharePoint.

How does the Alert work?

  • You can do this from the Lists app and from SharePoint
  • You can do this on a personal list (πŸ‘) and on SharePoint
  • Microsoft information
  • In the top bar, click “Alert Me” or the … at the right of the other commands and select “Alert Me”
Setting an Alert in SharePoint. This can also be done from the Lists app and in personal Lists.
  • Adjust the popup to your purpose and click “Save”
  • You will receive an email confirmation
  • When the desired change happens in the list, you will get an email
  • The sender will be yourself if the Alert is from a personal list, or the site name if it is from a SharePoint list.
The familiar Alerts functionality
This is the email body from the Alert

How do Rules work?

  • You can do this from the Lists app and from SharePoint
  • You can do this on a personal list and on SharePoint
  • You can find the Rule option in the top bar under “Automate”
Creating a rule in SharePoint (this can also be done from the Lists app, and for personal Lists)

You have 4 options:

  • A column changes
  • A column value changes
  • A new item is created
  • An item is deleted
The available options for a rule

Creating the rule is pretty easy – click on the desired change and in most cases you just select the column and/or enter the email adress of the person(s) you want to send the change to (including a Me option).

The most complicated one is “a column value changes” as this will ask you the column, e.g. “Status”, the condition (“is” or “is not”) and the value, e.g. “Completed”, and then the email address.

Setting the Rule for when a column value changes
  • You do not get a confirmation email
  • The sender is SharePoint Online
  • When the conditions are met, you will get the following emails:
The notifications from Rules; for Personal Lists they are in Dutch
The email body from this Rule; please note that it uses the known document management icons
Another mail, deleted this time.

But wait, there’s more!

The Reminder, of course! That is a long-desired option that has always been missing in Alerts.

The long-awaited reminder function!

This reminder option will send a notification x days before a certain date. This date needs to be a Time and Date field and can not be a calculated field, so any calculated Due Dates can not be done.
In this case, a reminder before the Data reported is also quite silly, as this is an Issue tracker and the Date Reported is at best Today and sometimes even in the past.

The reminders are Power Automate, and you can find them under My Flows.

The reminders are based on Power Automate

I have set a reminder for 1 day before the Estimated Close date on May 4. So I expected the mail on May 3, but it only arrived on May 4, 01.00 hours. So you have to select the interval carefully.

The Reminders
And this is the reminder mail, the other one is similar. Note the time sent!

What do I think?

  • πŸ‘ You can set Alerts and Rules in personal Lists. It can be useful when you are sharing a List with someone.
  • πŸ‘ Rules are easy to set up – you can use “Me” to send an email to yourself
  • πŸ‘ Rules use a familiar look and feel for emails – it looks like sharing emails and uses the regular document management icons
  • πŸ‘‰ The Reminder option can be useful, but it only works on dates in the future that you pick yourself. An option to work on calculated dates would be nice!
  • πŸ‘‰ The Reminder option works, but you have to test whether your reminder arrives on the desired time. In this experiment, 1 day turned out to be “on the day itself”.
  • πŸ‘Ž Rules do not take a change of list name into account. I changed the personal list to “Issue tracker Personal” but the email from the Rule did not adjust. The email from the Alert did, so did the mail from the Reminder.
  • πŸ‘Ž I miss a Rule for: “any changes in the List”. Quite often more than one column is changed, so that would mean you will need to set more Rules in order to be informed properly. You can set 15 rules on any List.
  • πŸ‘Ž The information in the email from Rules is minimal – you have to go to the List to see what has changed. This makes Alerts more useful for any changes except Deletions
  • πŸ‘Ž The emails could benefit from more visual (typographic or otherwise) distinction between the actions and values, e.g. ” Ellen van Aken changed Assigned To to Ellen van Aken for SharePoint News does not show the latest items
  • πŸ‘Ž The sender of a Rule notification is always SharePoint Online – that gives less information than the sender of Alerts, which is yourself (for a personal list) or the SharePoint site name (for a SharePoint list). Especially when you have created many Rules, it may be hard to see what’s what.

Conclusion

I think this is very promising functionality, but I think it can be improved, especially on “information scent”. For the time being I prefer the good old fashioned Alert. It does not look as nice, but it gives you more information!

What are your thoughts/experiences?

SharePoint Holmes and the No-show News

The case

One of our Communication sites has changed hands recently. The former owner was very active in her site and we often referred people to that site as a showcase for Communication sites.
She left and someone else took over. The new owner attended one of our Webinars and told us she felt confident managing the site. Last week she asked for help – she had published a News item for the first time and although it showed on the SharePoint start page she could not find it in her site.

On the SharePoint start page, news item are displayed in chronological (First published) order. The item on the left is the most recent.
The homepage of the site in question. The latest item is nowhere to be seen.

