A brief history of the intranet

eXo Platform Blog

Let’s imagine we live in a world where time travel is possible. An interesting (and quite funny) experiment would be to take a tech savvy millennial to work in an office from the 90’s, and bring a typical 90’s worker to a 2019 office. It is safe to say that neither of them will be able to understand their surroundings let alone perform their jobs effectively. That is mainly due to technological advancements and the evolution of the tools we use to perform our jobs.

In this blog post, we will go back in time to discover the early days of the intranet and how it came a long way since its inception.

Defining the intranet:

The intranet is a term used with abundance whenever the subject of internal communication and collaboration is brought up which makes defining it a bit challenging. In its simplest form, an intranet is an internal website for your organization. It is used mainly for top-down communication where employees can access corporate news, policies and announcements.

Early days:

Improving internal communication and collaboration within the workplace was and still is a top priority for businesses. A number of technologies emerged to achieve this goal from e-mail, instant chat to intranets and digital workplace solutions.

The 60’s and early 70’s were marked with great advancements in internal communication with the birth of e-mail. The first example of e-mail is traced back to 1965 on MIT computers. The success of MIT’s “MAILBOX” paved the way for further improvements with the US department of defense initiating ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a network that connects computers across different departments.

You may think this is not related to intranet or digital workplace solutions, in fact we would not have the internet or intranet as we know them today if it was not for e-mail.

The success of internal e-mail made tech companies think of different ways to send them across organizations. This was made possible with the introduction of the internet and e-mail hosting sites in the 80’s. Although practical and popular, this technology was not widespread and was exclusively used within selected agencies like the military and governments.

It was not until the mid 90’s, that the internet made its way to vast audiences. Around the same time, precisely 1994, the term intranet originated. First intranet solutions were basic. They consisted of limited amount of pages (a single page in some cases) conveying simple information. These early solutions did not relay on the internet for improved communication which did not encourage employees to use them.

This drastically changed with Intranet Genie. This solution provided by Frontier technologies in 1996 revolutionized internal communication and acted as the foundation of today’s intranets. The ability to communicate instantly, share documents and access a variety of content appealed to users. This resulted in high levels of adoption and popularity. The only down side however, was the unavailability of Intranet Genie on web browsers as it needed to be installed on the user’s computer. This increased the likelihood of the solution to be outdated especially with the wide spread of the internet.

The 2000’s:

By the early 2000’s, the internet grew to the point where it impacted every aspect of everyday life. Software vendors adapted to these changes by making their intranet solutions accessible on web browsers. This period did not bring significant changes in terms of functionalities. Document management, top-down communication, forums and basic chat remained the main pillars of a typical intranet solution.

The introduction of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter in the mid 2000’s helped shape the new intranet. Their growing popularity and proven ability to connect people made companies consider adopting such platforms internally. Thus the emergence of the Enterprise Social Network (ESN). The need to implement ESN’s became greater with the emergence of BYOT and BYOA that made employees use these social media platforms to communicate with each other. This presented a security threat especially for organizations with critical information.

ESN’s revolutionized communication in the workplace. Functionalities like user profiles, groups, instant chat, activity streams facilitated bottom-up and peer-to-peer communication. The possibility to like, comment and share different types of content encouraged employees to collaborate on different projects and share their expertise.

The late 2000’s were also characterized by the surge of applications and platforms designed to improve productivity in the workplace. From project management systems to knowledge management systems (KMS) and chat applications, organizations had a variety of tools that can be tailored to their needs and business processes.

Intranet 2.0:

In the last decade, organizations and their employees used a number of tools, applications and platforms on a daily basis. They ranged from business specific applications like ESN’s, KMS’s or DMS’s and chatops to even social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This situation resulted on business tools overload and led to the next generation of intranets currently known as digital workplace solutions.

Digital workplace solutions represent holistic user-centered solutions used within an organization to get work done. They integrate a set of applications, tools and platforms for improved communication and collaboration within the workplace.

A typical digital workplace contains an Enterprise Social Network for communication and information flow. A Knowledge Management System for knowledge sharing. The solution may also contain a corporate intranet for traditional top-down communication and conveying of information.

Although widespread and increasingly popular, digital workplace solutions did not mark the end of platforms designed with focus on specific areas like knowledge management, task management or instant messaging. Slack, Sharepoint and others are prime examples of the need to deploy platforms and applications designed for a sole purpose. However, interoperability and integration with third party apps and existing IT setups is needed for a better work experience.

Let’s summarize:

Intranet solutions came a long way since their introduction a couple of decades ago. Advancements in technology and the change in consumer behavior will help shape the intranet of the future. Tech giants are constantly developing new ideas and ways to help satisfy the growing demands of businesses. We have seen technologies like artificial intelligence and data analytics make their way to intranet solutions. These technologies will shape the workplace of the future for the better and prove that intranet solutions are here for the long term.


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Product Marketing Specialist

I am a product marketing specialist at eXo. My role is to assist marketing and sales teams in their operations and present our digital workplace solution to the world. I mainly blog about the latest tech trends, digital transformation, internal communication and how to navigate through eXo Platform.

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