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Intranet Ideas

Short, practical tips on building better intranets.

The Net Generation Hates Your Intranet

Tuesday, January 30, 2007  

In Wikinomics, Don Tapscott describes the "perfect storm" that is ushering in a new era of mass collaboration: the Web as a computing platform; a global economy; and a demographic tidal wave he refers to as the Net Generation.

Born between 1977 and 1996, the Net Generation grew up immersed in a digital world. The internet dominates their personal and social lives, from instant messaging to peer-to-peer filesharing to virtual communities. They publish and participate in online social networks and swap ideas as easily as they swap songs and videos.

So what happens when one of these fresh college graduates joins a firm and finds a staid, traditional intranet with a tightly controlled publishing model?

They hate it.

This is a very real problem for companies trying to attract and retain new talent. These twentysomethings operate on principles of openness, participation and interactivity. If a company's technology infrastructure, including the intranet, does not encourage free communication and collaboration, it misses a big opportunity. Worse, it alienates these younger, internet-savvy employees.

This issue is obviously bigger than just the IT department. It involves the culture of the entire organization. That notwithstanding, what can we as intranet managers do to attract and harness the talents of the Net Generation?

Turn users into authors. Help your employees edit, create, annotate, rate and comment on the intranet. By trusting them in this way, they'll trust you back. You'll create honest, satisfied, engaged employees. You'll also create an environment where knowledge flows freely and breakthrough ideas can emerge.

Turn authors into friends. Expose your company's social network online. Allow employees to associate, connect and form relationships with one another through the intranet. This isn't touchy-feely hogwash. One of Gallup's 12 questions to gauge employee engagement is "Do I have a best friend at work?" Intranets that turn authors into friends improve employee engagement and strengthen workplace community, especially with Net-Geners.

Skeptical? Then consider some of the world's most heavily-trafficked web sites: MySpace (#3), YouTube (#6), Facebook (#10), Blogger (#12), Flickr (#20). They are dominated by the Net Generation, and they operate on the two principles listed above: they turn users into authors, and authors into friends. To create an intranet that "clicks" with N-Geners, we would all do well to imitate these sites.

I'll leave you with a quote from Wikinomics: "Companies able to adapt to the new demands of N-Gen now will gain a tremendous source of competitive advantage and innovation. Those that don't will be left on the sidelines, unable to refresh their workforces as the N-Geners flow to other opportunities."

Sounds ominous. But I think he's right.

About the Author

I'm Chris McGrath, an intranet consultant in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I've been working on intranets since 1997, and on plain ol' web sites for even longer. I run One Intranets, the firm that co-created ThoughtFarmer -- an enterprise collaboration platform for Windows-based intranets.