“Alerts delivers the latest information that’s important to you,” claims Microsoft.
But can Windows Live Alerts still compete with RSS feeds, social network status updates, tweets and all other real-time news?
Alerts—relict from an old time
Originally introduced as MSN Alerts, Windows Live Alerts send news bits in real time. When Messenger receives an alert, it will show a pop-up notification, just like when one of your contacts signs in. These notifications are clickable and send you to the destination web URL that the alert provider specified.
Additionally, alerts can also be delivered via e-mail and mobile messaging (US, Canada, China only). The service was originally planned to be a versatile instant news delivery system. However, in recent years blogging, RSS feeds and other real-time notifications (like Tweets) have taken over the task to provide users with instant communication.
Simple to use, hard to manage
Subscribing to a Windows Live Alert is easy: just click the “Windows Live Alerts” icon on a website or blog and confirm your subscription on the Windows Live website that opens. However, that website is not well-linked to the other Live Services, not even listed in the omnipresent top header menu. Hence you might find it difficult to access the alerts manager for the alerts you subscribed to.
As publisher, making use of Alerts is not that simple either. It is hard to learn about what types of alerts there are: You can choose from a manual implementation via SOAP calls (these calls must be sent from a server as the interface is IP-firewalled), or you can make use of RSS-based alerts, by signing up at http://signup.alerts.live.com/. Managing existing Alerts, such as changing their name or icon, is only possible when using the manual SOAP API. The corresponding „Live Alerts Manager“ is barely documented.
Either way, setting up an alert is suitable for tech-savvy people only.
What Alerts can do better
From the current implementation and usage, Alerts are boring and not that useful. However, they offer one essential thing not available with feeds and tweets: they are directly linked to Messenger and sent to their subscribers via server-push.
To be able to succeed, Windows Live Alerts should get a complete makeover. Here is a scenario what such a revamp might look like:
|Data aggregation||SOAP API, RSS feed||SOAP API, REST API, RSS feed, Activity streams|
|Data display||Messenger notification, Mail delivery, Mobile SMS||Messenger, Mail, SMS, RSS feed, PubSubHubbub, Server push, JSON API (take Presence API as example).|
|Alerts manager for publishers||Barely-documented “Live Alerts Manager”. Requires PIN and password authentication, after manual approval via e-mail to the Alerts team.||Open for everybody, well-documented. Sign-in using Windows Live ID. Take Windows Live Admin Center as example.|
|Access statistics / User click rates||Undocumented, unknown.||Easy reporting module with graphical statistics display. Again, take Admin Center as example.|
Changes such as these could bring Windows Live Alerts back to the front. People would really use it. At least Microsoft would live up to the new claim:
“Alerts delivers the latest information that’s important to you, how you want it to.”