Recreate or integrate … that is the question?

As we’ve busily rolled out one social media tool after another within BT, one question has got bigger and bigger in my mind and has become increasingly troublesome … what’s the right balance between recreating stuff on our intranet that already exists on the internet, and just integrating tools from the internet into our intranet toolkit for employees through our permeable firewall.

Not sure how well I articulated that?? Here’s an example … someone in BT has produced an internal version of Twitter … the question is, do we need an internal version of Twitter or can we just use the real thing … as indeed my team currently is? Why would anyone want to tweet in two places? Also, the great thing about having a Twitter network is that it incorporates people from around the globe with whom you have common interests and ideas. A closed, corporate, twitter-replica would surely be a shadow of the real thing in terms of value to the individual as it would only have a very limited gene pool from which to create interesting and vibrant networks. Trying to integrate an internal and external version would be very confusing and could lead to employees posting internal stuff to external networks …

This question became very troublesome for me after we launched our internal enterprise social network a few weeks ago. It was a long time in gestation and is a great tool with lots of similar functionality to Facebook like status updates, message board (or wall), contacts (friends) etc. However, the glaring question is why would someone who uses Facebook (or indeed any one of the many other social networking sites) want to use an internal, closed version of the same thing with a limited gene pool of knowledge and ideas from which to draw. Indeed, even if someone wanted to use the internal version, how would they do so without duplicating activity on both or losing value/possible opportunities by only doing it on one and not the other …

Since we launched our internal blogging platform, I have had an internal blog as well as this external one. My internal blog has two posts on it …

The balance between recreating and integrating I think is going to be what makes or breaks our internal social media tools in the future. We need to give it some serious thought … I need to give it some serious thought. I don’t think we’ve got the balance right yet …



  1. I think there are some valid reasons for recreating Internet tools on an intranet (or deploying an clone that someone else has built).

    Take a social bookmarking app as an example.

    – Confidentiality is an obvious factor . Bookmarking internal URLs on would definitely be frowned on.
    – Then there’s relevance. Most people work on projects which are of no interest to people outside their organisation.
    – Another plus is the analysis potential. It would be useful seeing what bookmarks are the most popular within the organisation and this would be hard to do with (how would you filter on users from your company?).

    There are difficulties with internal tools though:

    – Internal versions are likely be a pale imitation of the originals, and will be unable to keep up with new features.
    – They’re unlikely to play nicely with third-party tools, e.g. the Firefox extensions for
    – Potential of patent infringement.

    A good balance would be to make use of enterprise versions of public tools where available.

  2. Richard,

    Good question! I think one thing to bear in mind is that your are trying to change the behaviour of around 100k people, not all of whom are comfortable using these sorts of services on the Wild Wide Web. Certainly for these people, greater connection to their peers within the company is going to be of massive value.

    The above point applies to even the highly connected employee, as it is natural that in a large company, where you are perhaps more inclined to be helpful to someone reaching out, that social tools working on this captive audience will be effective.

    The problem I can see is that, like you, I’m inconvenienced by the internal platforms demanding my attention, when I live so much outside the firewall. However, we are the minority demographic…


  3. I originally expected to say instantly no, keep 2 blogs. Blog internally for things you don’t want to share with the outside world; blog externally for everything else…


    Look at what IBM do (Their blog lists) – quite a few there; and their guys chat about all sorts, like David Illsley, for example; and note his blog, despite being linked from IBM isn’t a corporate blog.

    Gives a good impression of a vibrant, involved, professional group.

    But I’m old school, and there are still things I’d rather fix internally than expose externally. So after consideration – keep the 2 blogs.

    I’d add that I get significant traffic (OK, the odd hit) to my external blog *from* the internal one, by the simple expedient of whacking an RSS feed from the external one into the internal sidebar. I’m unconvinced that my postings do any good to the company, nor to my career – but it lets me articulate my areas of interest, and at least lets me track my engagement.

    The Facebook MyBT doesn’t do it for me yet, though it’s a very pretty implementation. Lee’s clever internal twitter is, sadly, a solution looking for a problem; and might address some problems more easily…

  4. Andy – couldn’t agree more … the challenge is getting the right tools working in the right contexts. The problem I have is with duplicating effort in two places to get value in both internal and external contexts. Also, bringing the two together in a ‘safe’ way that satifies the demands of corporate policy and security while not stifling the potential for wider collaboration in the extended enterprise.

