A good intranet comes with ... well, it's been a source of debate lately. It's a debate hot enough to draw its own conference.

Of all the talk, it's about one tenet -- make people want to use it.

Good design. Helpful information to enable people to do their jobs better. Good search. Strong collaboration features.

Easier said than done, right?

"Intranets that lack structure are ticking time-bombs in practically every manner," said Tim Eisenhauer, president of social business software provider Axero Solutions out of San Diego. "If your intranet isn't organized, it can easily turn into a muddled mess."

It's good to avoid time bombs and muddled messes. Eisenhauer caught up with CMSWire about mistakes organizations can avoid when constructing intranets.

Problems and More Problems

Lack of Overall Structure

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Focus on maintaining organizational structure, Eisenhauer stressed. It can often mean the difference between an intranet, he said, that is well-suited for taking a company forward and one that simply will not stand the test of time.

"The key is to allow your structure to evolve organically," he said.

"There’s going to be a natural structure that exists in your company. This could be in the form of company departments, project teams. Start there, and keep it simple. Plan and allow for change over time. Wherever or however people need to work together and have access to common information -- this is how your structure should evolve to define itself."

Excessive 'Parent' Pages

Too many parent pages and sub-categories are common on corporate wiki's, in software documentation, user guides and online help systems. You must avoid this, Eisenhauer said.

"Intranet administrators should understand that parent categories should be kept to a minimum to ensure as much clarity as possible," he said. "Many people believe that this gives license to outfit parent pages with an endless array of sub-categories. This is one of the biggest mistakes that can be made when attempting to keep an intranet running smoothly. Sub-categories are no doubt useful, but going overboard will do nothing but cause problems for everyone in your organization."

Eisenhauer called it "old-school thinking" that "hierarchies are always good."

"The better way to think about this now," he added, "is to make sure you justify your hierarchies and make sure they provide value rather than complicate things. Excessive hierarchies impose a unnatural and unnecessary level of navigation that provides no value because it requires everyone to share the same hierarchical views. And if these views don’t provide value, you’re exposing yourself to confusion."

Hidden Navigational Tools

Provide the right navigational tools to keep an intranet easy to maneuver. No one should have to look high and low for buttons and drop-downs that allow for simple recall of content, Eisenhauer said.

"The key to navigation is that it is universal and that it makes sense to the largest amount of your people," he added. "This is why you want to make sure that you have a system that allows you to tailor the navigation so that it does make sense to your organization, how your people think, and how they tend to search and access the info. they need to do their job."

Learning Opportunities

Poor Tagging, Metadata, Labeling

Too many organizations use terms that are either too broad or include misspelled words. 

Simple “popular tags” and tag suggestions ensure that tags are consistently spelled and applied. Further, your organization may set up a "managed tag group" based on your office locations. Content related to the San Francisco office could be consistently tagged using the standard term "San Francisco" rather than alternative versions like "San Fran," "Frisco" or "SFO."

"Once you create your managed tag groups," Eisenhauer said, "they can also be used as search filters. Members could, for instance, limit their search to only find content specific to the San Francisco office."

Old Content that Lacks Value

To avoid stale content, make a promise of social collaboration.

"You have multiple people enabled to contribute and maintain the content," Eisenhauer said. "By distributing the responsibility, you develop a culture where wrong/outdated information can't exist. And when content becomes old and outdated, it’s likely because it’s not being used or has little value to current circumstances."

No Content Priority

Intranets should come with a way for users to prioritize some branches of content over others.

"We've had customers who make everyone members of all spaces and defeat the 'My Spaces' and 'My Account' filtering," Eisenhauer said. "A person's activity stream shows content from the groups he/she is a part of. Therefore, people should be members of the groups that they are most interested in, in order to ensure that their activity stream is relevant."

Restrictive Permissions

Don't control information. Allow people to choose which groups are most important, but also give a secondary path for folks to find information that they may need less often but still could save them from having to bother someone else for it, Eisenhauer said.

"Permissions should not be used as a tool to reduce clutter and information overload," he said. "There are better tools for that."

Duplicate Information

How can users post the same information in two different spaces? This almost always indicates a new space is called for, one that represents the union of those two groups.

"This returns back to the notion of tailoring information access and updates based on interests and job function," Eisenhauer said, "since it is also possible that not everyone in both those groups could be as interested in that shared content."
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic LicenseTitle image by  MICOLO J.