Introduction to Information Behaviour – Nigel Ford

I have had the honour of being a Visiting Professor at the Information School, University of Sheffield since 2002. Every time I walk into the department I am in awe of the calibre of research and teaching. I’m saying this up front as I am inevitably biased in reviewing Introduction to Information Behaviour by my colleague Professor Nigel Ford. I’m going to start this review in three related places. The first was a fascinating presentation at the Findwise Findability Day by Abby Convert on information architecture, the second is a recent blog post on a paper by Professor Reijo Savolainen about cognitive barriers to information discovery and the third is a book entitled The Organised Mind by Daniel Levitin. The commonality of all three is the mental models we use to manage the process of interpreting the semantic content of information.

This is a particular issue for the design of search applications. I would argue that company of 12,000 enterprise search users does not deliver a single application but 12,000 different versions as each user will have their own mental model. The concept of information behaviour was first proposed by Professor Tom Wilson, Head of the Department of Information Studies at the University of Sheffield (which is now the Information School) in the early 1980s. It is important to understand that information behaviour is not just about information seeking, though that is where much of the research has been focused because of the need to optimise the performance of search applications as information overload became a feature of daily work and living.

In his book Nigel Ford has managed to maintain academic rigour in his analysis of the research that has been carried out whilst also writing a book that will be of great value to students of any information-related discipline as well as intranet and search managers. There have been a great many different models proposed, each with strengths and weaknesses, the weaknesses stemming primary because of the need to delineate cognitive processes in the brain in a way that even cognitive psychologists find very challenging. Take a look at this recent paper from Nature to gain an idea of the challenges of mapping cognitive processes in the brain.

The main sections of this 250pp book cover the basic concepts of information behaviour, what we know of information behaviour, and finally discovering and using knowledge of information behaviour. This last section is especially interesting to me as it sets out some of the issues that need to be taken into account when working on projects for clients that involve any element of the use of information discovery applications. I also found Chapter 5 on how information behaviour can be collaborative of considerable interest, especially given my comments on the new book on collaboration by Oscar Berg.

I just wish that Nigel had published his book before I completed the text of the 2nd edition of Enterprise Search as I would have taken a rather different route in a few places, but I have managed to add a citation to the book at the very last stage of production. This is a book that all search managers should read, as well as intranet managers developing portal applications which push the boundaries of the mental models of probably the majority of users. Reading this book will help you understand why you may be finding that user adoption is not as high as expected, and may well turn you into a mind reader as well as a line manager.

Martin White


Collaborating in a Social Era – Oscar Berg

My collection of books on collaboration is quite large. Many are in the loft because the authors have little of interest to say, often scaling up a collaborative working approach in a specific organisation to a generic model. Two books have stood the test of repeated reading are Collaboration Roadmap by Michael Sampson and Collaboration by Morten Hansen. For some years now I have benefited substantially from Oscar Berg‘s blog. He always has something interesting to say and so I was delighted when Intranatverk added a book by Oscar to what has the promise of being a very good portfolio of books. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I met up with Oscar for the first time, thanks to an invitation from Kristian Norling to participate in an Intranatverk event in Malmo.

The subtitle of the book is “Ideas, insights and models that inspire new ways of thinking about collaboration”, which sums the book up in a sentence. The 250 page is divided up into 15 chapters. I’m not going to list them all but just a few will give you a sense of the ethos of the book

  • The curse of physical proximity
  • The struggling knowledge worker
  • The tyranny of email
  • Making change happen

At the heart of this book a collaboration pyramid model that Oscar developed in 2012. The top three layers (act; coordinate; form a team) are elements of a structured team-based collaboration approach. The next five layers (contribute; communicate and connect; find and discover people; share what you know, have, think and do; and make yourself visible and participate) are more social in nature. Oscar makes the point that to enable collaboration to happen naturally across groups and locations an organisation must help its employees perform the activities in these five lower levels. However these are difficult to scale beyond organisational groups and geographic locations.

