The danger of islands on the intranet ocean

We once built unconnected ‘mini-websites’ for teams to work together within. The trouble was, there was no shortcut to visit. So no one visited. Waste of time. Waste of effort.

We designed in a problem with our pilot of SharePoint 2007. Everything was based around unique Team Sites – there was no overarching structure. Nothing connected one Team Site to another, they were literally ‘standalone’.

So Team Site administrators / owners and contributors would start to work on their content, creating intranet web pages and uploading a great many Word documents and PDFs for ‘control’, storage and distribution. A lot of work was put into designing navigation and folders. Each Team Site administrator / owner would reinvent the wheel and build the navigation / folder structure around what they thought was best.

Then it was realised that although dozens of people, or hundreds, perhaps thousands of colleagues technically had access to these Team Sites, not one colleague ‘knew where it was’. There was literally no way of visiting the Team Site from one’s computer. No communications, no education, no links. Nothing.

So Team Site admins would have to email Team Site members and tell them (beg them) to visit ‘for the latest news and documents’. I guess people hoped that visitors would add the relevant Team Sites to their browser’s favourites. Fat chance.

Team Sites we’re literally getting zero hits per month. Spikes in traffic were only evidence that contributors had visited to update a page or revise a document.

This was a pilot, so don’t be too harsh on us! But yeah, we chose to run it as a stealth pilot, telling no one.

Avoiding the standalone, uninhabited island Team Site

So here we are with SharePoint 2010, but the lesson is the same for any intranet or content management system. Don’t create ‘private islands’ of information. Yes, certain info, certain sections of the intranet, should / could be restricted access – I’m not suggesting that commercially sensitive information or customer data should be shared with every employee.

But start from a common launching platform, start from a ‘front door‘ – the intranet. The intranet should be the spider’s web that all sites, Team Sites, databases, online applications and social communications should hang from.

Any ‘island’ Team Site, even a specialist site for just a few people to work on a secret project, should be connected to the mainland intranet in some way. A link.

The intranet is the internal Internet. The Internet, remember, has been around way longer than the World Wide Web, and the Internet is not the Web and the Web is not the Internet. The Web hangs off the Internet. Your intranet is the platform from which other online services hang off. Your home page is your front door, to pages, documents, apps, comms, online services and more. Your intranet is your ‘online estate’ and for your people it is their ‘online workspace’.

So, instead of launching Team Sites and then finding such sites have no audience, we’re creating an integrated intranet site that includes many many sections and Team Sites, all linked up and managed by the content experts themselves, not by me. We are building a ‘many voices’ intranet that’s about getting stuff done, not about broadcasting corp messages.


Photo credit: Ahmed Amir

  1. Hi Wedge, I wondered about these sentences: “Your home page is your front door..” and “..all linked up and managed by the content experts themselves..”. I assume this is a manual task and a lot of governance is needed to keep the links relevant. Putting a link up is one, but keeping it up to date is another one. Especially with many content editors. So I wondered how do you manage that? But you already gave the answer: “..Not by me”.
    So you probably have very disciplined content experts?

  2. Hi Bas, thanks for stopping by.

    Our company has always been obsessed with ‘the directory of teams’ – as a very hierarchial company, every department and sub-department has wanted a page (a single page) on our old intranet. For no reason other than pride.

    Now, with our new intranet we will be able to list all Team Sites, albeit in a less hierarchal manner, almost automatically.

    If we set up Web Part widgets to show all Team Sites, then new Team Sites will automatically be added to the list, as it’s a Web Part widget that does the work.

    For me, that will be a bit ugly, so I propose that Team Site owners add their Team Site to a curated list as well. This list is a hierarchial menu. Our company demands hierarchy, so…

    I have found (as per this article) that Team Site owners get very disheartened when their site gets zero hits. So adding their Team Site to the curated list will be a very relevant matter; I’m hoping they will want to do so as a matter of course, rather than me having to chase them and bash them over the head with their ‘zero hits report’.

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