Intranet Development Resources: A Brief Survey

By Deane Barker on October 11, 2010

products-designing We’re embarking on large-scale intranet project for a client.  This will be our fourth intranet, though our first on EPiServer.

I love intranets.  If it were up to me, I’d do nothing but intranets.  I love the idea of a more captive and indoctrinated visitor, with which you can take more interesting functional leaps.  With a public Web site, you have to assume every visit is the first, but with an intranet, you can assume a certain level of familiarity and training, and skip some of the preliminaries.

But what’s odd about intranet development is that there’s been a fairly seriously lack of books and other resources on the subject.  I suspect a big reason for this is because intranets rarely get planned out like external Web sites – they kind of grow organically, and if someone ”clears the decks” and re-boots an intranet from scratch, they usually implement something like Sharepoint, for which hundreds of books have been written.

In preparation for this upcoming project, I’ve been reading up, and have come up with a few great resources.  This is a quick survey of what I’ve been reading in the last few weeks.  If you have others, I’d love to hear about them.

James Robertson from Step Two Designs down in Sydney is kind of my hero.  Step Two is doing arguably the premier intranet consulting in the world right now, and James writes more on the subject than anyone else.

What Every Intranet Team Should Know is a short book, but a good introduction for the team developing and maintaining the system.  You can scream through this book in an afternoon, but it’s a great view from 50,000 feet and about the right length for your average business user.

Designing Intranets is Robertson’s second book, and the one I just finished.  This is the book I’d been looking for all these years.  It presents a step-by-step methodology for working though an intranet re-implementation, from IA to actual page design.  It’s in-depth, well-written, and I would go so far as to say it’s the authoritative book in the field right now.  If you’re looking to build or re-build from scratch, this is the book you want.

User Adoption Patterns is from Michael Sampson (a Kiwi – what is it with the folks down under?), and tackles an issue I’ve always suspected is the key cause of intranet project failures: lack of user adoption.  Consider this post I wrote four years ago.

Here’s something I believe to be true: intranet adoption is more a function of personal and corporate psychology than of technology. Put another way, the greatest technology in the world won’t help if your employees aren’t interested in using your intranet for whatever reason.

To go further back, here’s another post from seven years ago:

Here’s a thought: there’s big money in collaboration apps. Not building new ones, but instead training and motivating people to use the ones they have.

To my knowledge, no one had really tackled this problem in-depth, until I found Sampson’s book.  He presents 20+ patterns and practices to get people to buy into a new technology.  He concentrates on the “second wave” people – the ones who aren’t hardcore first adopters, and are hesitant to give up what they know.

Finally, the Nielsen-Norman Group publishes their Intranet Information Architecture report.  It’s quite spendy at $400 for a single user license, but worth it for the benefit of 56 intranet case studies.  It’s extremely valuable to see what other people are doing on their intranet, and this thing has 1,100+ pages with 1,000+ screenshots show how other intranets look, and how they’re organized.

There are some other resources I’m planning to look at.  Specifically, Nielsen-Norman publishes their Intranet Usability Guidelines report, and Step Two has reports on improving intranet search and staff directories.

If you know of any other good resources on building intranets, speak up in the comments.  I’m curious of what I might have missed.

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