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Intranet Update: Communicating with your audience

posted Feb 17, 2009, 2:04 AM by Eddie Woo
It's a very poorly-kept secret that I studied drama while I was at school (four years of it - it was one of my HSC subjects). I can say with a fair degree of confidence that doing drama for that extended period of time changed me as a person. I was never a fantastic actor (just ask Mrs. Ballantyne), but I took innumerable lessons away from drama. I recommend it as a subject without reservation (though not if you want to go there just to bludge - drama is a subject where you have to work very, very hard and it is sadly wasted on people who just want to kill time).

One of the concepts I took away from drama was the importance of recognising when you have an audience, and working out the best way to communicate to that audience. Once you become aware of this, you start to see them everywhere - much like when I started to play guitar, I began to listen specifically to the guitar parts of all the songs that I listened to! And as you recognise the ubiquity of audiences and the importance of communicating with them clearly and effectively, you also begin to realise that the idea of 'audiences' extends way past the realm of theatre. Take our new school intranet, for instance.

Putting great content onto the intranet is one matter. Communicating its presence and usefulness is another one entirely. For instance, take the newly-updated 2009 events calendar. This has been simmering for a while, but now was the time to get it ready for public consumption. How could I effectively communicate to the James Ruse community (for who such a calendar would be very useful!) that this new section was now available online?

Well, I took a few steps to make it as visible as possible and communicate its presence and purpose to the intranet's "audience" (students, parents and staff).
While I'm on the note of the update log, I'd like to say that this is one of my favourite features of the new intranet. I know it's a very simple one, but under the old intranet I had to handle updates in the clumsiest of ways. I learned very quickly when I arrived that the intranet before me didn't have a clumsy way of handling updates - it had no way of handling updates. New material just appeared and you had to know to look for it beforehand in order to know anything was changed. 

When I re-designed the intranet front page, I added an "recent updates" reel (screenshot on the right). It was an easy way to check and then access any new files or pages on the intranet. But it was a pain to maintain. I had to hand-code everything, and even the timestamps were added in manually. Ugh. It was no way to handle the sprawling amount of content that was our school intranet.

Now, the intranet is even bigger. Which is why I'm so happy that updates are handled automatically and easily by the Google Sites CMS. There's a nice relational database sitting behind the update log, a welcome change from the flat file where I used to manually catalog the new additions to the site. Hooray for the new intranet. 8-)