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Ten years of intranets

From intranet CMS to digital workplace
Celebrating 10 years of consulting

ClearBox is celebrating its 10th birthday, so we’re celebrating by looking back at how intranets have progressed since 2007.

Intranets have become more capable and crucial to business, even though every year we see a squall of article proclaiming them ‘dead’.  Even while organisations develop and extend their digital workplace and explore other concepts, the growth of intranets continues to be healthy.

'Intranet' Google Trends

This ‘Google Trends’ graph does not show zero interest in the ‘digital workplace’, it’s just that interest is less than 1% of the search term, ‘intranet’.

Let’s take a look through the years.


The concept of contributing to the web and user-generated content (Web 2.0) had been around for six or seven years already. Facebook opened up access to anyone in late 2006, Twitter launched in 2006 the same year, and in 2007, LinkedIn had 10 million users.

The first iPhone came out, giving the nascent smartphone industry a wake-up call. No third-party apps, but a big (at that time) screen and web surfing. People started talking about mobile intranets being ‘just around the corner’.

So the web was providing richer and richer capabilities — what was the employee experience like inside a medium-to-large company?

Well, intranet platforms were decidedly Web 1.0 still; focused on broadcast communications (news) and pretty static content in my experience. The tech was all about publishing. It was 2007, but you could still find organisations using FrontPage to ‘design’ their intranet *shudder.

Some people still talked about ‘groupware though’, and endured Lotus Notes team rooms and ‘quick places’ to share documents and keep in touch with colleagues across office locations. Just as useful as a public fileshare / network drive, and just as sprawling and ungovernable. IBM launched Connections by way of apology.

‘SharePoint 2007’, bafflingly also called ‘MOSS’,  was a pronounced improvement over SharePoint Portal Server 2003, but it still felt like a file-sharing tool. Creating an intranet with it took serious web development skills and a lot of hands-on work.

The Nielsen Norman Group’s ‘Ten best intranets of 2007’ highlighted ‘Web 2.0’ features and “the most-used products were: Windows Server, Google Search Appliance or Google Mini, SharePoint, SQL Server, Google Maps, Omniture, and Vignette”. This showed that additional apps were used on top of the CMS to create a heterogeneous intranet. “Strikingly, most intranets used their own homemade CMS.” Imagine! The UK winner was the RSPB, later to become a ClearBox client.

Jane McConnell launched her annual research report, now known as the Organisation in the Digital Age. Step Two launched their ‘Intranet Innovation Awards’.

ClearBox looked like this:

ClearBox website 2007


Apple launched the iOS App Store, and 10 million apps were downloaded in the first week; there were 800 apps at the time, and I remember looking at all of them. People said mobile intranets were ‘just around the corner’.

Yammer was launched. It spread like a free drug up until 2012 when Microsoft acquired it and made it uncool (a bit like discovering your Dad was using it).

The Nielsen Norman Group’s ‘Ten best intranets of 2008’ highlighted productivity and self-service, and on-boarding new employees. The most-used products were SharePoint and the Google Search Appliance. Other frequently used products were Red Hat Linux, Lotus Notes and Domino, and Oracle databases. The UK winner was British Airways.

Kurt Kragh Sørensen launched the IntraTeam Event Copenhagen; surely one of the largest intranet conferences this side of the Atlantic.


Sam at Congres Intranet

The Nielsen Norman Group’s ‘Ten best intranets of 2009’ highlighted increased collaboration support (really? Seems like they were talking about forums and blogs). It was noted this year that fewer products were used to build intranets – and five of the winners used SharePoint 2007. User testing and research were now seen as necessary to develop a successful intranet. There were no UK winners.

Jostle, a refreshingly different intranet CMS, was launched.

Entopic launched their Congres Intranet (amazing venue) and the world’s largest intranet  conference. Simply Communicate also began their the SMiLE conferences, to talk about collaboration and ESN (Enterprise Social Network) use.