The investigation

I remember seeing the post on my SharePoint start page and thinking “Ah, she did it! Good to see that that site is active again”. But I had not looked at the site.

  • I went to the site and there was the homepage, seemingly untouched since the last owner left. (see screenshot above)
  • I created a new page with the News web part and noticed that the new item was displayed in first position.
A new page with the News web part as is – the new item is in first position.
  • I checked the web part settings of the News web part on the home page.
  • After checking the web part layout and settings, I checked the bottom of the web part menu. And yes, what I suspected was true: ALL news items had been fixed on the page, blocking display of all new News items.
All 4 News items are pinned in a fixed position. This means that new items will be displayed below these.

The solution

That was relatively simple:

In web part editing mode, I clicked on each x after the News item’s title. The chronological order revealed itself, and the latest News became visible.

“Native web part” (in chronological order).

I think pinning all News items is not a good idea. I can imagine that you will want to keep one or (at the very most) two things visible for some time, but to fix them all in their place is defying the purpose of having a News functionality. Default is best, because it is news and it is supposed to change! Also, it can really puzzle your successor πŸ˜‰
And I personally keep forgetting how it is done; the functionality is a bit weird.

More on creating SharePoint News in my earlier post:

16 things to know about creating SharePoint News

And by the way…

I noticed that the web part picker no longer has an expand option. That means you can no longer have a large overview of available web parts. You can now choose between a grid and a list view, and you can search, or scroll.

About SharePoint Holmes:
Part of my role is solving user issues. Sometimes they are so common that I have a standard response, but sometimes I need to do some sleuthing to understand and solve it.
As many of my readers are in a similar position, I thought I’d introduceΒ SharePoint Holmes, SharePointΒ investigator, who will go through a few cases while working out loud.

New! The SharePoint app bar

“Hey, that’s weird, there’s only five News items on my SharePoint start page, not six,” I noticed the other day. When I looked a bit better at the page, I saw that something had been added on the left side of the page: the SharePoint app bar. At that moment, the only item that worked was the Home button, which led me to the SharePoint start page. Which, seeing that I already was on that page, was not a real advantage 😁. The other options showed an empty popup.

So, after asking around on Twitter, it turned out that more people had it and that they also saw empty popups, but Melissa Torres, the developer of this functionality at Microsoft, was so kind to confirm that it was populating, and indeed, the next day everything worked as it should.

Thank you, everyone who responded to my Tweet! πŸ‘‡

Many people responded to my Tweet, including Melissa Torres from Microsoft.

What does it do?

Here’s a nice explainer video from Melissa Torres. (Thank you, Phil Worrell, for sharing that)

  • This is the Microsoft documentation.
  • The app bar is displayed on the SharePoint start page and all sites with modern pages. We have some “classic” sites at work (well…modern but with a classic homepage) and it does not show on the home page but when you navigate to a document library you see it.
  • The app bar allows you to quickly move between content and sites, so when you in one site and need to go to another, you do not necessarily have to go via the SharePoint start page.
  • There are 4 buttons, see Tweet above, top to bottom:
    • 🏠 Home, which takes you back to the SharePoint start page, or, if your organization has a Home site specified, to the global navigation.
    • 🌍 My Sites, which shows your frequently visited sites and your followed sites
    • πŸ“° My News, which shows you about 8 recent News items
    • πŸ“„ My Files, which are recent documents you opened or worked on

Is the SharePoint app bar something to celebrate?

🌍 I was especially interested in My Sites. We do not have a SharePoint-based intranet yet, and we currently use SharePoint mainly for document management, generally in sites with limited permissions. We are slowly starting with communication sites and News, but the majority is “closed” sites. We have a custom web part showing “My Sites”, showing all sites you have access to, and I recently got some feedback that this was no longer displaying all sites. I wondered if this would solve that problem.

There is a Microsoft User Voice (what are these rumours I hear about closing that down?) asking for an out-of-the-box functionality that shows all sites you have access to, but that has been on the waiting list since 2017. Microsoft indicates that with a SharePoint intranet, there will be many sites everyone will have access to, so a list like that will be confusing rather than helpful. They suggest to use Following and looking at Recently visited sites, in order to create your own list. I will have some convincing to do, as the “All my Sites” is apparently popular functionality and now I need to tell people to “DIY”.
I know “Do It Yourself” is a Microsoft thing, but that does not necessarily resonate with everyone. πŸ˜‰

So, in that way My Sites is a bit of a disappointment, as it does not show “All My Sites” but rather “Recently/Frequently visited” and “Followed sites”. I think this is definitely useful but we will have to help people to make this useful for them. I can see the benefits of a quick switch between sites.

🏠 The Home button is at present not really useful, as there is a SharePoint button in every site to take you back to the SharePoint start page. When we have a Home site, and a global navigation, this button will be more interesting.

