Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Intranet 2.0: Collaboration, Self-Publishing And Tools Mash-up New Driving Forces

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The intranet is changing.

New communication technology is making it less a one-way publishing vehicle and more a platform for two-way communication, collaboration and innovation. In this chapter, we discuss these new technologies - from RSS, to wikis to blogs - and whether you should integrate them into your intranet.

Photo credit: Leo Cinezi

Preparing for "intranet 2.0" - how to integrate new communication technology into your intranet.

The internet is evolving from a channel for content distribution to a platform for collaboration, sharing and innovation - the so-called "Web 2.0". And where the internet goes, your intranet will surely follow. Here is how to prepare for "Intranet 2.0" and how best-practice companies are profiting from new technologies such as RSS, blogs and wikis.

The internet is undergoing a comprehensive software upgrade, representing several initiatives that are collectively known as "Web 2.0". These initiatives were originally described in a seminal article by Tim O'Reilly entitled "What is Web 2.0?". Here are three of the most important factors:

  1. The web has become a collaboration space

    Rather than working alone inside centralized applications, users now access distributed web services that allow them to work collaboratively. These services include social bookmarking sites like, which allows users to independently upload and tag URLs to a server where they can be accessed and shared.

    Web software services like Basecamp allow people to manage projects using a web service rather than a PC application. Web services are easily combined through open standards and open application interfaces (APIs).

  2. The web is now a platform to publish and create

    People have gone beyond just reading the web, to writing, podcasting, remixing and publishing. With blogs and podcasting anybody can document and publish what they know. New kinds of aggregators and directories allow users to categorize and publish their work. The podcast area of the iTunes music store is the most robust example of this.

    Anybody can be an expert. But it goes further than that. People are free to publish and the data they publish is then freed from centralized applications and reorganized, reused and shared by web services that are designed to support specific business processes.

  3. The web becomes an innovation platform

    In the web 2.0 model, there are millions of publishers and thousands of "web services" scanning each new piece of information. According to author Steven Johnson:

    "Information in this new model is analyzed, repackaged, digested and passed on down to the next link in the chain. It flows."

    This new information ecology fosters innovation, as old problems and new ideas collide in a process of recombination, popularly known as a "mash-up". Users with a problem to solve and only modest technical skills, can quickly build the required combinations of tools themselves to address their problem.

How intranet 2.0 is remaking the business

Photo credit: Marratech

Dion Hinchcliffe, whose weblog, Enterprise Web 2.0, is an excellent resource on this topic, sees intranets rapidly proliferating in the 2.0 world. He says they'll become more exclusive and user-specific.

Some intranets - those created for a company board of directors for example - will have a very small audience. Some will be larger - one food company runs an intranet for farmers in India. They access the site to receive commodity prices, weather forecasts, farm management advice and to sell their crops. Two million farmers use it daily and the company's competitors are being forced to build similar tools.

Understanding RSS

Photo credit: Plone

RSS is the most important new development for interconnecting the tools and services of intranet 2.0. RSS has become the language of syndication of content between all the systems on the web.

An RSS aggregator or news aggregator (See Figure 5.1, overleaf) will most likely become the new user interface to the intranet as well. An aggregator is a type of software that retrieves web content that is supplied in the form of a web feed (RSS, Atom and other XML formats), that's published by weblogs, podcasts, video blogs, and mainstream mass media websites.

The aggregator provides a consolidated view of content in a single browser display or desktop
application. RSS is the new pathway for information flow on the web. Users now have better control over what reaches them and how it arrives.

With an aggregator, subscription channels are called RSS feeds. The feed typically contains a summary of what's on a blog or website, which is why the "SS" in RSS is also often referred to as "site summary". When something new - an article, a photo or a podcast - is published, it automatically goes out in the RSS feed.

If the aggregator is tuned - or to use RSS language, subscribed - to that feed, it collects whatever is in the feed. In terms of the user experience, RSS aggregators can be thought of as "Tivo" for your desktop.

Example of an RSS feed reader or "aggregator". Click on the image above to enlarge it

You subscribe to a set of channels through which information will flow. Aggregators can subscribe to feeds from every major media outlet and of course the huge blog universe. But feeds are not limited to blogs and news.

Aggregators can also subscribe to a feed that lists the new books available at your library, or the latest changes to a company's policy manual, or houses for sale. A feed is just an envelope and the possibilities for what it can receive in that envelope are limitless.

RSS provides an essential framework that organizes web content into clean, crisp chunks (known as items) that have vital metadata associated with them, like the date of publication, authorship, categories and tags. RSS is increasingly becoming the "language" of intranet 2.0.

Data that is captured in many of the 2.0 services discussed in this chapter can be syndicated and recirculated inside the enterprise using RSS. Put simply, RSS means employees can get personalized information that's critical to their performance.

People can even go so far as to write simple lightweight programs where they filter, combine, share and republish information to support specific business processes. This also means a proliferation of information feeds that need to be managed. Enterprises will need to rapidly import smart, user-driven aggregation schemes to manage the flow. .
New library systems are being developed that allow editors or librarians to build collections of feeds and podcasts and assign them to groups. At the same time, users should be able to submit and tag feeds and podcasts for distribution by the library system.

These new information ecologies will drive the need for new user interfaces. Instead of a one-size-fits-all portal, people will access information on the intranet through the RSS aggregators discussed above.

RSS aggregators can be thought of as "portals on the fly." The same data can be viewed in a number of different ways based on individual preferences. These new "homepages" are sometimes called "AJAX desktops" because they use AJAX, a technology that allows web pages to interact with each other to increase speed and usability.

