The Evolution of Intranets

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A lot has been made in the last couple days over Sun Microsystems President Jonathan Schwartz’s assertion that “intranets are going to die.”

Schwartz, who made the remarks during a talk at Yahoo!’s Syndicate conference in San Francisco, noted that blogs will replace them. His prediction comes shortly after Ross Mayfield told BusinessWeek blogger/podcaster/reporter Stephen Baker that wikis could replace intranets.

Schwartz is a hardcore blogger, and a damn good one. Mayfield’s company, SocialText, sells wikis. It makes sense, then, for each to favor his technology of choice as the replacement for intranets. The problem, though, is that wikis and blogs both operate on a web platform. Go ahead. Go to any blog or wiki you choose and, using your browser tools, view the source code. By God, it’s HTML, isn’t it? And what is an intranet? It’s a private web for your organization. Imagine that-your intranet can have all the blogs and wikis your company can stand. But that doesn’t stop it from being an intranet, assuming your definition is “the web inside your company.”

Of course, the wiki/blog argument isn’t the first one to mistakenly spell the end of intranets. I can’t begin to count the number of people who have told me, “We don’t have an intranet any more. We’ve gone to a portal.” Sheesh. A portal is a front-end view of your intranet! It adds a lot of functionality (like personalization, customization, and the ability pipe a lot of content through portlets), but it’s still ultimately parsing HTML. In other words, portals, wikis, and blogs are all elements of intranets that evolve. They are not replacements.

As I noted here earlier, wikis and blogs cannot replace some of the functionality of an intranet. I have no doubt that Schwartz, if asked, would agree that the online budgeting process cannot be shoehorned into a blog and that a wiki is not the best foundation for a comprehensive, database-driven, searchable, knowledge-based employee directory. The number of applications that reside on intranets that employees use to manage their day-to-day activities is huge; they go well beyond knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Of course, if you define the intranet as a bunch of static web pages, then it’s easy to justify the claim that intranets will die. I simply reject that definition. It’s like saying the World Wide Web will die and be replaced with blogs and wikis. Nonsense. The web is evolving to include blogs and wikis. Ditto intranets.

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.

The Evolution of Intranets
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