Friday, May 26, 2006

Intranet politics

Top intranet blogger Toby Ward recently published an article on the politics of intranets.
The article has some great further reading links as well.

As all of us involved in intranet management know for some reason intranets tend to be far more political than their external website cousins.

Guess the idea is that if the public don't get to see it then everyone wants it their way.

A recent intranet I was involved in had the ominpresent intranet steering committee made up of key high level management from the usual areas, Communications, IT, HR etc. (read Jane McConnell's article 'Abolish the Intranet Steering Committee?'. I would say abolish it if they aren't creating postive progression.)

The problem was that the group had little input from actual operations and it tended to become a soap box for the CIO whose department incidently did not 'manage' the intranet day to day.
The steering committee meetings I attended were perhaps the most political of my time at that organisation and I quickly formed the opinion that unless the politics could be removed that the committee was indeed a waste of time.

Interestingly enough an intranet I'm currently involved in doesn't have a permanent steering committee and there's not a full on desire to have one. I do see a need for an occasional high level review and support committee though.

It is important that for a successful intranet internal politics need to be consigned to the bin. Internal politics are simply a waste of time and energy and are largely the product of managers being too focused on their own ambitions rather than the organisationa as a whole.

As Toby points out internal politics can simply lead to an intranet that becomes bogged down and stale.

For an intranet shared governance, direction, strategy, resourcing etc are all good things but the real 'owners' need to be users. It is their needs and desires that should be looked after not upper management internal political ambitions.

A successful intranet needs people from across the organisation to come together and really focus on a 'one organisation' approach, share a vision of success for the intranet and share the belief that successful intranets provide true value to their workplace.

Completely unrealistic I know but I hold high hopes.

Labels:

Monday, May 22, 2006

What is good intranet content?

Yep more of the same 'content is important' carry on. You know you love it.

Three principles of intranet content

Accessible

  • Your users can actually read content without squinting or getting OOS (occupational overuse syndrome).
  • There is good colour contrast of fonts with background colours.
  • Fonts are resizable and sans-serif.
  • Content can be found through well labeled navigation or search.
  • Location within the IA is logical and user focused.

Usable

  • Content is broken down logically from general to specific. Summary first, detail later Content follows 'information triangle' or inverted pyramid models.
  • Content has good use of headings, bullet points and tables to break up content in readable chunks.
  • In-page navigation is easily and logically displayed and links match subheadings.
  • Consistent naming, spelling and grammatical conventions are used.
  • Page is not overloaded with irrelevant fluff or gratuitous use of images.
  • Further information/ page contact is easily found. Don't leave users hanging.
  • Plain English is followed and little content owner jargon is used.

Useful

  • Is it actually the information your users want and need for their job or is it the information you or your manager want them to read?
  • If you don't talk to your users much there's a good chance that you aren't meeting their needs and are wasting their and your own time. Generally there is no excuse in this area as your users are your colleagues.
  • Talk to your users to find out what they actually need from you and what they currently use. You'll probably be surprised.
  • Content is not rehashing or competing with other pages on the intranet.
  • An overall organisational viewpoint is considered when publishing content. How does thgis affect other parts of the business or organisation decisions? Users do use the intranet as a source of record so makes sure messages are consistent.
  • Get rid of old crappy content. Get the cricket bat out swinging for the 'some may want to use it in the future so let's just stick it up somewhere' position.

'Stickability' for intranets is a load of rubbish

One dangerous idea I have seen expressed at intranet conferences is the idea of making your content 'sticky' i.e. creating content that makes your users stay around (or waste time) on a page.

This type of web carry over is one of the reasons why intranet and websites need to be considered and managed separately. For more differences, James Robertson has written, what I consider a seminal article, on the differences between intranets and websites.

Your intranet sucks up users time either positively or negatively.
Most users are frustrated with intranets regardless of how well designed or implemented they are and many dread going into the intranet as they feel direct time wastage.

Your company pays users money to do a job. More time spent on a 'sticky' page = less time spent doing their jobs = less work for your company = less value of the intranet.

You should aim that your users to go to a page find the information they want and then leave.

Making pages 'sticky' with irrelevant material does little to help you achieve your goals as an intranet (i.e value to the organisation) and does little to support the users themselves. There are some areas for less work focused content such as news/ social community areas but content approaches to these areas should not encroach on your key operational and informational content.

Aim for less time per page not more

In an intranet I previously worked on I managed to achieve a 40% increase in page views over a period of months based on some content reworking and restructuring based on the above three principles (accessible, usable and useful)..

While pages views were well up there was another interesting stat, time spent per page, which decreased over the same period and went on doing so. Why? Users were quickly able to get the idea of the page navigate to the area they needed and then leave rather than hunt through miles of unneeded content to find what they want.

As with all stats be careful... as you may be getting the flip side that there's nothing of value on the page thus users leave. So the stats need to be looked at in context of changes you make and obviously user feedback and analysis also adds to the value you get out of web stats.

Stop carrying over old 'web marketing hack ideas' and start considering intranets as the key organisational work and communication tools they should and need to be.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Reading, fonts and typography

John Downs has written a blog entry on reading, fonts and typography which has a presentation he gave recently to a Usability Professionals Association meeting in Auckland.

The post also contains a lot of great links to typeface and font research and some interesting material from Microsoft experts on the 'physiology and psychology of reading'.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Future Auckland and Sydney intranet events

Initial dates have been set for two annual intranet gatherings in Auckland and Sydney.

Auckland -
6th Annual Strategic Intranet & Enterprise Portal Management Conference
23 and 24 August
Organiser - Brightstar

Sydney -
Managing and Maintaining a Decentralised Intranet
13 and 14 September
Organiser - Key Forums

I will be chairing the Auckland event and presenting at both.

The events are a key opportunity for those working in the intranet space to hear from leading organisations and consultants, as well as network with other intranet professionals.

Full details to follow when the events have been finalised.

Labels: ,