This book is full of wisdom and diagrams, both of which are usually absent from books on collaboration (the two mentioned above are distinguished exceptions) together with a good collection of references. The literature on collaboration is vast – I was surprised to find that I have collected close to 400 reports and research papers on collaboration in just four years! The wisdom comes from the nature of Oscar’s work as a consultant, where clearly he has stepped back at the end of each engagement to do a classic ‘lessons learned’ exercise. The diagrams are of great value as a tool to initiate discussions inside an organisation and can be downloaded from Flickr. A very generous offer,

I know from our discussion in Malmo that Oscar does not see this as the definitive book on collaboration. To me what is missing is a discussion about the challenges of virtual teams and of organisational/national cultures. As an information scientist and a chemist I feel that the move sideways into information value in Chapter 6, and its metaphor of information being like water, do not quite work. As a note to Intranatverk, your books need a detailed contents page or an index, but having neither makes it difficult to dip into the book.

That apart this is a book that will make you think about collaboration in some very useful ways, and the problem in most organisations is that the technology comes before the thinking. For another perspective on this book read Martin Risgaard’s review.  I can recommend this book very highly indeed. It sits alongside my two established favourites and I have reserved a space for Oscar’s next book on the subject.

Martin White

Findwise Findability Day 2105, Gothenburg

Findwise celebrated its 10th birthday by hosting a Findability Day on 1 October in Gothenburg, its home city. There were over 200 delegates in the audience at the Brewhouse, a mixture of Findwise clients and others interested in learning more about search. The opening presentation from Mattias Ellison was a summary of the outcomes of the Findwise Enterprise Search and Findability Survey 2015. The report is not yet up on the Findwise website so you will either have to wait until it is or come to Enterprise Search Europe in a couple of weeks’ time when Mattais and co-author Carl Bjornfors will be giving a presentation. Next up was my keynote that highlighted areas where in my opinion organisations need search solutions and search-based applications but no-one (least of all commercial vendors) were offering them. These include collaborative search, significantly better search for colllaboration and ESN applications, mobile enterprise search and providing users with a range of search UIs.

Most of the other presentations were from Findwise customers, but as always at these events there is no ‘hard sell’ from Findwise. When there is a Findwise consultant on stage they are always in the company of one of their clients. For me two presentations stood out. One of these was  from Exalead,  which has transformed itself from an enterprise search provider into a provider of specialist product management applications for manufacturing companies, including a 3D search capability. The second was from Abby Covert, an IA specialist from New York, with an outstanding 50 minute presentation on the value of ontologies, taxonomies and choreography in providing effective access to information. The only disappointment was the final presentation from IBM that was notionally about information governance but was, as always of course, just a frenzy of PowerPoint slides.

The event was organised by Mirna Lenntun Zunic and Olof Belfrage. Timekeeping and food were spot on and the venue layout was ideal for continuing conversations over a coffee or (at the end of the event!) a beer. I would encourage anyone with an interest in enterprise search to consider attending the event in 2016. The support that Findwise gives to the enterprise search community from this event and from the sponsorship of the survey is highly commendable.

Martin White

SP2013 intranet launch good practice – some case studies

In late September I was invited by Kristian Norling to talk to members of the Intranatverk community in Malmo,  Intranatverk is the Swedish subsidiary of IntraTeam. The meeting was actually a small-scale conference, with around 50 attendees from Sweden and Denmark. Many of the papers described projects that involved migration of SharePoint 2007 or SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013. Because this was not a public event I will not disclose the identity of the presenters or their organisations. I certainly gained a fresh insight onto the challenges of migration, launch and management of SP2013 intranets.

For me the good practice that emerged was along the following lines.

