MSWeb Case Study

By Deane Barker on June 13, 2008

MSWeb: An Enterprise Intranet #1: I’m reading “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web” right now (the 3rd Edition — I’ve read each edition separately over the last nine years or so). They have an extended case study of Microsoft’s Intranet (“MSWeb”) that they carried over from the 2nd Edition. It’s electrifying, and I’ve just discovered that it was published at the above link six years ago.

Like Microsoft itself, MSWeb is insanely huge and distributed. Let’s use some numbers to paint a picture of the situation. MSWeb contains:

  • 3,100,000 pages
  • Content created by and for over 50,000 employees who work in 74 countries
  • 8,000 separate intranet sites

That’s a lot of information, and the way it was organized is fascinating. Thrilling, even. I had to stop to catch my breath a couple times while I was reading it.

It didn’t affect me like this when I read it in the last edition. But I’ve been a serious student of information architecture over the last year, and this entire chapter puts the capstone on how my thinking has changed for intranet organization.

I used to be solidly in the “centralize” camp — get them all on the same CMS, using the same page design, etc. My change of heart started when I read “Laughing at the CIO,” which is a superb book by Bob Boiko (who also wrote the 1,100-page “Content Management Bible,” both editions of which I conquered over time).

Boiko helped me understand that the key to information success in the enterprise is not to control all the information, but to provide the easiest access to it, wherever it might reside.

This means letting a thousand flowers bloom, and letting information reside where it’s created. Your job, as information architect, is to catalog it, make sure it’s searchable, and make sure the high points — the most referenced information — is easy to find. Your job is to refine search, build glossaries and common points of reference, and categorize selected resources amid the fray.

The idea of riding herd over all that information and trying to surf the avalanche of data as it spills out of the collective heads of a company that big — I get light-headed just thinking about it.

Someday, when Blend is a teenager, I’d love a long-term consulting job at some big company struggling with their intranet. Someday.

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  1. I did a long term consulting job for a Fortune 100 company helping organize their massive intranet. Next time you’re in CA, I’ll tell you about it over beers. It wasn’t as much fun as it sounds.

    I’m a little surprised by the size of the MS intranet — I’d have guessed it was much larger. My consulting client had over 1 billion pages spread across over a million web servers. One intranet site was a fan site for the Three Stooges. No one really knew why or who owned the site.

    As an aside, you might want to make a comment spam cleanup run.

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