The most popular RSS aggregator is Microsoft's (see screenshot here below). lets the user build a personalized homepage out of RSS feeds. This page is integrated with webmail and instant messaging.

Although still at the beta-testing stage, has taken off because it's simple, flexible and completely personal. It helps make sense of the abundance of information on the web.

Figure 5.2: Windows Click on the image above to enlarge it

Case Study

SIEMENS: How RSS is being used


All the various RSS feeds available on the Siemens USA intranet are available in two places:

  1. The page associated with the feed: For example, the main "employee news" page offers an RSS feed where employees can subscribe to that page, so new stories are delivered to them whenever they're uploaded by the communication team.

  2. An RSS landing page that contains an inventory of all the RSS feeds from across the whole Siemens intranet: This page also includes explanations of how RSS works, links to news readers that employees can download and other pertinent information.

Siemens USA offers two types of feeds from its intranet content: blog and non-blog feeds. We'll talk about intranet blogs in the next section. The non-blog feeds includes one from IT. This feed synchs up with a page that lists IT news. It's on this page that an employee can learn that a server upgrade is planned for 2am. Thursday morning. In many companies, this information is pushed via e-mail to every employee - whether they care or not. With RSS, Siemens USA lets employees who want to know about server outages (and other IT updates) subscribe to the feed.

Ultimately, Siemens USA hopes employees throughout the organization will set up their own feeds. The only centralization of the process will be the listing of available RSS feeds on the main RSS landing page. The philosophy: Anybody who has knowledge or information to share can offer it as a feed.

RSS: News Readers


When it comes to RSS news readers, there are a wealth of options available. The two most basic options are software to install on your computer (stand-alone applications or plug-ins) or websites that provide news reader services.

1. Software-based News Readers
First, software (which, on a laptop for example, allows you to read feeds that were delivered earlier, even when you're no longer connected). A popular program is "FeedDemon." It's easy to use, boasts several excellent features and is an investment of only US$29.95. Some of the more popular free readers include "RSSFeedEater" and "SharpReader."

A fairly comprehensive list of most alternatives is at:

2. Plug-in based News Readers

An alternative to consider, if you're an Outlook user, is "NewsGator," which integrates into Outlook. You view RSS feeds as though they're another folder in your e-mail. A lot of people also seem to like "Pluck," an Internet Explorer plug-in.

(It's worth noting that the browsers, Firefox, by Mozilla and Safari (version 2.0), by Apple, have RSS news readers built into them and automate the subscription process. In it's forthcoming operating system, Windows Vista, Microsoft has built in extensive RSS components and features.)

3. Web-Based News Readers

"NewsGator" also offers a nice web-based service, so you don't have to install software on your computer at all. Just log into your account (it's free) to read your feeds.

"Bloglines" is another Web-based service.

RSS: Resources

Photo credit: Digital Lifestyles

Generating RSS Feeds

There's other software out there to make life easy with RSS. For example, with an application called "FeedForAll" to create the XML pages ready to post. You just fill in a few fields and push a button; the file is built on the fly. "FeedForAll" is a terrific program, and it's relatively inexpensive at US$39.95.

Alternatively, you could get the "RSS Channel Editor" for free:

Another free feed-generation program is available at:

Another feed generator you can buy (for US$29.95) is at:

Understanding RSS and learning to use it

End of Part I (of 2)

Originally published by Kathleen Gilroy and Bill Ives, on June 1st, 2006 as "Transforming Your Intranet" on the web site.

(c) Melcrum Publishing

About the authors

Kathleen Gilroy


Kathleen Gilroy is a graduate of the Stanford class of 1979 and has been working in the field of electronic learning and education for her entire career. Highlights include developing the first distance education program for scientists in 1984, Harvard Business School's first e-learning program in 1992, and working with Peter Drucker in 1996 to develop an e-learning program that was seen by 10,000 nonprofit managers in North America. She is currently the CEO of The Otter Group. Check out Kathleen Gilroy's personal blog.

Bill Ives


Bill Ives is the Vice President for Internet Channel Strategy at iQuest Analytics, a software firm that provides a software tool, iQuest, that integrates search with social network analysis. For several years he led the Knowledge Management Practice within the Human Performance Service Line at Accenture and was an advisor to their internal KM group. He has published extensively on these topics and is a frequent conference speaker. Bill writes the blog Portals and KM. He recently completed a book on the business applications of blogs, Business Blogs: A Practical Guide. Bill Ives was a Research Associate at Harvard University exploring the effects of media on cognition. He obtained his Ph. D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Toronto.

About the publisher


Melcrum is a research and information company with offices in London, Chicago and Sydney. Through its publications, research, training materials and events, Melcrum gathers best practices from businesses around the world to help practitioners make better business decisions. Founded in 1996 by Victoria Mellor and Robin Crumby, Melcrum has seen rapid but steady growth through the development of a global and extremely loyal customer base.

"Transforming your intranet" is the new research report from Melcrum, designed to make your intranet perform at the next level. Get practical advice on improving search and usability, integrating communication technologies and measuring your intranet's performance. Click here to download a chapter-by-chapter summary of the report.

Kathleen Gilroy and Bill Ives -
Reference: Otter Group [ Read more ]
Readers' Comments    
2007-07-19 19:52:14


How on earth did you decide that Microsoft Live is the most popular RSS feed reader? Do you have a statistic somewhere? I'd be very curious, and would certainly have thought it would be Google Reader.

posted by on Tuesday, June 13 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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