MySites, Collaboration, Intranet, Internet and Extranet … Tell me the difference!

I want SharePoint! Great, but what exactly do you want?

SharePoint MySites Intranet Internet Extranet Collaboration(Click Image to enlarge)

It’s not always easy to draw clear lines. However, if somebody would ask me to explain the difference between an intranet site and an internet site it’s easy. You can tell them apart by it’s audience. An internet site is for the outside world and an intranet site for the insiders. Technically speaking, however, do both portals not need to differ that much at all. They share a lot of specifications. Both probably need a publishing workflow to have editors approve or reject the work authors want to have published. Both portals also need similar branding. Corporate Identity is important for the casual internet surfer who visits your site. You want him or her to recognise and experience your brand. But the same is true for employees. They should experience similar feelings when surfing your intranet. In fact, you want to make them feel proud of the company they work for. Also, both an intranet as well as an internet site need to be optimised for caching. So you probably want to have your portals be read-only whilst having a “shadow” portal with write access for authors from which you’ll deploy content at regular intervals (or ad-hoc in case you need to publish breaking news). Possibly the biggest difference is the number of visitors. But that doesn’t need to be true either. Obviously, you can forget all of what I wrote in case you’re public internet website actually is an eCommerce site. I’m excluding that category for the rest of this post. What I meant with an internet site is a corporate internet site, where you post your product information, press-releases and introduce the management team.

The difference between a collaboration portal and an intranet portal isn’t that clear at all. You can’t simply draw a line based on its audience because both portals target insiders. So I need to tweak a little bit and it for sure also is a matter of taste. I personally like to define an intranet portal as the place where the corporation communicates in an uni-directional way with its employees. A collaboration portal, on the other hand, is nothing more and nothing less than a tool for bi-directional communication and sharing that supports any number of collaboration methods (like meet, track, enlist, inform and share). Let me give you an example. When employees start working together they need to share documents. Obviously, this can be done using email. Simply attach a document and send it to five colleagues, kindly requesting them to review it and make corrections when needed. This doesn’t seem the brightest idea of all. The document is copied many times and it is a nightmare to receive five versions with corrections and having to merge those into one final version. Also this approach means that the mailbox limit of 200 Mb is reached rather quickly. An improved approached would be using a shared network drive. Simply save the document to a place where everybody can open it and using Windows 7 you press shift+right mouse button followed by clicking Copy as Path. You past the path in an email and send it to your colleagues. Now only one person at a time can open the document. Unfortunately, such processes normally don’t work well and I bet those colleagues save their version using their initials and some kind of weird date stamp and lots of underscores. Using SharePoint Foundation Team Sites these problems can be solved easily using the simple document management features such as versioning. Still it is important to educate those colleagues. I believe the saying goes: a fool with tool is still a fool! But never tell anyone I said that! So, back to where I started. A collaboration portal is a tool and it helps to streamline information worker processes such as document sharing, project management and tracking of simple things such as making a visitor parking place reservation or reporting an issue to the IT department. Previously I said that it is a matter of taste where to draw the line between an intranet and a collaboration portal. What I meant to say is that some people like to call the intranet every piece of software that runs in a browser within any four walls of a corporation. I personally only like torefer to the publishing portal as meant in the previous paragraph (when discussing the difference between an intranet and a corporate internet web appearance). So for me there is a clear distinction between a collaboration portal and an intranet portal. Some of these differences I’ve also described in more details in my previous post: http://www.getsharepoint.ch/2011/01/sharepoint-collaboration-versus-publication/.

A SharePoint Extranet actually isn’t something that lives on its own, at least not in my perception. The words SharePoint Extranet tell me that you’ve managed to create an opening in your security infrastructure so that your partners e.g. suppliers, top five customers or consultants can access (part) of your SharePoint Farm. Basically it’s up to you to decide to which part of your SharePoint Farm you want to give them access. Or maybe you’ve created a new Farm especially for them. Whatever the setup, chances are you’ve created a collaboration portal so you can share documents and information and streamline processes between yourself and your partner. In case you’re interested in setting up a SharePoint 2010 Extranet, we have come up with a simple yet effective solution: http://www.getsharepoint.ch/2011/01/collaboration-with-partners-suppliers-and-clients-a-sharepoint-extranet/.

I won’t go into detail with regards to MySites. But even though it’s not a completely correct way of putting it, I like to think of it as the private but not so private space on SharePoint. I say that, because I feel that from a user’s perspective his MySite, where he can save his own files like he used to save them on his home drive on the share network drive is very much connected with his public profile. Technically, his profile and his MySite are not that much intertwined, but when you start your browser you’ll always end up at (almost) the same place. So providing a MySite to a user to replace his home drive makes sense when he or she is using the same collaboration tool when working with his or her colleagues on a project or in a team.

So next time you say “I want SharePoint” and I ask you what you want to do with it, you now know what to answer or else have a second look at the image at the beginning of this post.

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