As of January, 2012, this site is no longer being updated, due to work and health issues
In the Old Days (the 1980s), corporations, governments and other institutions installed internal networks using complex protocols that were very expensive to implement, hard to use, incompatible with everything else and ugly. With the rise of the Internet and later the Web, these institutions adopted the simpler standard protocols for their internal networks. In parallel with the "Internet", these were named "Intranets".
Web "portals" such as Excite and Yahoo! were originally developed from the need to locate web pages on particular topics. Excite, AltaVista, HotBot and MSN all have search engines at their core, while Yahoo! and LookSmart are based on directories: listings of web pages organized by topic, with search access. While many of these incorporate email, news, shopping and discussion groups, search was and still is the core function of a portal.
Enterprise Information Portals (EIPs)
Enterprise Information Portals provide a starting point for people to access information and applications on the entire Intranet. They generally include a search engine for locating internal and external information; security features, so a person only has to use a single password; personalization so they get appropriate information; access to databases and enterprise applications; and so on.
EIPs are starting to create categories or taxonomies of information, and using them with full-text searching to make the most effective presentation of relevant results (see our report on classification) and provide alerting services using information filtering to watch for news and other incoming information of interest.
Just like web portals, enterprise information portal users are heterogeneous, so one approach will not apply to them all. They also have different requirements at various times and areas, so a programmer would want precise retrieval options for code library documentation, but simpler tools for finding corporate policy on parental leave.
- Intranet Portals and Scent are Made for Each Other UIETips, December 12, 2005 by Jared M. Spool.
Describes how Intranet portals can use Information Foraging Theory to create usable and helpful interfaces. Mentions the value of search logs in identifying problems with navigation, but includes the usual UIE bias against search.
- Employee Directory Search: Resolving Conflicting Usability Guidelines Alertbox at Useit.com, February 24 2002 by Jakob Nielsen
Describes the seemingly contradictory requirements for a single search box on an Intranet main page vs. the value of a specialized search for employee telephone numbers and other directory information. Recommends providing two search fields, labeling very clearly and testing the interface design to reduce confusion.
- Intranet Usability: The Trillion-Dollar Question Alertbox at Useit.com, November 11 2002 by Jakob Nielsen
Results of an international usability study by the NNGroup on intranets finds that many are wasting employee time by failing to provide usable intranets. They found that "search usability accounted for an estimated 43% of the difference in employee productivity between intranets with high and low usability." They recommend that intranets make sure that the main search engine indexes all pages, shows results in relevance order with manual recommendations at the top, encourage useful page titles and descriptions. The NNGroup finds that tasks requiring 27 hours annually on a usable intranet could take as long as 196 hours on a less-usable one.
- Intranet Design Annual 2002: The Ten Best Intranets of the Year NNGroup Report, September 2002 by Kara Pernice Coyne, Candice Goodwin and Jakob Nielsen, $45
Analysis of ten high-quality corporate intranets, with significant emphasis on both information search and employee locator search, along with home page quality, simplicity of overall look and navigation, consistency, and text. Includes heuristic usability analysis, screenshots and case studies of the intranet design process. Several notes cover user response to search, such as unhappiness with search defaults for the head office directory rather than the whole site. One intranet reported that improved search, indexing all repositories, was highly popular, with users calling to say how well it was working.
- On-the-Job Research: How Usable are Corporate Research Intranets? Alison J. Head & Associates, April 2002 (non-SLA members: $135 print, $185 PDF)
Report on usability testing of seven representative research intranets - those providing textual content for all employees, rather than services such ordering, billing or collaboration or a departmental site. Finds that most intranets are underutilized because they are badly designed and organized, and difficult to use. Common information needs include employee telephone numbers, offices and email addresses, current company news, media coverage of their company and competitive intelligence research. However, only 44% of participants, managers, administrative assistants, and researchers alike, were able to complete the test research tasks in these areas. Search engines had significant problems, such as requiring complex query operators and failing to provide context or filters for large search results. Study includes many details on testing and intranet content, design, information architecture and search issues. Alison J. Head & Associates, April 2002 (non-SLA members: $135 print, $185 PDF).
