Traditional vs Social intranets, the war is over!

The Column Two blog is a great source for guidance and tips relating to intranet management and this week saw them produce another really interesting post on Traditional vs Social intranets. In the post called "Traditional vs Social intranets: the war is over without a shot being fired" James Robertson looks at how there has been a widely held perception that these two types of intranets are at war with one another.

James starts by outlining what many consultants and expert consider the attributes of these different types of intranets.


  • content heavy
  • top-down corporate communications
  • publishing, not conversations
  • documents, forms and records
  • driven by a few
  • aligned with hierarchical organisational models
  • unchanged for a decade
  • going the way of the dinosaurs


  • collaboration and conversations
  • driven by people, not content
  • emergent, organic
  • flexible and responsive
  • flows, not stocks
  • driven by the consumerisation of technology
  • the visible face of new business models
  • the way of the future

James then asks the question, which I believe is the key point of the post. Do these views of current intranets reflect what’s happening in the real world, away from consultants and experts? James suggests perhaps not and argues that vendors of social tools, portals and intranets have been incorporating social features for some time now. You only have to look at what Microsoft have done with SharePoint and their acquisition of Yammer to understand the impact collaboration has had on what until recently would have been called a traditional intranet solution. Ultimately the developments these vendors are putting in place are to demonstrate that their tool can answer a business need.

The other perspective James look at is from an organisation, arguing that whilst a few organisations have taken significant steps to making their intranets more social many other organisations are in the very early stages of adoption. I think it's interesting that James says organisations are piloting collaborative platforms, with a view to incorporate it within a single solution. This struck a chord with me as it seems that lots of people I speak to have what I would call a "mix and match" approach. That is that they provide a "traditional" intranet alongside a collaborative tool like Yammer or Confluence.

Summing up James says that there actually wasn't a war. Intranets have evolved and will continue to do so as the expectations of users around collaboration increases.

Why is new technology not adopted?

A short but really interesting post from the Plantronics Blogcentral which lists five reasons why new technologies aren't adopted within organistions. In the introduction to the post "Why is New Technology Not Adopted?" the author starts by saying it's important to try and understand why previous implementations of technology have failed before listing his top 5 reasons why new technology implementations fail.
  1. The Technology Doesn’t Make Sense for the Work. An IT department might be excited by the possibilities of a new tool, but they don't consider how it's going to be used in practice.
  2. The Technology Takes Too Long to Learn. Any new technology needs to be intuitive and easy to use
  3. No One Explains the Possibilities. When new technology is introduced, although it offers numerous ways of re-thinking the way work is done, no one takes the time to do so, and so the team merely adopts the new technology but treats it the same as the old. 
  4. Equally Valid Alternatives. When a new way of working is introduced alongside the old way, and both approaches are treated as equally valid ways of getting work done, most people will take the path of least resistance and go with the approach they’re familiar with.
  5. A Whole Raft of Technology Issues. There’s a whole raft of related technology issues and concerns that can derail the adoption of new technology—such as which specific devices are supported - this is especially true in our increasingly mobile workplace.
The author finishes by asking whether anyone has suffered these issues. I think the answer to that is a resounding yes!

Intranet task based testing (TBT) - Thoughtfarmer webinar

Where would you find the toilets?
Earlier this month I listened in on a very interesting webinar hosted by ThoughtFarmer on Intranet task based testing. This was the second in a series of webinars, following on from their previous session on card sorting. Unfortunately I hadn't attend the card sort webinar but it didn't matter as the speaker provided a quick review of card sorting and how task testing can work alongside card sorting when designing a new intranet or looking at updating an existing intranet.

The first thing the presenter looked at was what TBT could be used for, this includes:

  • Improving the organisation of your intranet
  • Improving top down navigation
  • Improving your structure terminology
  • Isolating a part of the intranet structure
  • Focusing on content design, not visual design
  • Getting user data early
  • A cheap and quick way to try out ideas (online only)

However TBT isn't good at everything so it shouldn't be used for:

  • Checking other navigation routes e.g. Search, contextual links or embedded links
  • Testing search
  • Testing page layouts
  • Testing visual design
  • TBT is not a substitute for site users testing usability
  • TBT is not a replacement for card sorting

Once you've decided that you're going to use TBT you need to think about what tasks you're going to select.