Every site has a link that takes you back to the SharePoint homepage

πŸ“° The My News option is nice, but to be honest, News is not THAT important that I need to be able to switch to it quickly when doing something else.

πŸ“„ My documents can be useful. I may need to find a certain document when working in a SharePoint site.

And this…

❓ I also wonder about what happened to plans for the SharePoint start page – about a year ago we were told that the left column would go away, but that never happened. I then thought that every “application landing page” would get the full list of Microsoft 365 apps, as we currently see on the Forms homepage, but that may also not be true.
So, perhaps the app bar will replace the left column? Oh well, we will see.

πŸ‘ All this may be a reason to get rid of classic pages!

πŸ‘Ž I am less happy with the fact that I can only see 5 news items on the start page.

What do you think?

Create a List based on Forms responses – 2

In last week’s episode, we learned that you can use the Excel spreadsheet you get as a result from your Form, to create a Microsoft List. In this case I needed the easy data entry in Forms, but wanted to move the data (using a workflow) into a corresponding SharePoint list in order to facilitate a process.

This time I checked what happens if I use the other answer types (Date, Ranking, Likert, File Upload and Net Promotor Score) as a basis for a new List. I set up a Form with those fields, entered one response, downloaded the Excel and imported that into Microsoft Lists.

Let me share the full “Translation” here, so you have everything in one place.

Field type in FormsSuggested Column in Lists
IDDo not import
Start TimeTitle
Completion TimeNumber
Choice Single line of text
Text shortSingle line of text
Text longSingle line of text
Text numberNumber
RatingNumber
DateNumber
RankingSingle line of text
LikertSingle line of text (one per statement)
File UploadSingle line of text
Net Promotor ScoreNumber

Please note that the “Number” columns have more options to select from than the columns identified as “Single line of text”.

A number column and its options
A Single Line of Text column and its options

More findings:

  • By default, the Date answer from Forms is translated into a Number column in the List. If you want a proper date in your List, make sure you change these during import, as you can not change into a Date and Time column after import.
  • A Likert scale answer will provide you with one column for every statement (=row). I have never liked these question types, as they are a lot of work, but they also provide a ton of clutter in your list 😁
  • The NPS gives you just a number, not the calculation of course.
  • The File Upload option in Forms gives you an ugly URL. Sadly there is no option to change this column into a Hyperlink column.
Yikes (The link to the file that has been uploaded in Forms and now lives in my OneDrive)

Suggestions

I will repeat my suggestions from last time, and have added some new ones, so you have them in one place.

Forms design suggestions:

  • Collect requesters’ email addresses (and names) by default in the Form. Those will be captured in the Excel automatically and can be pushed to the List, saving your users time in entering this info manually.
  • Try to think of a unique identifier in your Form that you can use to fill the Title field in the List.

Import suggestions:

  • When you enter your first item to create the Excel, use short dummy text to avoid scrolling when importing the Excel. (How do I know that, you ask? πŸ˜‰)
  • Select β€œDo not import” for the Excel columns β€œID”, β€œStart Time” and β€œCompletion Time” unless you really need those. (see next item)
  • Make sure you map the Title column first when you create your List, or Lists will keep making suggestions until that field is mapped.
  • If you have a Date column in your Form, other than the Start and Completion time, change that into a Date and Time column during import, as you will be unable to change it later.
  • The Net Promotor Score will only return the number of each response, so think carefully if you really want to import this column into the list. The complete calculation, and the graphic, is nicely done in Forms and it may be easier to check that.
The NPS is a calculation based on all responses – you can not capture this in a Calculated Column.

List suggestions:

  • Is the Start Time of the Form entry important, e.g. if these are requests and you need to sort those in order of entry, or calculate a response time? Use the default β€œCreated” date/time of the item in the List. The workflow may have a few seconds delay, but it is usually the date that is important, not the exact time. This allows you to skip the date columns from the Forms/Excel during import.
  • If you have Choice fields in your Form, it makes sense to configure the corresponding columns in the List as Choice fields and add the values. This will allow you to make use of List column formatting, such as displaying each value as a β€œcoloured choice pill” for easy recognition. You can do this after import.

Conclusion:

Yes, it is certainly possible to use the Excel spreadsheet that is produced from your Form, as a basis for a Microsoft List. However, the import is pretty basic (Numbers and Single Line of Text fields by default), so you will need to think carefully about how to import each answer, because you can not change all of them afterwards.

If your Form is very long it can certainly help, but if your Form only has a few questions, I think you can just as quickly make a list from scratch and make sure that all columns are correct from the start. But of course one wonders if a scenario like this was in scope when developing all this functionality.

Do you have any experience with this kind of set-up, and if yes, do you have any tips or tricks to share?

