This week a couple of customers I've been working with are unveiling their new corporate intranets...on Socialtext. What's interesting about both customer is that they didn't set out to replace their intranets. Originally, they were looking for knowledge management systems, to replace existing M-drives and document management systems. But as we started working together, both customers had an a-ha moment when they said, "I don't see why we wouldn't use this as our entire intranet."
These customers reflect a fundamental shift in the way companies are thinking about their intranets. Companies don't traditionally think of their intranets as places to collaborate. Since their creation in the 1990s, intranets have been seen as publishing vehicles, places where employees come to consume information published centrally. In the intervening years, intranets have improved on many dimensions. They've become more attractive, more dynamic, more animated, and more personalized. But they haven't really become more collaborative.
As companies have begun to embrace Enterprise 2.0, many began to add collaborative tools like blogs, wikis, social networking, etc. Not surprisingly, collaborative tools first made their appearance as specialized destinations separate from the intranets themselves. Intranets sometimes linked to those tools, and sometimes didn't. But the intranets themselves were almost never collaborative places.
That's beginning to change. As companies digest the implications of broad-based collaboration, they are looking at their intranets as collaboration opportunities. They are using the intranet to distribute publishing of critical information, addressing every intranet's single biggest problem: keeping information up-to-date. They are adding spaces to post ideas and innovations right on the intranet homepage, and weaving social networking into the very fabric of their company's information flows.
Better still, companies are using Enterprise 2.0 tools to reduce the cost and accelerate the launch of their intranets. A traditional intranet launch (or re-launch) project within a mid-size company can easily take a year or more. Debates over design, publishing access, and information architecture consume months, and must be completed before any code can be written. In Enterprise 2.0 model, companies can build intranets much faster and more iteratively, getting a first draft in place within a few weeks and filling in the details over time.
This blurring of publishing and collaboration mirrors the broader trend on the consumer web. In the early days of Web 2.0, collaborative tools like MySpace and Facebook were isolated applications that users navigated to from traditional publishing portals like Yahoo! Increasingly, however, these collaborative spaces are becoming the platform through which users access all kinds of content and applications.
As one pundit put it (can someone help me out with the attribution?), for today's users, MySpace and Facebook are the internet. I predict that in three years' time we'll be saying something similar about intranets.