  • Migration to SP2013 is a complex project, especially from SP2007, and it requires careful project management and substantial support from stakeholders
  • All the presenters emphasised how important it was to maintain very good communication with stakeholders, both the obvious senior management stakeholders and also users within the organisation who could provide department/subsidiary level communications out to users and also channel back comments to the intranet project team.
  • The launch process needs to be carefully planned. One organisation had a ‘silent launch’ where teams were introduced to the new features that would be available even though they only existed in wire-frame formats. Even at this stage important discoveries were made about user requirements which had not previously been on the specification. A presentation to all stakeholders in time to undertake remedial work was also recommended.
  • During the development stage of the project the team size tends to be quite large. Several of the teams found that the sudden reduction in staffing as the development project came to an end left them seriously under-resourced for the post-launch challenges. No matter how thorough the user testing had been there always seem to be issues that did not surface during testing.
  • In one case the number of publishers increased from 40 (in a very centralised publishing model) to over 4000 within a few months of launch. Fortunately the organisation had invested in the development of e-learning applications for publishers but it still meant that the level of support to publishers was less than ideal.
  • The delivery of personalised news was raised by several speakers. In principle personalised news seems to be a good way to manage potential information overload, but in the event things did not go to plan. Users may have multiple roles and interests, they may be interested in a news feed from a country office just because a friend works there, and people seemingly with the same roles and responsibilities found they had different news alerts. In one case the entire newsfeed application had to be discontinued and re-developed.

Overall everyone seemed pleased with the functionality that SP2013 was giving them, especially in being able to integrate other applications into an intranet portal platform and to be able to provide an enterprise social network capability. This was my first visit to Malmo (which is just 30 minutes from Copenhagen Airport by train) and I can commend it as a city worthy of a visit, with a seemingly endless number of good restaurants.

Martin White


IntranetNow Diamond Award 2015 – List of nominations

There is now less than four weeks to go before the Intranet Now conference, in London on 13 October 2015. It gives me great pleasure to publish the list of the people who have been nominated by members of the global intranet community for the Intranet Now 2015 Diamond Award. I can still remember walking (actually, struggling!) home with the box containing the vast (glass!) award last year. Hopefully this year the organisers will provide a bag for the purpose! It takes quite a lot of regular maintenance to retain its shine and sparkle, just like all intranets. Take a look at the photos from last year

The nominees are:

Luke Oatham (Helpful Technology) for his Intranet Diary blog and tweets (@Luke_Oatham).

Sam Marshall (ClearBox Consulting) for his talks, blog, newsletter and tweets (@SamMarshall).

Rachel Miller (All Things IC) for her blog, community involvement and tweets (@AllThingsIC).

Darren Caveney (Comms 2point0) for his shared blog, and tweets (@DarrenCaveney and @Comms2point0).

Gerry McGovern (Customer Carewords) for his newsletter, his blog, talks, books and tweets (@GerryMcGovern)

Jane McConnell ( NetJMC) for her digital workplace research and evangelism, talks, blog and tweets (@NetJMC).

James Robertson (Step Two Designs) for his globe-trotting, talks, Intranet Innovation awards, books and tweets (@James_StepTwo).

Kristian Norling (Intranätverk) for his events, book publishing, and tweets (@KristianNorling).

This is an impressive list and reminds me how fortunate we are that the nominees see it as a core element of their work to share their experiences and expertise with the intranet community at large. In addition all these nominees have a passion for what they do and for the furtherance of good practice in the design and management of intranets and digital workplaces. I’m looking forward to presenting the award to the winner in London next month. Any and all of the nominees would be worthy winners. There are eight on the short list, so that means that the IntranetNow event will have to continue to at least 2024 just to be able to acknowledge their contribution.

Martin White

Search is not ‘intuitive’ – outcomes of an information scaffolding study

One of the challenges faced by search managers is trying to demonstrate that search is not intuitive and that training is important. Now at last there is research to support the case for training. The concept of information scaffolding is that scaffolding refers to the assistance offered to students that enables them to successfully complete a task. In terms of information search skills acquisition, studies of how experts search are one means of identifying the sequence of knowledge and skills that need to be acquired in order to progress towards expertise in searching. In a paper in the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science the outcomes are presented of a study in which a group of graduate students were mentored by an experienced information professional in searching a range of academic research resources, which might well resemble an enterprise search environment.

