Writable Intranet

“Writable Intranet” is the corporate intranet of the future where employees collaborate using Wikis, Blogs and applications interoperate using RSS. The Writable Intranet does not have series of static pages where information is disseminated “top down”. It is the place where employees collaborate, exchange thoughts, create plans, capture meeting notes, track projects, create documents (not word documents but documents which are web pages and have version control). The Writable Intranet marks the end of e-mail as the collaboration platform. The Writable Intranet means that enterprise knowledge is “free” and searchable by anybody. The “freedom” implies that knowledge is neither in e-mails and nor in documents but in easily accessible and searchable repositories. The Writable Intranet means information which is a constant source of data to other people who make modifications at will.

In the year 1995, when companies like Sun, Microsoft, etc. started deploying web servers within their corporate firewall, their main objective was how to make the existing information easily accessible. The dissemination of information was “top-down”. Then came discussion groups and a little bit of collaboration but that was tied to the developer community for sharing notes and bug reports. It has been 10 years since, and intranet largely has remained static.
E-mail has been the defacto collaboration tool. Why? Because of one-click publish simplicity. Writing and publishing into multiple inboxes happens in no time. This ease of use has made e-mail the only tool for collaboration in large part. The problem is e-mail is meant for communication and not for collaboration.
Why Writable Intranet then? Public web-sites are rendered read-only because of trust issues. So, why treat the intranet the same way. The intranet has largely remained a collection of static pages containing information disseminated from the “top”. The intranet is not meant for collaboration, it is place where corporate policy makers share their news and views on the organization. Collaboration is largely left to e-mail. There has been some improvement at least in the document exchange front with the help of shared folders and Lotus Notes. A lot of people take Lotus Notes as collaboration platform — it is to the extent that you can easily share documents. I would call it a document exchange platform at its best.
Corroborating this is thesis #44 and #45 from the Cluetrain Manifesto:

Companies typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR policies and other corporate information that workers are doing their best to ignore.

Intranets naturally tend to route around boredom. The best are built bottom-up by engaged individuals cooperating to construct something far more valuable: an intranetworked corporate conversation.

Last week, I picked up some chatter and ranted about the collaboration on the intranet being fundamentally flawed. There are some easier ways to fix it. Fire up an installation of MediaWiki. Ask the employees to take their meeting minutes there. Get collaborated on the Marketing plan of the quarter. Better still, how about a Facebook for the intranet where every employee publishes their profile and their current responsibilities and stuff they are working on.
Go, convince your boss (if you have not talked to him already) or bug your IT staff with new ideas, or heck buy a cheap DELL server and DIY.

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