What Corporate Intranets Can Learn from Facebook


While we are not fans of adding Web 2.0 technologies to existing enterprise applications for the simple sake of doing so, we are beginning to see all kinds of innovative, business uses of Web 2.0.


One example: vendors creating mashup tools that can be used for lightweight data integration tasks, a trend that IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson writes about here.


Perhaps no enterprise application is as ripe for an infusion of Web 2.0 as the intranet, the internal Web sites that have thus far largely failed to live up to corporate expectations of streamlining internal communications and boosting collaboration.


According to Silicon Republic, a recent Irish Computer Society survey found that some 50 percent of respondents do not use company intranets to assist with their work tasks. Eighty percent of them experience trouble with search and navigation, and 35 percent say they can't access the information they need.


Perhaps the results aren't all that surprising, given the experiences of an intranet consultant related in this EContentMag.com piece. Most companies find it difficult to quantify dissatisfaction with their intranets, because they don't conduct usability tests, survey users or utilize benchmarks of any kind, he says. Also, many companies create intranets with no operational or strategic objectives in mind. And, as highlighted in the aforementioned survey, it's difficult for users to track down the kind of information that should ostensibly be easy to find on an intranet.


Is it any wonder, then, that many of the intranet "trends to watch" spotlighted in this (not new but still relevant) December 2005 CIO.com piece focus on improving the user experience? It mentions several Web 2.o tools, i.e. RSS feeds, wikis and Ajax applications.


Some of those tools are being incorporated in a social network (that sounds a lot like an intranet to us) that Microsoft is creating for Wachovia, reports CIO Insight. Most notably, it has what the article calls "an encyclopedia of all things Wachovia" that some employees are calling Wachipedia. Also included: the abilities for users to develop applications and upload photos.


Sound like any site you know? Pat yourself on the back (or at least indulge in a self-congratulatory smirk) if you said Facebook.


So is it all that surprising that at least one company, Serena Software, actually uses Facebook in place of an intranet? As detailed in this FASTForward Blog entry, the company created a private Serena group for its 800 employees, built some Facebook apps to further facilitate collaboration and provides links to certain documents that remain securely behind the corporate firewall.


In addition, it uses public Facebook groups to connect with its customers and other folks. Since doing so, it has begun receiving resumes from prospective employees through Facebook, found it easier to retain existing employees and enjoyed improved morale, according to the blog.


The company is so committed to the concept that it encourages employees to spend up to an hour of their work week on Facebook. This is a pretty stark contrast to the companies that have banned employees from visiting the site while at work -- but one that appears to be working out well for Serena Software.


Interestingly, one of these 10 ways to drive traffic to your intranet, from Intranet Journal, is to implement social media tools. Other Web 2.0ish ideas included on the list: add RSS feeds, implement discussion forums and conduct polls or surveys.