The graduate students were asked to rate their level of confidence and knowledge in using various elements of the search applications. There were 22 of these, ranging from a knowledge of the scope of the repositories to the value of proximity searching. This number alone may come as a surprise to people who think that all you have to do is type a query into Google. Over a set of five sessions with the mentor there was a significant improvement in almost all aspects of search skills. It is important to remember that these were graduate students, who will already have used various search applications (such as library catalogues) in their undergraduate work.

Now this is a very small-scale study but as far as I am aware it is the first of its type. If you work in an organisation with a manager that thinks that training in search skills is irrelevant and a waste of time it might well be worth putting Table 4 in front of them (it shows the improvement in skill levels) and asking them to defend their position. Or send them a memo headed “The Benefits of Information Scaffolding”. That should catch their attention!

As Chair of Enterprise Search Europe 2015 I should of course end by reminding you that registration is now open. See you in London on 20/21 October and be part of an information scaffolding experience.

Martin White

Intranet Metrics – Discovery, Satisfaction and Impact

When I begin a new intranet project I am of course immediately interested in any metrics that have been recorded and reported on the performance of the intranet. In the majority of engagements I find that the lack of resources in the intranet team has meant that any metrics assessment is very limited indeed. This makes it difficult to know where to start in giving advice and the result is that a programme of user research has to be undertaken to give a credible baseline against which recommendations can be made. This takes time and increases the cost of the engagement.

My new Research Note on intranet metrics provides an overview of the ways in which the performance of an intranet can be assessed and can be downloaded from the Research Notes section of this web site.  It is based on Chapter 15 of my Intranet Management Handbook, published in 2011. The 26 page report covers technical performance, discovery performance, user satisfaction and business impact, and describes both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. It also highlights the difference between summative and formative assessments.  In addition to techniques that can be used directly by an intranet manager I have also summarised the methodologies used by five external intranet benchmarking services.

Quite a substantial amount of work has been undertaken over the last few years on assessing the performance of enterprise applications, taking into account the provisions of ISO 9241. The book by James Lewis and Jeff Sauro entitled Quantifying the User Experience: Practical Statistics for User Research, published in 2012, should be essential reading for intranet managers. Both the Nielsen Norman Group and Rosenfeld Media publish a range of reports and books on user experience assessment.

Inevitably there is a fine line between the user research required in the process of developing a new intranet (or a substantial re-design of an existing intranet) and the research required to optimise the operational performance of an intranet. Many of the techniques described in this report have a value in both situations. Feedback on any of the topics in the Research Note would be appreciated.


Martin White



Intranet Now Diamond Award 2015 – nominations now open

No one was more surprised that me to be presented with the inaugural Intranet Now Diamond Award at the 2014 conference. I have to admit I was not really concentrating on what Wedge and Brian were saying and suddenly realised that they were inviting me up onto the stage. I was incredibly honoured and for probably the first time in my career I was somewhat at loss for words. I’m now looking forward to the 2015 Intranet Now conference and having the pleasure of giving the Award to another of the many people who we all rely on for their wisdom and their networks.

The Intranet Now Award is unique in that it is awarded to an individual for their remarkable contribution to the community at large. Wedge and Brian are now seeking recommendations for the 2015 Award. There are of course many intranet managers who have made a significant impact on their organisation, often as a team of one.  However they are looking for someone who is committed to raising the awareness of good intranet practice amongst the wider intranet community in the UK. It’s not as if Wedge and Brian do not know potential candidates but they are firm believers in the wisdom of crowds so would like to know who you respect as an intranet guru.

