On cleaning out the fridge

Here at work we just had a big clean-out of the refrigerator in the staff kitchen. The cleaner would have been kept very busy. 

Since I am relatively new to the organisation, I am unsure when the last fridge clean-out took place, but it was clear to me that the time had well and truly come to empty the contents and clean that fridge.

The fridge was empty for only a short time. Soon the fridge was filling up with an assortment of dairy and lunchtime food supplies. There is still plenty of room in the fridge but I can see that the empty space is gradually being eaten away with an array of bright new items. And so it will continue…

Now it seemed to me that intranets and internet web sites are like refrigerators. We start off with a gleaming and empty recepticle full of promise and opportunity. We start filling up the available space, at first with useful stuff we need. Over time we continue to pack more and more stuff in, but without removing all the old stuff that has “gone off” or become stale and useless. Then the fridge is full – full of leftovers and forgotten contents that smother the available space, making the finding of the stuff we now need extremely difficult.

Intranets and internet web sites often follow the same course – filled with stuff that is useful or likely to be used in the near future (those just in case items), but then over time, becomes full of leftover junk and stale, useless content. By this time, it’s pretty clear that action must be taken. The most frequent type of action is the intranet and internet web site revamp – let’s chuck out everything (or almost everything) and start again – maybe with a bigger fridge, in a different colour, and with more accessories!

Sometimes the alarm bells go off before we reach a critical mass of useless and stale items. There may be some glaringly obvious candidates to remove from our sites, and as quickly as possible – the rotten egg sandwich phenomenon! But sometimes the bad content is not that obvious.

The key management issue for intranets and internet web sites is in ensuring that web content is kept fresh and useful for required consumption. Freshness and usability takes commitment to add what is needed and review and act upon the stuff that’s not.

How is your fridge shaping up?

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2 responses to “On cleaning out the fridge

  1. Hi Brad, did you read Weinberger’s Everything is miscellaneous? He argues that this metaphor does not hold true, because on the internet there is indefinite space. If you use RSS feeds, you never have ‘old milk’ in front of your fridge..

  2. Joitske,

    Yes, I have read the book and I think it’s great. It’s important to determine the provision of content for a particular need and how that content can be found – findability is critical in the miscellaneous world.

    My blog post was really focusing on the bounded repositories and information services in traditional intranet and internet sites. Within these spaces, there are costs involved with too much redundant information that is never cleaned out. The escalation of content input into the system without reviewing existing content means that out-of-date information clogs up the system as a whole. There are also issues associated with information architecture, corporate image and relevance issues that must be accommodated within the bounded space.

    Corporate internet sites and intranets should be task-based sites and the tasks need to be closely aligned with the needs of particular market segments. These needs are not miscellanaeous.

    I don’t think most corporate intranet and internet sites are currently active in the miscellaneous space….yet.

    I would certainly be interested in hearing more about RSS feeds within a corporate intranet and internet environment, something James Dellow blogged about recently as well.

    I do think that we may be entering a realistic phase within corporate intranet/internet sites more reliant on individuals self-determining the value of content. User-generated content is common in social networking sites and within individual repositories (like in a folder on a network drive!) but most corporates don’t have the technical infrastructure (possibly because management doesn’t understand it) or the confidence to network this type of information system effectively.

    What I would like to see is an individual digital space within a corporate intranet, akin to a more functional Facebook, where individuals determine, upload and review information of value to them, for groups (say industry groups) and networks. And while I think this is possible, my expereince suggests that often individuals don’t manage their digital responsibilities as well or as frequently as they might……

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