Nobody Reads Your Internal Site

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it’s probably true.  You know that slick site you put together on the intranet?  The one you spent time brainstorming about so that every bit of information conveys what you want your teams to know. The one you spent countless hours re-organizing information on. The one site to rule them all… well… no one is reading it and no one really cares. 

What led me to this conclusion? 

Well, I work on a group that’s partially here to improve Microsoft team’s connection with customers.  We recently realized that despite our team’s relative success over the last couple of years there was no central information repository. There was no “home” internally for everything anyone would want to know about working with developer customers.  We don’t even have a link collection anywhere. 

So it was decided we should solve this problem.  People needed to know the information we had.  People needed to know how healthy their communities are and people should know what their customers are saying about them. Lets create a place for this right? It would help wouldn’t it? 

After a fun hour spent brainstorming I volunteered to sponsor, lead, schedule or whatever you’d like to call “run” the project.  My assumption was that I needed to understand how team’s use existing intranet resources in order to understand how to best build a new one.  So I got access to the server logs and stats of the most used internal portals in developer division.  If you work here you would know them as http://devdiv, http://teamstats, and http://answermeHttp://devdiv being the “big daddy” where all of our specs, team information, product plans, etc are stored off of.  Between the 2,600 people that work in Developer Division and the thousands of non developer division people on teams we work with you’d expect that. People must use these resources right? 

“nobody” is only a slight understatement.  Here are the usage patterns on these sites. 

The most popular site is teamstats. roughly 60 people a day go there. Generally these are the same 60 people and they are generally looking for two bits of information. 1. How is their team doing on bugs? and 2. What’s the status of build integration?

With http://devdiv there are less regular visitors but site usage follows the general pattern. Team member A visits to post a document. Team members B, C, and sometimes D visit to review the document. Finally, team member A refines the document and it’s occasionally looked at by team members B and C again.  The point is that the usage is very localized around specific bits of information that is generally forwarded to folks via e-mail.  Imagine this pattern of 4 users being repeated by 6-8 different groups of users a day and you know what’s going on at this site. 

Http://answerme is most likely used for one purpose by the same 30 people daily. They go there to look at their team’s answer rates on the MSDN forums.  They don’t go to look for unanswered customer questions or other information. They just want to see what % of C# questions are getting answered today.  I don’t know what they do with that information… just that they like to see it.  🙂

This is not to say one’s internal presence need be sloppy or unrefined, simply that it would be a mistake to invest to heavily in updating the user experience of these sites. 

Am I wrong?  If we built it (a better customer connection focused site) would you come?  What sort of customer focused information would you like to see on an web site? 

What the data tells me is that the best thing for an internal customer connection web site would be a simple site with an RSS feed of a daily stat and maybe a link to one best practice documentation examples we have.  Anything else feels like overegineering. 

Update #1: Over the holidays I did spend some time collecting best practices internally and mocking up a site.  Check out http://codingmavens if you work for Microsoft and let me know what you think. 

Comments (10)

  1. Peter Ritchie says:

    Hey, if you make them public, I’ll read them.  I’d be more than happy to answer MSDN Forum questions via AnswerMe, if it would make a difference :-).

  2. MSDN Archive says:

    You led me into part 2 of this post… time is better spent helping customers leverage this information than your own team. 🙂 That post is a work in progress.

  3. One thing I find about Microsoft is that there is a lot of information available internally that would also benefit customers externally. However, to get it out to them you need to duplicate it in multiple places. For example, you have the same questions asked on internal aliases that you have on the forums. Why aren’t these questions asked at all the same places?

    The same applies to sites, my team, Code Analysis has four internal sites and a couple external, the information contained on these sites should all be accessible from the same place. You could then put restrictions so that only Microsofties can access the stuff that really needs to stay internal.

  4. wagahai says:

    You’re right: nobody reads them. My team has an internal site as well. I think the only person who regularly reads it is the head team manager. It is difficult to find the desired information. And when it is found, there are often multiple versions with no dates or descriptions about what is different. An RSS feed would be great. Probably the biggest drawback is that most of the information is continuously made obsolete by changes discussed over internal lists. It is usually an exercise in frustration that ends in wasted time.

  5. Thank you for posting your experience! I’ve been debating whether to spend more energy making a spiffy team site for my team in case others in the company are curious.

    Now I’ll focus on putting together sites as tools to get the job done, rather than generic information sources for third parties curious about the job we’re doing.

  6. MSDN Archive says:

    David: Good question. I’d love to get all that in one place.. externally so it’s searchable.

    Wag: Yup, team managers are generally in that group of people that read the internal sites.

    John: Like I said. Probably worth making sure there is a decent description of your team and the work you do there, but not worth a tone of effort. I’ve never known an internal site to be a very valuable recruting tool. But that’s just my expereince.

  7. Ziv Caspi says:

    Personally, I find http://devdiv/ quite useful for understanding CLR stuff that is often poorly documented elsewhere. I wish all internal groups shared their specs with the rest of the company — it would have made collab much easier.

  8. Ben Fulton says:

    Do you have a wiki?  I use our Intranet all the time, but mostly to make notes to myself on using internal tools and FAQ’s, etc.  Even if I’m the only one who ever reads my notes, it’s pretty useful.

  9. MSDN Archive says:

    It’s hard to compare a portal site (like http://devdiv) to a functional site, like Teamstats or Answerme.  The latter two serve a specific purpose to get a task done:  tell me stats; show me unanswered questions.

    A portal site is supposed to be just that–a starting point to see more information.  If people aren’t going to the portal site, it’s either not discoverable, doesn’t help people find information, or both.  Why don’t people go to http://devdiv?  Well, it’s content is fairly plain and static, and if I wanted to review a document, I’m likely just clicking directly on a link in my email anyway–not searching through an internal site.  Why go there?

  10. MSDN Archive says:

    Ziv: so it sounds like you browse the CLR specs for documentation?

    Ben: Our team has one, but it’s like a document review. We publish stuff occasionally then other people go to review it.