- Behind the Firewall - Buying the Proper Search Solution for Your Intranet EContent Magazine; February 2002, by Martin White
Begins with the evolution of search engines from the 1970s through the Web and to today's Intranets. Describes the high expectations for Intranet search, the problems of expressing a search in useful vocabulary, defining the appropriate search engine and presentation of the results to the user in a meaningful relevance order. Covers the difficulties of evaluating a search engine with a standard test set or a subset of content: recommends using staff such as librarians, and expert consultants to help locate a workable system.
- Seeking far and wide for the right data InfoWorld, August 27 / September 3, 2001 by Cathleen Moore.
Describes the value of search engines and categorization as essential elements of corporate portal infrastructures, to handle the "deluge" of information within enterprises. Quotes Aberdeen analyst Guy Creese who points out that without a good way to search, corporations would be "blowing their investment in the content". Covers recent announcements of search and categorization features by Autonomy, Verity, AltaVista, iPhrase, and Smartlogik (Muscat) .
- Enterprise Portals: The Current Big Thing [Survey Results] InformationWeek, July 23, 2001
Describes results of a survey of 100 IT and business professionals, who's companies hope for better productivity and efficiency using a portal approach. The most search-related aspect is the desire to "improve decision-making" (around 75% report this as a goal). Enterprise Portals are used mainly by employees, but half are used by customers and/or business partners, so security must be a major element. Budgets for enterprise portals are low, 1% to 5% of overall IT spending, and very few companies are delivering "richer" content (multimedia, presumably) due to cost, privacy and bandwidth concerns.
- Divide and Conquer: Partitioning a document collection to improve retrieval accuracy Intelligent Enterprise Magazine; August 10, 2001 by David Grossman and Ophir Frieder
Describes an approach to providing better search results based on information retrieval research at the Illinois Institute of Technology. They propose using partitions (we call them zones) to better focus a search. Instead of worrying about complex clustering technology, these zones can be based on existing organizational knowledge.
- Into the Enterprise We Go: Web Search Technology Companies Seek Stable Revenues in Corporate Sector Traffik.com; May 28, 2001 by Andrew Goodman
Describes the movement of search engine companies from public and advertising-supported search to enterprise intranet search. Covers the experience of Open Text, which is now an enterprise portal with some search capabilities, AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, Atomz, Quiver (automatic categorization), Oingo (concept searching), and Wherewithal (categorization).
- Portal shakeout on the way c|net Enterprise Business, May 2001 provided by the Meta Group
Describes recent acquisitions and mergers in EIP software. The analysis expects only a few companies to dominate the market: IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, iPlanet, BEA, PeopleSoft and SAP, although they are not the best right now. In the meantime, many companies may use outsourced tools (ASP model), such as Corporate Yahoo.
- Northern Light: A New Model for the Enterprise Information Portal IDC; April 2001 by Susan Feldman, cost: $1,500 USD plus tax.
Describes the nature of enterprise information systems, including enterprise user characteristics, special vocabulary issues, diversity of documents, relevance ranking complexity, information filtering and altering, categorization of related topics, usability and interface features, flexibility of all these features, administration tools and maintenance, security, scalability and integration. Summarizes the state of the EIP market, and describes how Northern Light provides the features described above. Recommends the Northern Light model of ASP/outsourcing as a good alternative to in-house development.
- Tie it together and open it up with Enterprise Information Portals IntranetJournal; April 25, 2001 by Patrick Fitzgerald
An excellent overview of EIPs and the vendors of EIP software, mainly concentrating on origins and approach to the challenge.
- Leveraging Corporate Information with Plug-and-Play Intranet Search Dell Computer Corp. White Paper, 2001 by Oystein Olsen
Describes the value of Intranet searching and how the FAST search engine can fit into an Intranet.
