Home Jakob Nielsen Takes Potshots at Web 2.0 in Best Intranets of 2007

Jakob Nielsen Takes Potshots at Web 2.0 in Best Intranets of 2007

I’ve been following
usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s annual Best Intranets column for as long as I can
remember. This year
Nielsen specifically mentions web 2.0, albeit in a very condescending way. The summary is
just the start:

“This year’s winners emphasized an editorial approach to news on the homepage. They
also took a pragmatic approach to many hyped “Web 2.0″ techniques. While page design is
getting more standardized, there’s no agreement on CMS or technology platforms for good
intranet design.”

Enterprises are always “pragmatic” (a.k.a. conservative) about new technologies, so it
comes as no surprise they’re cautious with web 2.0. But later in the article, Nielsen gets feisty about
the hype…

Intranets and News Feeds

I was intrigued by what Nielsen meant, in his summary, by “an editorial approach to
news on the homepage”. Here’s what he said about news feeds:

“Many intranets have long offered news feeds, but this year’s winners
have taken extra steps to make their news offerings more relevant to employees, both for
internal news and for industry-related external news. Labeling and categorization are
more extensive than before, and several intranets let users rate and comment on

He then compares the user ratings to Amazon and weblogs, but takes an unnecessary
potshot at the latter by saying that intranet user ratings won’t be “degraded by the Bozo
effect”. Not content with that, he concludes: “ratings and comments from colleagues are
likely to be much more useful than those of random blog readers”. Charming.

One way around information overload issues is editors filtering the news – and that is
what Nielsen meant by an editorial approach to homepage news. He references an intranet
by AEP, on which an editor reviews news feeds and “posts only those that will be of most
use to the company’s employees.” Nielsen says this increases employee productivity. He
even comes up with a new metric system to test this… employees:

“For example, at JPMorgan Chase, the intranet homepage is viewed 620,000 times per
day, so even one superfluous headline that required one second to scan would cost the
company the equivalent of 22 full-time employees in lost productivity.”

Google Rising

Other trends noted in Nielsen’s article: multinational intranets, standard UI (as a
lot of intranets are template-based), but no standard CMS (most are homemade). He also
states that multimedia continues to grow on Intranets – from photos to videos.

I also thought the list of most used products was interesting, for one main reason –
the inclusion of Google products. The most used products were: Windows Server,
Google Search Appliance or Google Mini, SharePoint, SQL Server, Google Maps, Omniture,
and Vignette. This shows that Google is making headway into the enterprise, as all the
other products have been around for years on intranets. Google’s products have only
started proliferating on intranets in the last couple of years.

Request: Nielsen Without The Anti-Hype

I’m afraid that Jakob Nielsen has a reputation for being, well, annoying. He
seems to have a bee in his bonnet about “web 2.0” and continues the cynicism with a
section entitled ‘Web Trends Without the Hype’. While this is a worthy cause (who needs
hype in the enterprise, after all), Nielsen makes some pretty silly comments. e.g.:

“Intranets tend to avoid the over-hyped fads that
wash across the Web. Several winners have weblogs this year, but the
blogs are restrained, emphasizing useful information instead of “what I did on my last

The unfortunate thing is that managerial people are likely to believe that kind of
nonsensical statement, because it comes from a “guru”. This is about as bad as the ‘what
I had for lunch’ view of blogs we see on network TV news.

Nielsen also mentions Ajax (“with an emphasis on utility rather than glitz”), employee
directory search (a.k.a. the people finder), and wikis – which Nielsen thinks are
particularly hyped… and he has a point there.

There’s a lot more useful information in the article, so well worth a read if you work on an Intranet. Despite being annoying and occasionally just plain silly,
Nielsen does offer a lot of sound – if conservative – advice for Intranets.

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