The Nielsen Norman Group’s ‘Ten best intranets of 2010’ exclaimed that only 30% of submitted intranets offered mobile access. One excuse given was that people didn’t understand their own smartphones… There were no UK winners.

People started to use the term ‘digital workplace’ again. Sam Marshall of ClearBox wrote one of the first detailed papers on the topic, ‘The Digital Workplace Maturity Model’ published by IBF (extracts on SlideShare)

SharePoint 2010 Team Site

Microsoft released SharePoint 2010 and I remember waiting for it to download so my colleagues could spend all day and half the night installing it. I learnt the hard way that installing the software did not automatically lead to launching a new intranet. The workload to go from tech deployment through research, design, testing and to launch was still a massive commitment and investment. SharePoint 2010 also now had ‘the ribbon’ UI. “This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”[i]

ClearBox launched its ‘SharePoint for Internal Communicators’ training course, originally in partnership with Melcrum. Still available as an in-house workshop and covering Office 365 too,  we’ve trained over 500 people on the business-side of SharePoint.

Working with Joao Baptista of Warwick Business School, we also launched Mastering Intranet Management. In its current Intranet Masterclass format, this makes it the longest-running professional development course in our field.


The Nielsen Norman Group’s ‘Ten best intranets of 2011’ highlighted knowledge management as being a key objective, reiterated that no single technology could create a great intranet, and the rise of task-oriented IA. Sixty per cent of entrants offered a mobile intranet / mobile access, meaning, as ever, that next year would definitely be the year that mobile took off…

Sam Marshall and Wedge Black met at the Intranet Team Event Copenhagen. Sam was presenting (of course) and Wedge was at his first conference; and now, Sam and Wedge work toether on a daily basis.

In-house practitioners launched Intranetizen – taking the most attractive intranet related domain ever. Curses!

Sam started blogging in earnest, and ClearBox looked like this:

ClearBox website in 2011


The digital workplace manifestoThe Nielsen Norman Group’s ‘Ten best intranets of 2012’ highlighted social networking, but didn’t use the term ‘enterprise social network’ (ESN). The rise of mobile intranets faltered – few winners or entrants had mobile access. For the second year running, mega-menus were the thing. Two UK winners! Everything Everywhere (EE), and Logica.

Microsoft released SharePoint 2013. It still shied away from ever using the word ‘intranet’, and was clearly very happy for partners and agencies to help organisations develop bespoke internal services. Microsoft also bought Yammer for 18 gazillion dollars, said that Yammer will remain fairly independent, but promised to integrate it with SharePoint.

The ‘digital workplace’ concept became more widely known, along with BYOD (bring your own device). Leading to more talk of the ‘death of intranets’.

ClearBox published the illustrated Digital Workplace Manifesto.

Pundits predict that 2013 will be the year that mobile intranets really take off.


Step Two’s Innovation Award 2013 winners showcased task-focused employee apps, workflows and processes, and personalised content.

Microsoft launched Power BI and the SkyDrive desktop app (hastily renamed OneDrive, after a ‘discussion’ with Sky TV. It promised to ‘soon’ integrate Yammer into SharePoint and Office 365.

Microsoft also bought Nokia phones. “This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”[ii]

Tiny Speck launched Slack (and promptly renamed their company).

Vendors said they were confident in their responsive-design intranets, and assured everyone that mobile intranets will be the next big thing.


Microsoft launched OneDrive for Business. (It’s built on very different tech to personal OneDrive.) SharePoint users around the world don’t know what to do with it. Microsoft launched Delve (codename Oslo), and people still don’t know what to do with that either.

The Nielsen Norman Group’s ‘Ten best intranets of 2014’ highlighted Agile methodologies and wireframing as a key trend. Great intranets we’re created in only 1.4 years – a significant reduction in time. Mobile access? This rose from last year’s grave and everybody started talking about responsive design! Sadly, this was ‘the year of the carousel’, with eight out of ten winners stealing the design pattern from marketing websites. No UK winners.

