Yammer and the intranet beyond the firewall

Reading time: 2 minutes

One of the hats I wear is Content Producer for Intranets Live, a subscription-based intranet media channel, with a monthly two-hour online show starting on 4 November.

In the first show we’ll be interviewing David Sacks, CEO of microblogging service Yammer, winner of the TechCrunch50 award last month.

Yammer is designed to provide a secure online space where company employees (with the same company domain in their email address) can broadcast short messages to each other.

For example, people can use it to ask questions or to let everyone else know what they’re working on.

Yammer follows in the footsteps of the hugely successful Twitter, which is being put to great public effect in the run-up to the US presidential election.

Philosophically, Yammer – “What are you working on?” within the company – and Twitter – “What are you doing?” publicly or privately – come from different places.

I’ve spoken with some companies who’ve been using Twitter to communicate in teams and groups privately for some time now. They say they can’t see the value in moving to Yammer. Others have said they find Yammer is just what they needed, and is really helping to make the feel part of the company.

Web-based services like these, along with many others, are described as the intranet beyond the firewall.

So I was just wondering…

  1. With employees using more and more web-based services to get their work done and communicate, what now for internal communications and IT managers?
  2. Why should we trust third-party services with our information?
  3. What would happen if the service your company uses becomes a victim of the credit crunch?
  4. What are the best and worst examples of people using microblogging services at work?
  5. Do services like Yammer and Twitter finally spell the end of the company firewall as we know it?
  6. Is all this the responsibility of the intranet manager? And if not, who’s responsibility is it?

Enterprising times – a case for search best bets

Reading time: 3 minutes

Reading the e-Consultancy interview with Lou Rosenfeld on the importance of site search analytics, I was reminded of when I was product manager of intranet (or enterprise) search at the BBC.

It was back in 2002. People complained that search was broken, but we had neither quantitative nor qualitative data to analyse.

After consulting with my colleague Martin Belam, who at the time was looking after search on bbc.co.uk, I put in place a system for capturing search engine usage data.

In a nutshell, this included where people came from, what they searched for, and where they went.

We also conducted user research to gather qualitative data about the experience of using the intranet and what it was like to find things on it.

After only a few weeks, the usage data started to settle and patterns began to emerge.

We noticed that search term frequency had a long tail (though we didn’t know that’s what it was called at the time!).

The top 25 search terms accounted for half of all searches. The top 50 terms accounted for 75% of all searches made.

We tried searching for the top 10 terms, including “training”, “expenses”, “ariel” (the BBC in-house weekly newspaper) and “jobs”.

The results were worrying to say the least. Few of them returned the result expected on the first page of search results.

If we could find the most likely link (or links) for each of our top search terms, and return that as the top result, we should be able to guarantee providing most people with what they’re looking for.

So we set about building what became the Best Bets system. (How we did this I will write about another time, but needless to say it involved an SQL database, some asp code and some hacking in to the Microsoft Site Server system.)

We then set about working with the numerous intranet site managers to determine what the best link should be for each of the top 50 search terms. Further usage analysis, research and testing showed that this working. Success! People were clicking on the Best Bets result almost 95% of the time we had a search term match.

Over time we extended to cover the top 100 search terms, then 200.

Regular usage analysis showed us when new terms appeared and we took editorial decisions on whether they should have a Best Bet.

In spite of the success of the Best Bets system, we certainly couldn’t rest on our laurels. This was an improvement for sure, but as we well knew, it was only a part of the overall search and navigation user experience. There was plenty more work to be done!

Any search engine worth its salt these days comes with best bets functionality as standard. My advice is to take the time to study and understand how people are using your search engine. Test the top search terms yourself to see what the results look like.

Maintaining a best bets system is a relatively low cost exercise, and encourages regular monitoring of search usage and behaviour, which in turn will provide excellent information about your users’ expectations and your intranet’s findability performance.

A word of caution from experience: bear in mind that the formatting of the best bet in the search results page should be minimally different from the natural results, otherwise it risks ending up in the user’s blind spot and be regarded as a “Sponsored Link” rather than something genuinely useful.

IBF24

Reading time: 2 minutes

Wearing my IBF hat, I’m involved in setting up and running a 24 hour online event in June this year.

It’s called IBF 24 and is being designed as an online conference focusing on intranet innovation.

Starting at 11am GMT on June 18th, the plan is to follow the sun, so there are three consecutive zones each with an eight hour timetable. This means wherever attendees are in the world they should be able to choose a zone that doesn’t require getting up in the middle of the night, unless they want to of course.

There will be live intranet demos from companies who’ve cracked people-finding and established social computing as part of their working environment. Keynote speakers will cover subjects including innovation, search, design and the future of work.

For IBF member organisations, there are 10 places available as part of the annual membership. Non-members need to pay to register.

We’re setting up a site to support the event, more on that soon.

Also we’re looking for ideas to share about how people are using the day to promote their intranet, or some aspect of it, within their company.

If you work on your company intranet this day might provide a good focus for raising awareness within your company of the intranet itself. You could host an intranet day within your company, with awards handed out for the most usable service or site.

Following mentions of “intranet” on twitter

Reading time: 1 minute

As mentioned in a previous post, you can ask twitter to text message or instant message you whenever any term you’re interested in is mentioned in a tweet.

As well as tracking East Dulwich, I’ve been tracking a few others including “intranet”

It makes for some pretty interesting reading but was hard to share online until I came across Tweet Scan courtesy of David Sterry the other day.

