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Designing our intranet information architecture

No one uses a knowledge system (such as our intranet) if the information stored in it is hard to find or consume. We will have to specially emphasize on thinking about not only a good navigation schema, but also a successful one for our intranet. The definition of success is different for every interested group, organization, enterprise, or any kind of entity our intranet will serve. There are a lot of navigation schemas we may want to implement, but it is our task to find out what will be more suitable for our organization.

To achieve this, we will have to use both hierarchy and metadata taxonomy wisely. Obviously, the use of folders and collections will help achieve this endeavor. The first-level folders or sections are very important and we will have to keep an eye on them when designing our intranet. Also, we should not forget the next levels of folders, because they have a key role in a success navigation schema.

The use of metadata, and specifically categorization of content, will also play an important role in our intranet. The continuous content cataloging is crucial to achieve a good content search and the users should be made aware of it. An intranet where the search of content is inefficient and difficult is an unsuccessful intranet, and with time, the users will abandon it.

At this point, we should analyze the navigation needs of our intranet. Think about how the people will use it, how will they contribute contents to it, and how will they find things stored in it. In this analysis, it is very important to think about security. Navigation and security are closely related because most probably we define security by containers.

There are some standard schemas: by organization structure, by process, by product, and so on. By organization is the most usual case. Everybody has a very clear idea of the organizational schema of an enterprise or organization, and this factor makes it easier to implement this type of schema. In this kind of schema, the first-level sections are divided into departments, teams, or main groups of interest.

If our intranet is small and dedicated to one or few points of interest, then these must take precedence over the first level section folders.

Keep the following things in mind:

  • Our intranet will be more usable if we can keep our intranet sections clean and clear
  • Fight against those people who believe that his (or her) department is more important than others and want to assault our intranet sections
  • Let them know that maintaining a good intranet structure will be more useful and will help contribute to its success

Second levels are also very important. They should be perdurable in time, interesting to users of all sections, and they should divide information and contents clearly. Two subsections shouldn’t contain elements of the same subject or kind. For example, these might be a typical second level:

  • Documentation
  • Meetings
  • Events
  • News
  • Forums, tracker, or some application specific to the current section

All of these are very commonly seen in an intranet. It is a good practice to create these second-level sections in advance, so that people can adapt to them.

Teach people to categorize content. This will help intranet searches incredibly and will help create collections and manage contents more effectively. If needed, make a well-known set of categories publicly available for people to use. This would prevent the repetition of categories and the rational use of them.

Notice that there can be several types of categories:

Subject: Terms that describe the subject of the content

  • Process: Terms that identify the content with the organizational process
  • Flags: Flags such as Strongly Recommended
  • Products: Terms from the products, standards, and technology names that describe the subject matter of the resource
  • Labels: Terms used to ensure that the resource is listed under the appropriate label
  • Keywords: Terms used to describe the resource
  • Events: Terms used to identify events which are recurrent with the content

There are other metadata also which influence the improvement of the navigation and search abilities of the intranet such as:

  • Title
  • Description
  • URL, the ID of each content

Don’t forget to teach your users about content contribution best practices before deploying the intranet.
We and our intranet users will appreciate it a lot.

Once we have settled down on some practices which are best for information architecture, we should know how to use some interesting Plone features that will help us build navigation and sort the information on our intranet.

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