- Now It's Personal: Search is an important factor in making portals the personalized knowledge gateways they should be Intelligent Enterprise, November 10, 2000 by Carl Frappaolo & Hadley Reynolds
Delphi group analyst article describes the basic problem of too much information, and talks about information portals, categorization options, and XML metadata. Points out that searching both structured and unstructured text is more complex than either, and multimedia more difficult still. Recommends that engines should not require mastery of complex query languages, but support keywords and natural-language questions. They should deliver answers or lists, depending on the kind of data and the query. Monitoring user interactions (including search log analysis) can improve the portal's responsiveness. New technologies, such as agents and filtering tools will help as well.
- Portal Development: Roadblocks on the Information Superhighway IntranetJournal; October 2000 by John Gregory
A marketing specialist at the US Postal Service describes his experiences with implementing an Enterprise Information Portal, concentrating on existing software contracts, metadata and taxonomy (classification into categories).
- Cha-Cha: A system for Organizing Intranet Search Results Proceedings of the 2nd USENIX Symposium on Internet Technologies and SYSTEMS (USITS), Boulder, CO, October 11-14, 1999, by Michael Chen, Marti Hearst, Jason Hong and James Lin.
Academic paper about organizing results for searches within institutions such as universities and corporations. Cha-Cha organizes search results in a hierarchical display based on the URL paths, displaying the title tags. Describes related projects, system design and usability study results.
- You Think Tomaytoes, I Think Tomahtoes CIO Web Business Magazine; April 1 1999 by Peter Fabris
A classic description of an intelligent approach to creating an intranet which reflects the needs of its users. Dale Mead of Bay Networks (since bought by Nortel) a librarian and knowledge architect profiled in the article, used reference materials, discussions and low-tech card-sorting to create categories and links. He also studied information flow and bottlenecks in publishing, internal corporate publishing, and security issues. The final result presents a Yahoo-like directory as well as a search engine, and view documents by type and topic. A four-month usability test phase provided time to tune and improve the system, although some glitches appeared after the final roll-out. Employees report that it has performed very well.
- In pursuit of intelligent search engines Datamation, May 1998 by Dan Orzech
Describes problems with Intranet search engines, which do well with matching words but less well with interpreting relevance. Approaches include Natural Language Processing, thesaurus use, automated classification, personalized "push" search results, going beyond HTML to databases and other file formats, image matching, graphical interfaces and visualization, and falling prices.
- Search engines: An intranet user's best friend InfoWorld, August 11 1997 by Sari Kalin
Interviews with analysts and descriptions of white papers that cover intranet search engines, including Verity, Fulcrum (now Hummingbird), and AltaVista Search.
- LLRX - Is an Intranet in Your Future? Law Library Resource Exchange, May 22, 1997 by Sabriana I Pacifici
Describes the steps to creating a law library intranet, including information about Folio Views and siteDirector.
- Netscape Compass Server 3.0: Bringing Order to Intranet Chaos Netscape View Source, December, 1997, by Kris Dalebout Newby
Describes how Compass Server provides an information-management framework, searches web sites outside the intranet, summarizes, creates a knowledge base, automates a personal profile, uses the grapeVine option to categorize and sort data. Distributed architecture allows multiple robots, so each site can work in parallel rather than tying up networks.
- Information Retrieval for Your Intranet: Tools to make corporate data more accessible PC Magazine, May 6, 1997 by Scot Finnie
Helpful discussion of the issues in setting up an intranet search system, including search techniques, indexing, operating systems, crawling, data types, database access, images, results formatting, concept clustering and agents. Provides practical tips on how to choose a system.
Intranet / EIP resources
- Intranet Professional Magazine
- Intranet Exchange: The Web Professional's Forum Conference system for intranet web server administrators
- The Intranet Journal -- Bringing the Web to work...
- The Intranet Research Center - a part of CIO magazine
- Complete Intranet Resource - Intranet Reference Site
- Good Documents: INTRAnet business writing from Dan Bricklin and Trellix