It’s a twitter search tool with an RSS feed of your search results…

You can filter your search to individual people on Twitter or have it search the entire public timeline.

Also you can add the search to your browser’s dropdown list of search engines.

That’s mighty handy.

And through it I’ve found blogs by Anu Gupta and Jeremiah Owyang, which I’ve added to my intranet reading list.

Essential intranet reading

Reading time: 3 minutes

Are you involved in intranet (in its broadest possible definition) content, design, management, publishing, thinking, consultancy, evaluation or strategy?

What’s on your reading list?

I’ll kick off with my blog subscriptions tagged “intranet” in google reader (view posts/subscribe to this list):

  • Column Two – James Robertson in Australia, who is also behind the Intranet Innovation Awards.
  • Currybetdotnet – Martin Belam, who I first met and worked with at the BBC when he helped us with our intranet search strategy back in 2002.
  • Dilbert – keeps me sane.
  • FastForward – stuff on so-called “Enterprise 2.0”.
  • Globally local – locally global – Jane McConnell in France. Useful international and strategic perspectives. Annual global survey giving excellent insight and evidence if anyone needs to build a business case for an intranet.
  • InfoDesign: Understanding by design – digest of design-related posts and articles (including interaction design, user experience design and information architecture) compiled by Peter J. Bogaards.
  • Inside out – A relative newcomer to the intranet blogging scene and a must-read from Richard Dennison at BT.
  • Intranet Blog – Toby Ward in Canada. Has worked with numerous companies and seen a lot of intranets – useful case studies and advice on avoiding common pitfalls.
  • IBF Blog – Rotating bloggers on a monthly basis offering insight and analysis from research and evaluations of dozens of company intranets. [I wear an occasional Intranet Benchmarking Forum hat]
  • Is this wisdom – Richard Hare on networking and sharing ideas.
  • Learning Trends – Elliott Masie’s newsletter on the world of learning, work and technology.
  • New Thinking by Gerry McGovern – killer content and the long neck.
  • The Obvious? – Euan Semple, who started the BBC’s internal blogs, wikis, discussion forum, profile pages long before anyone was talking about Enterprise 2.0 or other such neologisms. Thought-provoking ideas and ruminations on social media, the internet, society and work.
  • Signal vs. Noise – The blog from 37 signals makers of Basecamp and other useful, usable and desirable web apps.
  • Webcredibles – Accessible writing on accessibility.

This gives me a manageable amount of info and insight and points to other conversations going on that are relevant too.

It’s difficult deciding what to tag “intranet” and what to tag “intranet-related” – as Richard Dennison asks what is an intranet after all?

I’ve tagged quite a lot, including the frequently updating news-based sources, as intranet-related to try to see the wood for the trees as it were.

Right, wrong, good, bad? Too introspective? What’s missing? What do you recommend?

Facebook as intranet – healthy hype

Reading time: 1 minute

Bill Ives at FastForward blog writes about how the software company Serena has adopted Facebook as its corporate intranet.

They’re using it to take their 800 global employees through a big change programme. They’ve created a few custom apps that staff can use in their private network on Facebook. Apparently it’s boosted staff morale.

This is good news. Not because Facebook is the answer, but because it’s getting people thinking about the possibilities of intranets and moving the conversation on.

Much research has been done and the number one thing people want their intranet to help them with is finding other people.

What better way to help people find each other and the answers to their questions than by focusing the intranet – or rather the digital workspace – around people.

This very much fits in with my model which I call the DNA of the digital workspace – more on this soon – which places people at the centre of getting our work done.

Intranets. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Reading time: 2 minutes

Yesterday about thirty Intranetters (thanks to Andrew for pointing me towards the yahoo group) got together in central London.

It was a really good event – a kind of intranets anonymous. Big thanks to Simon Hill and Rod McLean for their warts’n’all stand-up routines. It certainly seemed quite a cathartic experience for all involved. Intranutters.

This morning a text message arrived from Twitter. I’m tracking the word “intranet” – more on subject-tracking in twitter here. It was none other than Richard Hare, yesterday’s whistle-blower and one of our hosts.

We touched on Sharepoint and accessibility, or rather the lack of it. Maybe we should set up the SHarepoint Accessibility Group – a self-help sub-group of Intranetters.

Some questions from the event…

  1. If you could build an intranet from scratch, what would you start with? And what would you tell people it was for?
  2. What are the best prizes to offer if you’re running a competition on your global intranet?
  3. Management won’t allow blogging because it might encourage cyberbullying. Where do you start?
  4. Is there a precedent in UK law (or any other country for that matter) where a company has been taken to court for an intranet not meeting DDA accessibility requirements?

Just wondering…

The intranet: my web at work

Reading time: 2 minutes

It’s time to drag the intranet in to the twenty-first century. We need to think of the intranet as the digital workspace, or “my web at work.” As a worker I need access to all the tools and information I need to do my job. It’s becoming increasingly likely that not all of that lives inside the company firewall. And I won’t always be at my desk.

Gone are the days of the intranet being a single destination, a “website”, an online publishing – or rather broadcasting – medium for the internal communication function. Sure, there’s a place for internal comms on an intranet, just as there’s a place for payroll giving, blogs and project support tools, but it’s much more. It’s my web at work.

This new definition helps to clarify the role of the central intranet team in any organisation however large or small.

As Matt Jones once put it when discussing bbc.co.uk, “We’re not building a website, we’re building part of the web” – or words to that effect.

The role is not to lock down but to open up. To make the digital workspace as navigable as possible, and to make everything within it as findable and usable as possible.