    Jon – again, totally agree – we do want to change the behaviours of 100k people … we also want them to benefit from a world outside of our firewall … getting the balance right is going to be tough …

  5. Steve – I’ve found that there is little I don’t want to, or indeed shouldn’t, share externally rather than internally. No doubt I will use my internal blog in the future – guess I must be either too busy or too contented with everything BT at the moment … 😉

    I think our internal blogosphere is fantasic and I’m sure as it grows it will really begin to change our culture further. It’s interesting that two of the three comments on this post so far are from BT people!

  6. Anything I blog on the intranet I write with the knowledge it could be posted externally (it shouldn’t happen, but it could). But it can be great when you have business specific issues, discoveries, announcements etc.
    I don’t use our internal version of Twitter at IBM. But I guess it can be useful.
    Our internal Facebook is great when you are holding some kind of event, promotion of information or hosting discussions.

  7. Many things can prompt someone to use an intranet tool instead of a internet tool or even one account on a system compared to another. Some of these may be business reasons, some may be personal. I currently have, and in fact had for a while, several descrete social circles, some overlap, some don’t.
    In the cyber world I have reduced this to TWO, One completely personal, one complete professional, and it is then upto me where to blog or tweet depending on the target audiance.

    Is this right for everyone, I suspect not!
    Will i continues to do it, I am not sure !

    Look at is this way
    Is the fact I may have just won a pub quiz or put a bottle of wine to bed, relavent to an intranet micro blog / status update
    Is tha fact i have spent 15 hour “fixing” a key internal system suitable for public consumption

  8. Lee – I agree that some info clearly fits into one category or another – but I find that these occasions are rare … if you take blogging as an example, in most cases for me info is relevant to internal and external audiences and I want to interact with both – posting something exclusively on one potentially misses huge opportunities for engagement with the other … I’m not going to start posting the same stuff in two separate blogs so I tend to post on this external one because I know that BT people also read it. I feel the same about Twitter … I am increasingly finding that I use internal systems as a last resort.

  9. One of the advantages for big tech companies interested in recreating apps internally is that it gives them (er, us) a chance to re-conceive the app in a way that meets the enterprise’s needs. For example, by adding security or privacy controls or hooks into other systems. IBM’s version of social bookmarking, dogear, feeds data into our tagging service which is also connected across our blogs, media libraries etc….which in turn feed our search results. The data and connections across all this start to get really interesting and even begin to form a dynamic profile of the end user (which can be used to do all kinds of useful things for him or her, like make content/contact recommendations.) The external tools (at this point) don’t allow a level of integration that enables anything like that. They are siloed because they’re trying to build business models hinged on aggregating audiences, which almost inevitably run at cross purposes to the interest of enterprise users for the time being.

  10. Really interesting article.

    I found this today, which sounds like it might be microsoft starting to help ..

    It does seem crazy to have to to re-engineer these facilities inside thee firewall, but until we overcome the cultural resistance to being open externally I cant see an option. That said, some of these technologies are so niche that i doubt we will get traction internally for some time and without critical mass, web 2.0 adds little benefit, so a external approach would be ideal.

  11. The permeable firewall will not be a technology application in future, it’ll be the way organise these things in our heads. Poeople undoubtedly have overlapping social networks (as Lee says) but my prediction is that most will use a single tool to interact with those networks. Twitter is a good early example in the microblogging space. I only use Twitter, but I am selective as to which of my networks I tweet to. Sometimes it’s everyone, mostly it’s a sub network.

  12. Richard

    There are two issues here me thinks. What technology app do you use and where does the content go?

    We’ve rolled out an ‘internal’ network using Ning for a client as 1) We know it well 2) We can keep it private and 3) It is a low cost trial for the concept. We’ve done the same with Typepad for a number of ‘internal’ blogs. We have however had Ning rejected for security reasons on one occasion. We have had technical issues with it also so in no way perfect.

    Whilst there will always be organisations that won’t become social (many are anti-social anyway) those that accept how social technologies allow the people internally to connect with the external people (customers, suppliers, shareholders etc) will start to see the business benefits. Knowing BT well it is understandable why you have built internally but I’m sure in time, as more apps can be easily integrated I’m sure things will change. Take Twitter as you suggest. Imagine a retailer giving all staff and customers direct access to brand/product specialists so a question can be asked from any store and not only does the relevant store get the real possibility of a quick answer (for the customer waiting to buy the product) but buyers, marketing, suppliers etc can track the kind of questions being asked and use this information/knowledge on the internal network (or even the extenal one as well!).

    In closing (in need of sleep) as Andy states, a mix of both internal and external apps will be the answer (maybe).


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