I have been thinking a lot recently about intranets as being an area of huge opportunity for companies. Put another way, most corporate intranets are broken. At the Enterprise Search Summit, several speakers made the point that intranets suffer from neglect - especially compared to external websites which are actively managed by people who know their audience and have a huge incentive to improve the utility and user experience of the website. I strongly agree. When I look at an employee portal and see weather and company stock ticker portlets, I can't help but think that someone bought and installed a portal product and didn't know what to do with it. I have been there. I remember putting in these free portlets as placeholders and then returning years later only to find that they are still there.
So if companies can't bring themselves to invest in an intranet in a formal way, is it possible that a company could build a community that will contribute on a more grassroots level? This post from Toby Ward's Intranet Blog talks about introducing social bookmarking functionality behind the corporate firewall. MITRE is doing a social bookmarking experiment by adapting the open source software Scuttle. No verdict on succeess yet. IBM has done a similar experiment called DogEar and they had some promising initial results. However, it may be too early to tell. In the case of Wikis, another social content tool, I have heard people say things like "it is new so people are still contributing to it." The true test is whether the enthusiasm can be sustained.
The skeptic in me says most companies will not be successful in implementing most grassroots, social technologies within the firewall. One thing that happened when the Internet bubble burst, was that people became very discriminating where they invest their passion and energy. Many people poured their sweat and soul into companies that turned around and laid them off or lost the feeling that the company was an extension of themselves. Business is business. I feel like that is a factor in the growth of open source. Open source is a safe place to dedicate yourself because you can take it with you no matter where you go. There are still companies that create the startup atmosphere but those are more the exception than the rule.
To get people to participate in this way, it needs to be recognized as part of the job or give some immediate personal benefit. People need to want to do it for selfish reasons. So if it is personally more effective to bookmark an intranet page using the bookmarking software than a browser, social bookmarking may have a chance. Of course, that assumes that there is content on the intranet worth bookmarking.