Investigating Intranets?

So what do I need to know about intranet technology these days then? [I have a whole different post about IA, content etc!]

Before I was ever a Web Manager I had a job where my title was Intranet Operations Manager – though as this was the late 90s this didn’t really amount to much more than some Dreamweaver created HTML pages, a shared file system and actually a quite clever (for the time) staff directory. In the years since then I have flirted with intranets but have never really been directly responsible for them – my old team at JISC did end up taking on the intranet just as I was leaving but I wasn’t that closely involved in the thinking behind that.

That said there was a tiny bit of my legacy in the brilliant intranet that Ben, Kerry and H ended up producing. I had been a strong advocate for making use wiki technologies for internal (and close to internal projects) and had introduced a product called Confluence to JISC. Confluence calls itself an ‘enterprise wiki’ (or at least it did) – as I tend to choke on the word ‘enterprise’ unless it is referring to a starship I didn’t use that term! After some failed attempts to get MediaWiki to work in the way I wanted (maybe/likely my own fault) I chose Confluence because it was easier to use and because at the time there was a growing community that was contributing to a plug-in architecture not unlike (though much smaller) than WordPress.

Anyway it was relatively popular and well used and when it came time to make a platform choice for the intranet it had demonstrated enough functionality that it was seriously considered and in the end became the foundation for the intranet. I love/d the idea of a wiki based intranet but that does rather reflect my prejudices and in fact for the most part the JISC intranet acts as a pretty standard HTML based site with pretty minimal collaboration or editing and its share of links to documents – nonetheless I like the fact it is possible to edit 🙂

I also had a little bit of experience with Yammer recently as well but I never really engaged with it to the level I felt I should have. I do like the idea of it and I believe it does add a useful layer of community above and beyond the standard intranet concept but much as I love Twitter I’m not quite sure whether this ‘micro-blogging’ idea works within an organisation – I’m not dismissing it at all just waiting for a light-bulb moment I guess.

My current organisation is now split over two main sites in different cities as well as several satellite offices (including two in Africa) for the first time with teams being split and an awful lot of new people (from what I can tell dozens of people have left taking with them enormous amounts of un-captured knowledge). I think the right kind of tools would relieve a little of the dis-join that is inevitable in this situation. Something like Yammer based in the cloud obviously has advantages in the speed in which it could be setup and some of its basic functions would be massive leaps forward from what we are currently working with (especially the profiles/staff directory) as well as the ability to have a bit of a back-channel. Unfortunately I think that is going to be too big a leap for many people and there is a much more likely solution – one that from my brief reading this week seems to be increasingly the default for most intranets – Sharepoint.

My encounters with Sharepoint have not been happy ones to date but I am willing to concede that is as likely to have been the fault if the implementation as the product – there do seem to have been moves to add a layer of ‘social’ to the tool and the fact it integrates with things like Confluence, Yammer (and Newsgator) as well does seem to open up some opportunities and I have always felt it was a useful document management tool so maybe it isn’t as evil as I have often portrayed it (though I’ll never accept it should be used as a web CMS!)

There doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as much up-to-date blogging or articles on this topic as I was expecting – or maybe I’m looking in the wrong places? Any pointers would be appreciated.


  1. Hi Matt, even though for websites I mostly go for lightweight systems like wordpress these days, for intranets I still believe that Plone is unrivalled – especially when used pretty much out if the box using the provided intranet workflow. It can be used pretty much like a wiki but has far greater extensibility and you get workflow, excellent search and document management for free. It has moved on a lot in the last couple of years, so even if you have tried and dismissed it in the past it’s certainly worth a quick download to try it out IMHO

  2. Plone eh? That is interesting – I will take a proper look at that. I’ve been meaning to have another look at it but I missed out on the conference as I started new job that week and it hadn’t crossed my mind as an intranet tool but I can see why it could be used that way now. Cheers!

  3. Hi Matt,

    For really good advice on intranets, I’d always point towards – their intranet review toolkit in particular is especially useful.

    Cloud-based tools like Yammer are great, but you do lose a level of control that many organisations feel they need.

    If you have an internet-based intranet then you really need to think about authentication and maintaining the user database. It’s not trivial.

    Intranets inside the network are far easier to manage and maintain (but, in my experience, considerably harder to implement). My gut feel is to start by looking at WordPress + BuddyPress for general publishing and networking (eg. Yammer-type stuff). Sharepoint is good for document management, but, to add anything additional to the out-of-the-box setup is something that can only be done by someone with the ability to run the command line on the server. (At least that’s my experience with Sharepoint 2003 – it may have changed since then).

  4. Thanks Mark

    Thankfully I wouldn’t be directly responsible for either the authentication or user database though I imagine it will be a consideration for my CIO.

    I’d LOVE a WordPress based system – it is my go-to solution for just about everything 🙂 but I think it is going to be a tough sell.

    Sharepoint 2010 is a pretty massive leap forward from 2003 as I understand it but it still makes me nervous.

  5. Hi Matt,

    At eTouch, we’re constantly seeing the blurring of lines between Intranet/Km systems/File-management systems/Enterprise social Networking products etc. Organizations are looking to collaborate better and often expect ONE solution to have all these capabilities. The features in our product, SamePage, are reflective of this.

  6. Yo Matt,

    How ye doing pal. Interesting as I have just been asked by a small VCS org for advice about an ‘intranet’. My conversation with them centred around:

    1. What do you actually want to do. As a small org, they didn’t need a rolls royce system and the reality was they just wanted somewhere to communicate, store docs etc.

    2. What was their staff skill levels in using ICT etc.

    There is also a change culture in getting staff, and especially remote staff to access and effectively use the new ‘intranet’.

    I think the likes of WordPress and Drupal really do the business in that they:

    a) are cheap and easy to setup and host on virtual servers
    b) Enable easy setup of access levels and functionality levels – thus providing a customer front end and when users login they get to see more stuff and have greater admin rights – smashing stuff.
    c) Are pretty well future proofed because they have a strong community supporting it.
    d) Have a wide range of add on modules which are pretty simple to install.

    If you want to play with other flavours, have a wee nosey at

    Best regards…Chris…

  7. Hi Chris – good to hear from you!

    I think building an intranet off the back of something like WordPress 3.0 (the multi-site option) could work in alot of cases – especially with smaller orgs. (Not so sure about Drupal – I’m a fan but the learning curve is pretty steep!)

    I can’t see that being an acceptable option in my current circumstances though unfortunately – I think Sharepoint is my future and I need to come to terms with that and work out how to make the very best of that situation!

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