Create a List based on Forms responses – 1

A colleague asked if we could make his process easier by collecting requests through Forms instead of completing a Word document and then emailing it.
After discussing his process it appeared that the regular Forms output (the graphs and the Excel file) was not sufficient for his ongoing process. So we decided on a different approach:

  • use Forms to collect the requests from colleagues across the organization.
  • use Power Automate to send the responses into a List in a (restricted) SharePoint site. We will not go into details about the workflow itself, but please be aware it is part of the process.
  • the team can process the requests from their SharePoint site.

This has advantages and some risks:

  • πŸ‘ Forms has nice interface for the requester
  • πŸ‘ Requests can be made from phone if desired
  • πŸ‘ Form can be accessed by QR code if needed
  • πŸ‘ Branching in Forms (skipping questions based on earlier answers) is possible, making the workload for the requester as small as possible
  • πŸ‘ As the workflow is user-based, there is no need to manage extra permissions to the SharePoint list (the requests can be entered by more people than currently have access to the SharePoint site)
  • πŸ‘ Many options to slice and dice the requests into reports: open and completed, most popular request types, how many requests in a year, etc.
  • πŸ‘Ž The workflow can break
  • πŸ‘Ž Workflow and list need to be adjusted when the Form changes

Using the Excel file to create the List

I wanted to see whether I could use the Excel file from the Form as the basis for the List, as I was curious if this would save time.

  1. I created a Form, using a sample of each question/response option in Choice, Text, Rating. (In my next post I will use the other response options)
  2. I completed one request to create the Excel
  3. I downloaded the Excel file to my PC – you can also save it to OneDrive
  4. I then went to the Lists homepage, clicked on “New List” and then “From Excel”
  5. I uploaded the Excel (or select from OneDrive)
  6. For each column I had the option to “Do not import” or check and adjust the column type
  7. As any List needs a Title field, the system proposed to use the “Start time” (which is unique, so although not very informative, I used it). I can imagine for a real life situation, you will need to think about this.
  8. When I was done adjusting column types, I clicked “Next” and then I could adjust the title, add a list description, select colour and icon, and determine whether it will “live” in my OneDrive (personal list) or in a SharePoint site.
  9. I then checked the result
The import screen. For each field you get a proposed column type that you can change. “Do not import” is also an option.
You scroll to the right to map each field to a column.

Findings:

πŸ‘‰ The columns proposed were moderately adequate. The Ratings were all Number columns (good), but the Multiple Lines of Text and the Choice columns were all proposed as Single Line of Text.

If you do not adjust column types, this is what you will get. The blue columns have not been set correctly.

πŸ‘Ž The “Start Time” and “Completion Time” are in a regular date/time format in the Excel, but if you do nothing they turn into a sort of strange calculated number during import. It is a Number column that you can not change after creating the list. I am sure it is extremely unique to the millisecond, but not usable for real humans, so I would suggest to “Do not import” this column unless absolutely necessary. In that case, make sure you turn it into a Date/Time column while importing your Excel file.

The title field, which is a single-line-of-text column with a weird start time notation. Completion time is a number column.

πŸ‘‰ Changing the Choice fields into Choice columns during import made the columns into default choice columns, with dropdown and no values.

Suggestions:

  • Collect requesters’ email addresses (and names) by default in the Form. Those will be captured in the Excel and can be pushed to the List, saving time in entering this info manually.
  • Try to think of a unique identifier in your Form that you can use to fill the Title field in the List.
  • When you enter your first item to create the Excel, use short dummy text to avoid scrolling when importing the Excel. (I entered a ton of text into the Multiple Line of Text field, but that was not a good idea πŸ₯΄)
  • Is the date of the request important, e.g. if you need to sort the requests in order of entry, or calculate a response time? Use the default “Created” date/time of the item in the List. The workflow may have a few seconds delay, but it is usually the date that is important, not the exact time. This allows you to skip the date columns from the Forms/Excel.
  • Make sure you select the Title column first when you create your List, or Lists will keep making suggestions until that field is mapped.
  • Select “Do not import” for the Excel columns “ID”, “Start Time” and “Completion Time” unless you really need those
  • If you have Choice fields in your Form, it makes sense to configure the corresponding columns in the List as Choice fields and add the values. This will allow you to make use of List column formatting, such as displaying each value as a “coloured choice pill” for easy recognition.
If you configure your Choice values as Choice columns and enter the values, you can give the options a different colour each, using Column formatting.

Conclusion

I am not so sure if using the Excel file as the basis for the list saves much time. You need to carefully select and adjust the column type during and after import. I am sure that practice will make perfect, and I will test that in my next experiment with the other Forms-options, but if you are a practiced List creator (and I am one) you may be faster when you create your list from scratch in your SharePoint site.
It was one of my first experiences with the Lists app, however, and I have seen a few things that I like! 😍