1996 – the Year of the Intranet?

by | Sep 20, 2016 | Intranets

On 30 September I will be giving a presentation at the Intranet Now conference about the history of intranet development. The presentation will be based on the text of a chapter for the intranet handbook being published by Kristian Norling, Intranatverk, later this year. 2016 is an appropriate time to be looking at the history of intranets because for me 1996 marks the year when intranet technology  really made the headlines and a significant number of books, reports and technical articles were published.

Among the many books on intranet management published in 1996 were

  • Intranet Working, George Eckel and William Steen, New Riders Publishing,
  • The Corporate Intranet. Ryan Bernard, John Wiley & Sons,
  • Running the Perfect Intranet. David Baker et al Que Publishing
  • Internet et l’entreprise Olivier Andrieu, Eyrolles, Paris
  • L’avantage Internet pour l’entreprise Jane McConnell and David Ward-Perkins Dunod, Paris
  • Building an Intranet. Tom Evans net Publishing
  • How Intranets Work. Paul Gralla, Ziff-Davis Press
  • Intranets as Groupware, Mellanie Hills, John Wiley & Sons.

It is interesting to note that John Wiley & Sons, one of the leading global publishers, had two intranet books on its list, both of which were probably commissioned in 1995.

However was Business Week that set everyone talking about intranets in early 1996. In a feature article by Amy Cortese in February 1996 the benefits of intranets were clearly set out with a number of case studies.

“For now, most intranet Web sites are used for basic information sharing: publishing job listings, benefits information, and phone directories, for example. Some of these simple information-sharing setups already provide strategic advantage, though. Cap Gemini’s Knowledge Galaxy is a giant repository of technical information that helps the consulting firm respond more quickly to customers, for example. More sophisticated intranets are coming. They will let employees fill out electronic forms, query corporate databases, or hold virtual conferences over private Webs. Corporate information systems managers are “just now seeing [the Web] as the next step in application development and distribution,” says Greg Sherwood, National Semiconductor’s Web coordinator and chairman of the chipmaker’s World Wide Web council. For a taste of the future, check out Silicon Graphics. Using its intranet, dubbed Silicon Junction, the company today accomplishes such feats as making accessible more than two dozen corporate databases that employees can traverse by clicking on bright-blue hyperlinks. Previously, to get the same information, an employee had to submit a request to a staff of specially trained experts who then would extract the requested data from the company’s databases–a process that could take several days.”

The impact of this article was quite significant given the readership of Business Week at the time was around 6 million. The reputation of Business Week was probably at its peak and undoubtedly many managers read the article and started to plan for an intranet future. The most notable development in 1996 was the visible commitment of NetScape, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Amdahl to intranet technology. NetScape, Microsoft and IBM all made public announcements of their intranet technology strategies in June 1996, with Amdahl and Oracle following on in August 1996. The Gartner Group were certainly taking the intranet seriously. In September 1996 the company published a 50pp report entitled Creating an Enterprise Internet and Intranet Policy. Although there is a heavy emphasis on security management it is clear from the text of the report that the Gartner Group not only recognized the potential of intranets but was also pushing hard for companies to take an overall perspective on web and intranet policies. Twenty years later that remains very uncommon.

In many ways 1996 was a false dawn. The technology companies soon realised that there was little revenue for them in intranets. The technology was really not that complicated, especially when Microsoft bundled Front Page into Office 97 followed by arrival of  HTML 4.0 at the end of 1997, starting an era of ‘build-your-own-intranet’. For another perspective on intranet history see this blog post from ChiefTech

Martin White