So could you look through the list of the people you follow on Twitter and the blogs you monitor.  But please bear in mind they are looking for someone who participates in our community and not just observes it. To me there is one obvious candidate…..I wonder if you agree?  Information on how to nominate someone is on the Intranet Now site

Martin White

45 years of managing information

Forty-five years ago this week I started out on my career in information science. My first post was as an information officer at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association near Euston Station in London. I could not have started in a better organisation. The BNF was a pioneer in information management in the period up to WW2 under a former Director, Professor R.S.Hutton and continued to invest in a large team of librarians and information scientists. My two colleagues, Clive Mitchell and Brian Perry, were alumni of the Centre for Information Science at what is now City University. Over the next three years I learned both the theory and practice of information science, including the use of 10,000 hole feature cards for information retrieval from a large collection of research and production literature. I wrote around 10,000 abstracts at the BNF and the emphasis was always on the quality of the metadata I applied rather than the quality of the abstract. Along the way I learned to speed read technical articles in English, French and German, a skill that has been of considerable use over the years!

When the BNF moved out to Wantage I stayed in metallurgy and engineering at the Zinc/Lead Development Association, running a virtual team of staff in seven offices around the world without the benefits of email.  My career then moved on into patents and trademarks, technology forecasting, electronic publishing, market research in the IT and telecommunications industries, knowledge management consultancy and finally intranet and information management consulting in 1999. Computer-based search services arrived in 1975 but  was not until I was  working at Reed Publishing in 1982 that email, CD-ROM and mobile phones all started to be a part of the technology mix, along with IBM pcs. I’ve lost track of how many companies have been clients since first venturing into consulting work in 1979, the same year I started up a newsletter on Information Management with Helen Henderson. It must be of the order of 300 or more, giving me business experience of 39 countries and the confidence to write seven books. Without doubt the most memorable project was working on an intranet strategy for the IMF in Washington; we started two days before 9/11 and finished on schedule. With the IMF as a reference client selling Intranet Focus Ltd services suddenly became much easier and led to projects for the United Nations and the World Bank.

I am very fortunate that not for a single day have I regretted my choice of career. I have been able to use my information science skills (and sometimes my undergraduate chemistry!) in every organisation I have worked for, though often in quite different ways. That has been immensely satisfying, especially since the fundamentals of effective information management are the same now as they were in 1970. Focus on understanding user requirements before providing information, make sure that the information quality is as high as possible, and follow up to learn from the way in which the information was used. My only disappointment is that organisations still fail to appreciate the value of information and the impact that information management can have on business success. So there is still plenty of work to do!

Martin White


Digital Success or Digital Disaster? – Mark Morrell offers guidance

There are very few books on intranet management so this book from Mark Morrell, courtesy of the Intranatverk organisation, is very welcome. However the scope is broader than just intranets. The title indicates that it will also be useful for web sites and digital workplaces. Mark has a great deal of experience as an intranet manager, both at British Telecom and then as a consultant, and his practical experience at ensuring intranets have high quality content and a focus on business requirements comes across strongly in this e-book. In many instances he quotes (anonymously!) from some of the projects he has worked on. The six chapters cover strategy development, governance principles, governance frameworks, governance hierarchy, publishing standards and finally the benefits of adopting a strong intranet governance approach. The book runs to almost 200 pages and so is a substantial contribution to the intranet literature.

The book is very much a personal statement by Mark on the importance of governance frameworks and content quality standards in intranet management. I would have appreciated references to other books or web resources on the subject, especially with regard to SharePoint intranet implementations where attention to governance detail is absolutely critical.  I would also have liked to have seen more checklists as a way of making sure I had fully understood the guidance. They would also provide a framework for prioritization and action with the intranet team.

There is much of value in this book but you have to work a little too hard to find it. This is because although each chapter runs to between 20 and 30 pages but there is no detailed list of chapter contents and no index. As a result you have to scan through each chapter, a process not helped by sub-heading typography that does not give a strong sense of structure. The page layout is fine for a printed version but in pdf format the change in margin width from even to odd page numbers is also distracting, especially when scanning through at speed.

Don’t let this discourage you from buying a copy at just £10.99. There is no other book (even mine!) covering governance issues in such detail and even experienced intranet and web managers will benefit from working through the book screen by screen.

Martin White