Usability, content, search and analytics on the corporate intranet

Content interaction vs content generation

20 July, 2011 – Luke Oatham

Terms like social intranet and intranet 2.0 used to make me think “Facebook at work” (or indeed Google+ these days.) And that could be cool. But I ask myself “how connected are the people who work in the very different parts of our organisation?”

Silos do exist, and in a large department consisting of over 50 organisations there are bound to be groups of people who have no need to come into contact with other groups at work. Does a probation officer need to connect with a policy maker? Are barristers interested in following information assurance professionals? Will a High Court judge like any of the work that the employee engagement team are doing at Head Office? I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be beneficial if staff from different parts of the organisation connected or showed an interest in each other. And I don’t want to play down the power of connected staff within their own silos, after all, even small teams need to communicate with each other.

For me, the data that is formed by people interacting with the content is more interesting than the data from the relationships and networks that people form with each other.┬áThe act of liking a piece of news or rating a piece of guidance information or tagging a corporate policy. It’s this underlying data that interests me. From this data, we can improve the service that the intranet offers.

So while there are intranets out there where staff can blog and micro-blog, follow each other and talk online to each other, I believe our main business benefit would initially come from the way that staff interact with the content, such as rating, commenting and tagging. I don’t know whether this falls under the umbrella of social networking or social media. For me the key element is interacting with the content, as opposed to generating new content or interacting with other people.

Social interaction with content can improve the usability and the quality of the intranet. Here are just some of the benefits I can think of based on pure social interaction with content, as opposed to generation of new content:

  • search results improve as pages and documents become tagged with words suggested by staff, so people will find things faster
  • quality of intranet content improves as comments start to feed back to content editors
  • better written, more accurate and useful content gets rated higher and starts to appear higher in search results and “most popular” lists
  • user tagging builds a folksonomy which can feed into the search function and content delivery

I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for micro-blogging and user-generated content on the intranet. I just don’t think that it’s the first place for us to start building a social intranet. Social interaction can help to improve corporate content. I think it’s important to get this right before introducing user-generated content.

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