Content interaction vs content generation

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. The 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.

Intranet documents are not Russian dolls

Embedding and interlinking documents within other documents on the intranet creates a doll-inside-a-doll effect making it difficult for people to find the information that they want.

Documents are a necessary part of our intranet. They come in many shapes and sizes including policy documents, forms for downloading and printing, forms for completing on-screen, calculators and ready-reckoners, letter templates, corporate reports, graphs and statistics, catalogues and presentations. Treated correctly, they provide a rich and useful set of tools and information for staff.

Aside from the usual SEO issues, we have 3 main problems with the documents that people try to publish on the intranet:

  • embedding a document within a document
  • linking from a document to another document
  • using documents instead of HTML pages

the worst situation being a combination of them all. I have seen, for example, a Word document contained within another Word document (which should have been an HTML page), containing a hyperlink back to yet another document on the intranet. When people do this, they create a whole array of problems.

No analytics tracking

As soon as you leave the intranet and enter the world of Microsoft Office documents you lose the ability to track analytics. You’ll only see the clicks from the intranet to the first document. Clicks from within documents to other documents won’t be recorded (if you’re using javascript tracking) and clicks to documents within documents is even asking too much of server logs to track. Without this data, you can’t accurately evaluate what is happening on the intranet.

No navigation structure

When you enter the world of docs you lose the intranet navigation. The back button is no more. You don’t know where you “are” in the intranet. If publishers start to create another mini intranet of documents, interlinked and embedded within each other, then there is no intranet navigation and no structure.

Not included in search results

I wonder if it’s even possible to create a Russian doll effect with more than one layer of documents. The thought makes me cringe. But how would the search engine treat this? If I search for something in a document buried layers deep in another document, what would happen? The search engine follows URLs. Documents within documents don’t have URLs. As with analytics tracking, functionality stops after you enter the world of docs.

No related/serendipitous/social information

There’s no right-hand column in every document containing automated links to other related information on the intranet. No chance to stumble upon something new and interesting, or share it socially.

No browsing

I have seen main intranet sections that consist of one or two HTML pages and many documents. When you try to find something and the only choice you have is to click and wait for a document to open then you kind of lose momentum. Hopefully it’s the document that you wanted and you found it easily. But if you then have to go further in your search the experience becomes cumbersome. You’ve stopped surfing and have hung up your wet-suit for a pair of tough wellies as you find yourself knee high in intranet gloop.

Pages are a better starting place

We all like well-designed pages that you can scoot around. Documents should be accessible from such intranet pages (including the search engine) and not left to form a sub-system by themselves.

Plain English content rewrite: July 2011

We recently restructured some of our intranet sections and took the opportunity to do some plain English rewrites to the page content.

This example is from one of the guidance pages dealing with security when moving offices. The original is filled with passive voice and is afraid to give instructions. I’ve marked up in red.

Original copy

It is extremely important to consider the security aspects of an accommodation move and plan accordingly at an early stage. If potentially sensitive information or valuable equipment is being moved, Corporate Security Branch or agency security teams should be made aware at the earliest opportunity.

If any protectively marked assets (files, papers, or even lap-tops containing information marked RESTRICTED or above) or valuable assets are being moved, the following precautions need to be taken:

  • Transit crates should be used, items should be packed into them by the individuals having responsibility for the assets, and each crate should be sealed. Crates must be clearly marked with the destination in the new accommodation.

The use of commercial removal companies to transport protectively marked assets is acceptable, up to PROTECT. A security escort should remain with the vehicle whenever it contains protectively marked assets.

Corporate Security Branch can advise further on any aspect of this guidance.

(154 words)

Plain English copy rewrite

Think about security when you start to plan an office move.

If you plan to move potentially sensitive information or valuable equipment, tell Corporate Security Branch or agency security teams as soon as possible. If you plan to move any protectively marked or valuable assets (files, papers, laptops containing information marked RESTRICTED or above), then you must use a transit crate. Pack the assets that you have responsibility for. Seal the crate and clearly mark the destination.

You can use commercial removal companies to transport protectively marked assets up to PROTECT. A security escort should stay with the vehicle whenever it contains protectively marked assets.

Contact Corporate Security Branch for more information.

Learn more about protective marking.

(117 words)

The rewritten piece is shorter, more instructional and gives useful links to related information.