I spent most of my day yesterday at a J.Boye Intranet Strategy and Round TableMeeting. For those of you unfamiliar with J.Boye, the group facilitates closed-door, confidential, and vendor-free conversations between intranet managers and similar professionals across a wide range of industries.  They meet quarterly to have very open and honest discussions about intranet related issues, with the goal of helping each other to solve problems, discover new technologies, and to develop professionally.   

In most law firms, management of the intranet falls to either KM, IT, or the Library. My unique position is Manager of Intelligence and Intranet – is a combination that “geek extraordinaire” Ryan McClead recently pointed out is akin to being both an umpire and a hot dog vendor at the same baseball game. At the J.Boye meeting, I put my umpire gear away and focused on hot dogs, discussing the evolution of the intranet as a platform.  Lots of companies are implementing micro sites, social media tools, people directories, content management systems, and enterprise search solutions.  They are evaluating UX (user experience) and IA (information architecture) best practices. They are attempting to marry these concepts with robust, never-out-of-date content that people really want and will actually use, even  discussing strategies to encourage users to publish and own content.  There is discussion around monitoring metrics and analytics to determine how effective (or in most cases not) all of these tools are. Their analysis suggests that people are not engaged, user adoption is low, and they need new technologies to bring people in and increase usage across the site.  

Sometime before noon, nearly exasperated, I  tweeted:

By the end of the day, however, I was starting to think that maybe I had been too hasty with my tweet. The intranet isn’t entirely dead, though I can’t help but think that maybe, rather than greater evolution, the intranet needs to devolve a bit.  Let me explain. 

It seems to me, based on the general chatter at J.Boye, that intranets have not successfully evolved much beyond electronic HR manuals anyway. The most frequently used pages on most intranets are vacation request forms, benefits summaries, people directories, and general HR content.  Most other content either goes unread, or people are consuming it elsewhere – in emails, at team meetings, or on external social media platforms. There still isn’t a fool-proof, unvetted, and successfully integrated channel for “social” and the bulk of intranet content is the same sales and marketing content that is available on externally facing websites, in pdf media libraries, and stuffed in glossy brochure stands in reception areas.  

Although intranets were originally intended, as I understand it, to be a source for write-once content, to increase efficiency in the workplace, and to give people all the tools they need to do their jobs in an single, easily accessible location, most intranets have stagnated at this level of first generation “brochure-ware”.  

I would argue that our lack of intranet progress is not for a lack of trying, but because the majority of people currently consuming content on intranets are actually looking for “brochure-ware”, not internal blogging platforms, or collaborative workspaces. 

The concept of an intranet will undoubtedly change as the demands from users change, and as more and more firms start to make content available through mobile browsers, tablets, and the like. The question is not how we can make the current intranet more effective, or what direction we should take the intranet next, but what direction will its organic evolution take once it is driven by user demand and not by hot dog vendors?