Selecting a task

When selecting a task it's vital to think about the following:
  • How critical are these tasks for peoples day to day work
  • How do the tasks align with your intranet strategy
  • What are some of the things people are currently having problems finding
  • Keep the task to a maximum of 10
  • Keep the time spent to a minimum and no more then 10 minutes

Writing the tasks

This is where it starts to get really interesting, when writing tasks you should ensure you think about the following:

  • Use real scenarios to make it believable
  • Don't use the name of the location of the information in the task
  • Keep it simple and to the point - don't embellish with a whole story
  • Read the task out loud

Once you've selected and written your task the final task is to choose your participants. The most important thing here is to choose participants from across the organisation and to choose a large number of participants. According to the speaker, you can never have too many participants, the feedback you receive will just add to the results. Once the tasks have been undertaken the only "task" left is to review the results, when doing this, the following are important:

  • There should be a success rate of 75-80%
  • How long does it take to complete the task
  • How direct was the route to find the information
  • Where did people go first was there a patter in the click paths

If it's obvious that people are struggling to complete certain tasks then an intranet manager should think about updating the information architecture to make the click path to the content easier.

Rethinking the intranets!

When is good enough...good enough?
Anyone that knows me, will know that I haven't always been an Knowledge Manager. In a previous life/role I was an Information Officer in a Law Firm. This was a much more traditional role when I joined the firm and it morphed into a much more technical role as I was seconded on to various projects at various stages in my career. The point I'm trying to make (badly) is that individuals can change and can learn over time and that according to this article on CMS wire is precisely what intranets need to do.

In "Rethinking the intranets: Teaching an old tool new tricks" The author starts with a story about how they used to visit a Library as a child "I remember my time in the library as a kid in Moscow. As the snow rustled under my feet, my mittens clutching my library card, I looked forward to being transported to faraway worlds. But first, I had to wander the halls of the dimly lit library, choose a book that wasn’t already checked out, wait for the homely librarian to scribble something on my library card, and do it all over for the next book. I had all the time in the world to repeat this process every time I wanted a new book, and books didn’t change that much"

The author then fast forwards a few years and describers their current situation "I don’t have time to check out a book, I can’t depend on obsolete information, and I can’t sit by the phone and wait for someone to call me with an answer" I think many Librarians and especially those working within Law Libraries would argue that Law Libraries are just as valuable now as they were 5, 10 or even 15 years ago. The resources might have changed and the way that information is collected, managed and distributed might be different but the concept of the Library being a Library is still essentially the same.

However Libraries aren't the real subject of the post, the real subject is that intranets like libraries have to move on to ensure they survive and retain their value. The author describes what I believe is widely regarded as the current state of affairs with corporate intranets, namely that "“use is still fairly limited to early-stage activities around information retrieval and employee self-service.” In short, people use it for compliance tools like HR paperwork, time and expense, which employees have to use in order to get paid" Whilst this makes an intranet essential to some degree organisations have moved from content-centric models to people-centric models and it would appear that for the most part intranets have failed to keep up.

The author goes on to say that the focus of intranets should be about engaging us and what better way to engage employees then through the use of social media. "Social media in its purest form is the engine that helps us access the people, resources and information, to turn knowledge into insights and actions, make better decisions faster and move at the speed of business today."

The best way to do this according to the author is by "merging the reach and authoritativeness of the intranet with dynamic and collaborative qualities of an enterprise social network – thus creating a social work hub." The author finishes article with some "tips for success", these are as follows:

  • Be people-centric: Social is a lot different — you can make people fill out timesheets, but you can’t make them share what they know.
  • Consumerize it!
  • Make it available anywhere: This is very important in an increasingly mobile society. 
  • Deploy with ease: Because the social intranet must remain easily adaptable, the platform has to be flexible and combined with other apps.
  • Integrate: An enterprise social network must surface and deliver information from vertical apps to the right people at the right time.
  • Mix official and unofficial content
  • Make content social: Your social work hub not only connects people to each other, it also must connect people to content. By alerting people to existence and changes in relevant content, the social work hub finally delivers on the original promise of the intranet
  • Focus on community: While your goal is to foster business conversations, it’s the non-business ones that build trust, which makes close collaboration possible. In my mind anything that encourages communication and collaboration is a good thing!
  • Redefine roles: To support a shift towards consumerization
  • Plan with right resources: While enterprise social is easier to maintain, is more flexible and affordable, success does take investment in community management, strategic planning, process and tool integration, and coaching

This is a really interesting article, supported by a number of links which if you're thinking about improving your intranet is well worth a read.

[Photo credit - Rethink productions from Flickr]