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Dave Baker

How and when to create a 'custom stream' for monitoring new topics and comments

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Most users of the message boards want to be able to use their web browsers to monitor activity on the message boards daily or on some other periodic basis. They want to be able to view a list of newly posted topics. Some users also want to view a list of recently posted comments to existing topics.

The two ways that are best for viewing newly posted topics are the "Portal tab" -- take a look -- and the Activities tab -- specifically, the "Topics & Comments" link on the drop-down menu under the Activities tab -- take a look.

For registered users, several alternate ways are available to view new posted topics and comments. First, sign in. Next, click the Activities tab and you'll see menu items that say "Topics & Comments: Unread", "Topics I Have Started", and several more. A complete discussion of these menu items can be found in another topic -- take a look.

Those menu items are called "streams" because that's a metaphor for the ability to view the various kinds of content (topics, comments) that "flow by," starting with the most recent content.

Registered users have the ability to modify any one of those standard streams, thereby creating a custom stream. For example, you might want to see only topics and comments that appear in a particular message board. Thereafter you'd be able to click on that custom stream when you click the Activities tab (they appear when you click the "Activity Streams" menu item).

Basically, to make a custom stream, (i) click on any of the standard streams except All Activity (hard to explain) that comes closest to viewing the list you you want, (ii) click on one or more of the buttons on a horizontal bar that will appear under the heading that shows the name of the stream you're currently viewing -- which has the effect of creating a kind of temporary, modified stream, and (iii) save the stream by giving it a name and clicking a button.

Here is an example, providing details:

(1) Click the Activity tab.

(2) Click the "Topics & Comments: Unread" menu option. (If you're not seeing the "Topics & Comments: Unread" option, it's probably because you're not signed in, which of course requires that you've already registered.)

Your browser will display a list of recently added topics and comments (except those that you've already "read" -- i.e., that you've clicked on, perhaps the last time you were using the message boards).

(3) Under the heading "Topics & Comments: Unread" on the web page, find a horizontal row of square buttons

(4) Click the button that says "Content"

(5) Click the gear icon next to the word "Topics"

(6) Use your mouse to select "401(k) Plans" under the drop-down menu you'll see (which is labeled "Narrow by Forums (Message Boards)")

(7) Click the Apply Changes button at the bottom of that drop-down menu

(8) Refresh the web page by using your browser's "refresh" button (or, for most browsers, press the Control and F5 keys at the same time)

(9) You'll notice that the only topics and comments that appear in the resulting list are those that have been posted in the 401(k) Plans message board (magic!)

(10) Click on the "Save as New Stream" button that now appears under the row of buttons

(11) A form will appear asking you to name your custom stream e.g. "Topics & Comments: 401(k) Plans: Unread"

(12) Click the Create Stream button

Voila! When you visit the message boards in the future, you'll have the option of clicking on "Topics & Comments: 401(k) Plans: Unread" (as a menu item, after you click on the Activity tab and then click on "Activity Streams").

So basically all you're doing is making a kind of temporary, modified stream by clicking one or more of the buttons in the horizontal bar, and then giving it a name in order to save it as a new (custom) stream.

You can have more than one custom stream.

Here are explanations of those horizontal buttons that let you modify a standard stream:

"Show Me" - basically means "show me topic titles only" vs. "show me topic titles and any comments to topics."

"Content Types" - basically means "I want to narrow the list to topics (or comments to topics) in one or more specific message boards." (Click on the gear icon next to the word "Topics".)

"Read Status" - You might want to see only unread items that appear in your custom stream. Or you might be flustered when you click on one of the items in the list created by the stream (e.g. the title of a new topic, so you can read it), and then, when you return to the stream (e.g. you click your browser's "back" button), that particular item has gone AWOL and no longer appears in the list. Some people like that feature, by being able to whack away at the list.

You'll also notice that the "Read Status" button provides a choice as to whether "Unread item links take me to the top of the page" or instead "Unread item links take me to the first unread comment." The standard streams assume you want the latter (rather than clicking on a comment item in the list, being taken to the top of the topic in which the comment appears, and then needing to scroll down to read the particular comment).

"Ownership" - can be used to create a view of topics or comments that have been posted by one or more specified members (e.g. you really admire Gary Lesser's expertise in IRAs and SEPs so you want to periodically get a list of anything he's posted). You might not be otherwise "following" these members.

"Following" - refers to the ability to "follow" a particular topic (i.e. know whenever comments have been posted into the topic), a particular forum (message board) (i.e. know whenever a new topic or a new comment has been posted into that forum (message board), or a particular member (i.e. know whenever that member starts a topic or comments on an existing topic). Look for the "Follow" button on the page when you're viewing a topic you want to follow, or on the page that lists all of the topics in a message board you want to follow (use the "Forums (Message Boards)" tab to get into the appropriate message board), or on a member's profile page (click on the member's name wherever it appears, e.g. next to the title of a topic started by the member).

"Time Period" - provides the interesting options of (i) Any time, (ii) Since my last visit, (iii) Specified number of days, and (iv) Specific date range. Have the appropriate amount of fun with this setting.

"Sorting" - basically lets you see the topics and comments over the time period you've chosen, sorted in order of oldest first rather than newest first. Some folks' brains are more comfortable with the former than the latter (which is the setting I used in creating the menu items).

Do you have any questions? Please post them as a comment (sometimes called a "reply") to this topic. Thanks!

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