How many organisations actually have an editorial plan for their Intranet?

I have a lot of customers and I’ve worked on a whole lot of Intranet projects and for the first time in my life, I have a client that does actually HAVE an editorial content plan for each of their portals (both geographic and business). It’s not a single aligned editorial plan, but the nature of the organisation means that doesn’t need to be the case.

With each internal communicator having such a plan, and a series of personae, it was possible to run a workshop testing real content in different display options and assessing the impact of that content structure on:

  • Strategic message (how you group content sends different messages? – if everything is in line of business containers it doesn’t really show a single integrated company’)
  • Usability (what volume of content needed to be displayed on a daily basis, what does that mean over the month in terms of number of items, was it enough to consider different groupings in order to make it easier? Was the content in logical groups for the user?)
  • Manageability (did some groupings become harder to manage for the communicators, did they require changes in editorial planning?)

Of course we only had indicitive content, we had to make some assumptions about the levels of unplanned content, but the exercise allowed us to have a very construtive workshop with communicators and let them see what relevance based targeting of content meant in terms of reducing the clutter their consumers saw.

At the end of the workshop we had 20 internal communicators who all had the same view on:

  • Content types
  • How content would be grouped
  • How relevance based targetting would reduce the clutter on the desk
  • How the strategic message of a single organisation would be supported
  • How the local communications needs would still be addressed and highlighted
  • How editorial plans would need to be aligned for some content types but not for others

2 very long days for everyone but fantastic workshop feedback, total agreement and a strong basis for the next steps of design…

Time for that wine bottle…

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“The meaning of life is trying to find a place for your stuff”

In 1986 George Carlin, an American comedian of some note, said; “The meaning of life is trying to find a place for your stuff”. The words echoed around my head throughout a new portal planning meeting with one of my clients. My brain didn’t stop there and during the next coffee break, it went through the whole routine for me.

I found the sketch on YouTube for those who are not familiar with Mr Carlin’s unique style:

As an organisation, the whole purpose of an Intranet seems to be finding a place for your stuff. If we’re lucky we can not only find a place for our stuff, but also find our stuff when we need it again. Maybe we want a perfect Intranet where can find other peoples stuff that help us do our job (often collecting more stuff) more easily. So we need to build not just a pile of stuff but a pile that we can structure, categorise, search and explore.

But there’s more to it than that… we keep collecting stuff, we ALL keep collecting stuff and the great bard George had words to say about that too. He said “Have you ever noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff? “. Of course their shit may also be in piles, but probably doesn’t have the same structure as my pile of stuff, because that would be helpful.

Was George a secret information architect in his spare time? If not, how was he summing up the principles of relevance based content presentation so eloquently?

Organising stuff into piles and making sure we see our stuff, stuff we like, stuff we want and if I may use his language, nobody else’s shit, is exactly what we’re trying to do as information architects.

In an ideal world we would be able to organise everyone’s stuff neatly ourselves but when we look at larger enterprises that already have many intranets, then we face a whole new range of problems when it comes to finding things in piles of stuff.

During the course of my posts I want to explore this in some detail and will be looking at questions such as:

  • How can you strike the balance between different types of communication?
  • How can you encourage a migration from decentralised to centralised systems?
  • How can you use relevance based targeting without an approved global taxonomy?
  • How do you detach information architecture from design when talking about a new portal?

Of course when it comes to Intranet design George had another real humdinger; “It isn’t fair: the caterpillar does all the work, and the butterfly gets all the glory.” Designers 1, architects 0. It’s time to explain what the caterpillar actually does!