No, I Don’t Want To Use Your Portal


Not every employee is the same: Companies must build many paths to useful knowledge

A few years ago I joined an online community of E20 practitioners. This community used  Jive,  an all-in-one platform that merged blogs, forums, and wikis into a single space. I found the conversations were delightful, but the interface got in the way. I wanted to engage but I kept bumping into UI walls. I couldn’t make it work. I couldn’t find the right groups. So, I wasn’t very active.

Then the community manager added a new Twitter-like platform, SocialCast. Happy day! I saw conversations. It came with a mobile version:  I could add pictures and it buzzed in my pocket when someone mentioned my name. The community came alive. I was checking in multiple times a day. I became an active contributor.

Later, under new ownership, the community discarded the streaming platform in a consolidation effort. Engagement was difficult for me again. I withdrew.

This happens often. Efforts to control and consolidate — to “simplify” — are a good way to disconnect audiences. Social software vendors must acknowledge there are many kinds of people, each with preferred way to discover things. Optimize for one kind of person at your peril, dear community managers. In these times of customization and impatience, your audience is likely to walk away.


There are four ways Homo sapiens enterprensus finds useful knowledge:

  • Librarians are organizers. They invented bookshelves and can remember ISBN codes. Librarians are natural organizers. They sort the stacks, tag the articles and create the file hierarchies. Lists send them into rapture.  Librarian taxonomies are clean and precise. When they go to find something, they know exactly where to go. Efficient retrieval is achieved – for them. But what happens if you’re not the librarian? How do you know where to start looking?
  • Homesteaders thrive in online forums. They live in community discussion groups. If they have a question, they ask it in the community. Homesteaders read every thread. Sounds good, but who has the time to read everything?
  • Streamers are the attention-deficit searchers. They organize “feeds,” awareness-based subscriptions, to gather newsy bits. E-robots gather headlines into lists they can read later. Find something interesting? Then click on the link to read the entire thing.
  • And there are the Searchers, the People of Google, the yahoos of Yahoo. They reverently approach the little white text box with words and phrases. Searchers scan the first page of results. If they don’t find what they seek, then they change the question and ask again. Searchers iterate many times until they settle on something they like.

Have an inert SharePoint site? Is it a document coffin? How about your division portal? All the care you put into the design, but no one visits it. Why? Perhaps it was designed with a faulty assumption: everybody thinks like you. Thank goodness they don’t!

How to solve this? Most organizations have half the problem solved: they have great content. But they must deploy multiple ways to find it.

The Consumerization of IT has changed employees: no longer are they willing to settle for soviet, one-size-fits-all, interfaces. They’re spoiled by all the consumer goodness outside the company. And they have learned how to find knowledge in many ways. They expect the same from their employer.

My millennial son lives in Reddit, my wife in Wikipedia and Pinterest, and I in Twitter, Feedly and Google. He’s a Homesteader, she’s a Librarian and me? I’m a Streamer with Searcher tendencies. The funny thing is, we often hear about new memes at about the same time. My wife will send me a link she found that I read the day before.

So, if your 2007 intranet portal is link sarcophagus, perhaps you should also inject its knowledge goodness into an internal wiki, maybe post updates in your corporate online forums, and if you’re lucky to have one, your enterprise streaming tool.

Special note to social software  vendors: I know you’re in a hard place trying to appease many customers. Many voices, many “votes” on what  new features you should deploy in Release Next. Listen to them to your detriment. You risk releasing a mishmash compromise if you try to squeeze everything into one place. My idea: focus on humans. Allow each person to define what they want to see, and how. Eschew “common look and feel.” Avoid “embedded experience.” Let the Librarians navigate, the Homesteaders browse, the Streamers scan and the Searchers seek.


Photo: Lynnette Fortin



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