Keep up with changing human behaviour when building web solutions

You want a new Intranet, You now need to design a solution, the area you consider most important when designing a solution will probably be the following …
  • A strong Home Page with dynamic content for everyone in the organisation
  • A detailed sitemap so users can easily navigate to the content they are looking for
It makes sense, an entry point that is dynamic with content and contains a navigational menu that allows you to access additional information seem like the makings of a good intranet site.  Right?

Well, the answer to that question would be yes, if you were building an Intranet 3 years ago.  End user behavior has changed so much since then, that their expectations and interaction with the Intranet is now very different, meaning that your approach when designing a solution needs to adjust to match their new expectations.

You don’t believe me?  I don’t blame you.  But the signs are there, and we need to stop using that 10 year old approach when designing Intranet solutions (or Internet for that matter), and build an approach that is more in favor with the way users currently interact with intranets.

Confused?  Let me give some examples.  Many of you are familiar with Facebook, well, so are the majority of end users of your Intranet, what makes Facebook great is really the way Facebook presents information that is relevant to you.  It is available as soon as you enter the site, and it only displays information that you want to see. 

Now, let’s look at your home page design.  It will probably contain information that is not specific to an audience, but rather information that somebody determined as relevant to everyone in the organisation, these days, that type of information usually get ignored, because the information is just not relevant.

So what’s the new approach?  Don’t worry about creating a Home Page, they usually get special attention during design and development, meaning that it cost a bit to build, and they don’t work as well as they use to anyways.  Rather deploy mySites and make that the new home page, this way, the end user can configure their environment so it displays information that is relevant to them and also provides links to other areas of the intranet they would find relevant (like a salesman creating a shortcut link to the sales portal).  This will give you a stronger user adoption, a happier end user and whatever objective you were trying to achieve via the home page, you can still achieve via mySites (with the proper configurations).

Still not convinced?  OK, lets look at sitemaps.  Sitemaps really define the navigation of your site.  This usually gets a lot of design time because this was the primary way for your end-users to find content, that’s not the case anymore, sitemaps are flawed, as it is a structure that is defined by a small group of decision makers (typically one person) but this structure may not make sense to the rest of the organisation.  I explain this in detail with a previous post

End users are now used to finding content via searching tools, they are familiar with Google and other search engines, even the latest windows operating system provided a search feature to help you find the programme you want rather than being solely dependent on the menu.  End-users are now expecting content to be correctly classified (be it taxonomy or folksonomy) – so they can easily find it via the search feature (which must be easily accessible, anywhere in the intranet).  They also expect the first page of the search results to contain the information they are looking for.

So search is now the preferred approach in finding content.  Your solution design time should place more emphasis on correctly classifying content, so you can provide a better search experience.

Thankfully, Microsoft has identified this new human behaviour and have designed SharePoint 2010 to work accordingly (mySites, taxonomy, etc).  Unfortunately, the developers/architects of SharePoint solutions have not yet identified this new human behavior, and see no harm in deploying the solution in an approach that is pretty much 10 years old. 

We are currently at the age where people are calling email “the way old people communicate”.  If we are not going to adjust our approach to meet the current needs, we are building an obsolete system right from the start.


AK said…
The old way of publishing content where you have an approval cycle is also long dead.

Self publishing (ala FB)empowers users.

Problem is large organisations battle with governance.
Anonymous said…
Nice article, very well written. Alot of time and effort has gone into this and it really shows. I totally agree that an Intranet Home page should have information relevant to the user. Most information we find on Intranet Home Pages only target a about 20-30% of the entire audience. So would love to see a robust deployment of SharePoint 2010 that can grab each and every user and have relevant information that pertains to him or her, and MySites may just be the solution.
vinfotech said…
I totally agree with you.For gaining maximum advantage from Intranet, one have to integrate Web 2.0 and social media to it.
Intranet Solutions

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