What is a Social Intranet?

Tomorrow I’m running a short Webinar*, where I’ll be providing a show case of leading social intranet vendors.

To help set the context for the showcase, I’ll be discussing the attributes of what makes a “social intranet” distinct from what I call a traditional publishing intranet. I thought it might be worthwhile sharing one of the slides from that discussion:

The slide shows a screenshot of Dell’s intranet as it appeared back in 1999. Other than perhaps an update to the look and feel, many intranets are still stuck in this one-to-many publishing mode. In some instances organisations have introduced Web-based collaboration tools, however they typical keep user-generated and ad-hoc content separate from official internal communication channels.

This approach to intranets is typically under the misguided assumption that it improves accuracy about that information or that they can somehow control the spread of information internally. Unfortunately this ultimately create bottle necks in information flow and employees fall back on communication channels they can control, like email or even other tools found on the Web. Social intranets are (in part) intended to solve those challenges.

The attributes I’ve highlighted about social intranets are:

  • Human-centred, but not necessarily conversation-centric.
  • Places where work gets done.
  • Users have discretion over how they use and engage with a social intranet.
  • User experience inspired by the Web but designed for the enterprise.
  • Not necessarily a single platform.
  • Embraces mobile computing.
  • But still need deliberate design and support.

I would like to highlight one particular point – that social intranets aren’t necessarily conversation-centric. In other words, its not just about people talking to each other. When we use the word social in ‘social intranets’, what we mean is that they support the social, human fabric of an organisation rather than simply process and supporting organisational structures like the organisational chart or accounting codes that define business units.

You’ll also notice this isn’t a list of technical features – something I will examine later in the presentation when I talk about features versus function. However, starting with specific technical features isn’t the right starting place for understanding what a social intranet is.

In the meantime, what do you think makes a social intranet distinct from those in the past?

*BTW the Webinar is fully booked, but you are welcome to add your name to the wait list to indicate your interest or contact me directly if you would like to learn more about social intranets.