Intranets – the early history

A Twitter post today from Ellen van Aken via Sam Marshall about the early history of the intranet prompted me to dig back into my paper files and also looking back at some web resources. In doing so I also discovered I had been rightly taken to task by Richard Wiggins for a rather error-strewn blog post of mine back in 2010!  I first became aware of the intranet concept in around 1995 when I joined TPFL, a London-based company providing a range of services to the information profession. A major project for Ove Arup led us to look into the world of intranets in more detail and in April 1998 Anne Howells, Peter Kibby, Angela Abell and I wrote a TFPL report on intranet management. At the TFPL European Business Information Conference later that year 80% of the delegates had an intranet, though only 10% felt it was delivering business benefits.

At that time one of the leaders in intranet management was Stephen Telleen, Director, IntraNet Solutions for Amdahl. His seminal paper, published in June 1996,  is still available on the web, which also states that IntraNet is a registered trademark of Amdahl. (Amdahl was later acquired by Fujitsu.) The background to Amdahl’s interest in intranets is set out in an interview with Tellen that was published in Intranets – What’s The Bottom Line by Randy Hinrichs. Hinrichs was working on some intranet pilot projects at Sun Microsystems from 1993 to 1995. Hinrich’s book was one of the most widely-read books on intranets at that time, along with The 21st- Century Intranet by Jennifer Stone Gonzales, published at the end of 1997. However my recollection is that the first book on intranets was The Corporate Intranet by Ryan Bernard, published by Wiley in 1996.

The first intranet conference that I am aware of was organised by Online Inc. (later acquired by Information Today Inc.)  in San Francisco in 1999. I’ve lost the 1999 conference programme but do still have the 2000 programme. The keynote address was given by Stephen Telleen, by then at Giga Information Group, and was entitled “Is the Intranet Still a Relevant Concept?”. Of the other speakers at the conference the only name I recognise now is Lou Rosenfeld, who I remember giving a very good presentation on intranet information architecture. However by 2000 the Enterprise Portal was starting to be promoted as the solution to all information problems on the back of a seminal report in 1998 from Merrill Lynch and about half of the presentations were portal-related.

Does anyone else have memories of the early days of intranets?

Martin White