Corporate intranets have gone from buzzword to business edge. This new column will help you to bypass the hype.
**Links for all web sites at located at the end of the article.
By Dave Flack
My mission in this column is to explore topics of interest for those who have taken the bold steps necessary to create an intranet. "Points of Interest" is intended as a double entendre. Obviously, I hope that the points I raise will be interesting, and I assume you have the ability to "point and click" on the links I mention. A good place to start is by visiting UniForum's Web site at http://www.uniforum.org.
Let's start with a definition. Every day there are more and more products for communications, information management and collaboration running on open networks based on non-proprietary standards. For this column, I define an intranet as a dedicated-access information network based on open Internet technologies (such as TCP/IP, HTTP and others), designed to meet the communications needs of a particular organization. While this definition covers e-mail, my main concern is with the use of Web servers and browsers as the primary interface.
As for the form of this column, usually I will offer a set of references to intranets that are addressing some of the most prevalent issues, which you are likely to encounter in your own intranet efforts. In an area as new as this, it may be especially helpful to learn what other pioneers are doing. (Of course, many of these intranets will be, by definition, inaccessible to the general public.)
The majority of intranets start modestly, most often by making employee directories and employment policies more accessible. Others provide help desks, list job openings, coordinate projects and share meeting notes. At the leading edge, some companies are using their intranets for everything from designing products to scheduling vacations and ordering business cards. (For an overview of popular uses and benefits of intranets, see "Behind the Intranet Boom," UniForum's IT Solutions, Sept. 1996.)
You can discover a wealth of information about intranets on the Internet, and in this installment I'll share some of my favorite sources with you. There are as many reasons for creating an intranet as there are slower, more costly and less versatile means of communications that they can replace. For insights into intranet motivations and means, bookmark David Strom's Web site at http://www.strom.com. Strom founded Network Computing magazine in 1990 and was its first editor-in-chief. He also writes a weekly e-mail newsletter called Web Informant, which has dealt with open systems issues in the past. This newsletter is available in HTML for e-mail readers that handle formatting.
My favorite intranet "super-site" is The Intranet Journal, published by Brill Editorial Services and found at http://www.brill.com/intranet. Several features set this online publication apart from a growing number of less qualified intranet theme sites. It offers a blend of technical and management information and serves new intranetters as well as veterans. You'll find design and software tools here, and its news is focused on intranet-specific topics and updated regularly. It sponsors a highly active moderated forum dedicated to intranet concerns called "Soundings." And it doesn't have (yet) a visual cacophony of ad banners.
Speaking of neon-blinking cries to FREE DOWNLOAD, TRIAL or TEST DRIVE, I want to mention some trade publications whose Web sites feature intranet editorial, links and other attractions. Once you know that the intranet market has been forecasted to reach $10 billion by the end of the century, you know better than to use their search engines and the word intranet. You often end up with articles that are not intranet-specific. To save you from a top-down search that, at some sites, could take an afternoon, here are some of the better sites, along with the direct paths to their goodies.
WebMaster Online is the online version of the IDG print trade publication, WebMaster. At http://www.cio.com/WebMaster/wm_irc.html, you'll find a few "from the trenches" case studies and other editorial from this print magazine for corporate webmasters. It also has Web-product articles grouped by application (sound, video, authoring, conferencing) with concise introductions and even-handed discussions of product features and benefits.
I was surprised to find no mention of the word intranet at MecklerMedia's I-World home page at http://www. iworld.com. Most intranet-related articles and links seem to be located at http://www.webcompare.iworld.com/intranet.html. You can also go to the WebWeek tabloid's site, http://www.webweek.com, and read the intranet department.
An exception to the "don't try this yourself" search rule is CMP's TechWeb site at http://www.techweb.com. Using the word intranet alone, its search results usually give you enough information about a given article to know whether you want to pursue it. TechWeb covers all the CMP publications, including CommunicationsWeek, InformationWeek, Interactive Age and Network Computing. All of these run intranet-related stories for various audiences. To select a specific publication, go to http://www.techweb.com/info/publications/publications.html.
I have not been able to locate any specific Usenet newsgroups dedicated to discussions of intranet topics. Most likely this is because, from the viewpoint of the technology used, intranet and Internet issues are largely the same. Groups that address intranet and general Web development applications can be found at http://www.intranetjournal.com/links.html#usenet.
Some other sites worth visiting include The Complete Intranet Resource at http://www.lochnet.com/client/smart/intranet.htm. This is an intranet general interest site that features resources ranging from FAQs and a help desk to book reviews and an intranet vendor database. Intranut is a site that says it's nuts about intranets. Its URL is http://www.intranut.com/index.htm, but I suggest going to its sponsor's site at http://www.justintime.com/intranet/index.htm for a discussion of intranet management topics. Justintime is an intranet development and consulting company that uses its Web site to offer suggestions for managing intranet projects.
By now you should have pointed and clicked and bookmarked your way to a decent list of intranet resources on the Internet. I want to make this column as interactive as possible, so please let me know when you find other sites and resources, and I will try to mention them.
Next time I'll delve into how the more ambitious intranets are being managed and point you to sites where you will find experiences, opinions and products worth noting.
Dave Flack is president of NetDotDesign, Inc., in Sunnyvale, CA. He can be reached at email@example.com. The Web site is http://www.netdotdesign.com.
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