Wedge launched the first Intranet Now conference. Of course it was a pleasure to invite Sam to speak.

The Intranet Benchmarking Forum (IBF) relaunched as the Digital Workplace Group.

Growing up, ClearBox launched the @ClearBox Twitter, account rather than just relying on Sam’s personal-professional account. Wedge is mostly in the driving seat.

After extensive testing, we also launched our Digital Workplace Framework.

The digital workplace as a city, showing five services and five management activities.

Mobile intranet? Well. Um. Employee apps are all the rage, and Barclays must have had a production line going.


'digital workplace' Google trend graph

The term ‘digital workplace’ gained decent traction, and the Twitterati were busy debating the definition.

The Nielsen Norman Group’s ‘Ten best intranets of 2015’ highlighted responsive design, search filters, flat design, and megamenus (of course), video, and fat footers also became de rigueur. Building on previous year’s findings, the use of external consultants was considered ‘often necessary’. Another pattern clearly emerged – the lack of UK winners!

Sam was named a ‘top contributor’ of CMSwire and won the Diamond Award from Intranet Now, for remarkable contribution to the intranet community. It’s not wholly my fault! There’s a whole bunch of people who helped choose the winner.

Consultants continued to suggest that Microsoft, deep down, must want to integrate Yammer across SharePoint…


Facebook launched ‘Facebook @Work’ after years of piloting. It’s soon renamed ‘Workplace’.

Microsoft launched Groups for Office 365 / SharePoint Online / Outlook / Everything. This seemed to create much confusion with Yammer. Once we’d got to grips with it, they announced ‘Microsoft Teams’, as a competitor to Slack. It also competes with Yammer, Groups and SharePoint. To help, Microsoft promised to integrate Yammer into Groups.

The Nielsen Norman Group’s ‘Ten best intranets of 2016’ highlighted the importance of design thinking, content quality, UX, responsive design. SharePoint was singled out as being incredibly useful, when deployed with expertise. Developing a great intranet still takes about 1.3 years, and rather than a big launch, it’s iterative design that grows success.

ClearBox now looks like this:

ClearBox website 2017

We published our 250 page review of 26 intranet-in-a-box products for SharePoint.

Report cover - The definitive guide to in-a-box intranets for SharePoint

While efforts to develop a mobile version or a responsively designed intranet continue to be daunting and underfunded, loads of native employee apps are being built by start-ups and also in-house by large companies.


People started to experiment with Microsoft Teams and write thousands of words explain why it wasn’t confusing to have Groups and Yammer too.

Atlassian bought Trello.

The decentralisation of web services continues, ala Web 3.0, yet consolidation in tech means that there are obvious major players dominating the connected world. As the intranet product market matures, expect to see consolidation and fewer choices.

What have we missed? Tweet us!

[i] Douglas Adams

[ii] Douglas Adams

Wedge Black

I support ClearBox in everything we do online, and I assist clients that are considering redeveloping or replacing their intranet platform. I worked in global and regional organisations as the intranet manager as part of the comms team, before becoming an intranet consultant. I'm the founder of the Intranet Now annual conference. I’ve tweeted about intranets and comms for fifteen years now.

  • Posted at 10:55 pm, 7 February, 2017

    Bravo! Well done on ten years of great service to the intranet community.

    Even from 10,000 miles away, it’s clear that Sam (and you Wedge) have shaped intranet thinking and practice in the UK, particularly through the courses you’ve run.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what Clearbox does over the next 10 years 🙂

    Cheers, James @ Step Two

  • Posted at 9:02 am, 8 February, 2017

    Great write-up. Wow, what a trip down memory lane and you’ve contributed greatly to intranet history. Congrats on 10 years and good luck with the coming 10!

  • Posted at 4:27 pm, 8 February, 2017

    Many thanks James and Samuel. It’s been a fantastic first 10 years, though I note neither of you see me taking earlier retirement 😉

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