Is intranet personalization of no value?

Personalization of intranet homepages has been a big topic for years now. Recently some results from a survey were shared and analyzed by Andy Jankowski, I was most surprised by the data about personalization (and left a comment there). According to the research from the Worldwide Intranet Challenge personalization has a negative impact on the way employees value their intranet.

My intranet
I know there is research that says only 20% of the employees personalize their intranet when they can. But the above-mentioned conclusion is contrary to all my experiences. When we do intranet strategy and design work for companies, almost all ask for some form of personalization. This doesn't have to mean they will use it, I think. I think employees says this when they ask for personalization: the intranet is fundamentally mine, so I want to be able to tweak it in such a way that it fits my daily needs, not Communication's or IT's needs.

Levels of personalization
What kind of personalization are we talking about here? It’s nog clear from the survey results. Is the personalization we're talking about here comparable with iGoogle-type personalization?

In my experience there are 3 levels of personalization:

1. the system does it for you based on your profile, location, etc.
This is also called personification. In most organizations this has failed horribly. Employees hate when the systems decides for them. But there seems to be a subtle balance here: some automatic personalization is good, but too much is irritating. In any case: users want to understand why they automatically get to see certain content and functionality (to be able to correct the system if necessary). Currently work is being done on learning intranets. I think this is interesting, but employees will still want to understand how the learning algorithm (artificial intelligence) learns, concludes, infers, etc.

2. the homepage design is fixed but you can personalize the content of some of the widgets/boxes
So the elements on a homepage are predefined, but employees can select 4 out of 10 news categories, they can decide who to follow, they decide which updates from projects they want to see, etc.

3. the homepage is not fixed, every user can 'design' his/her own homepage, no two homepages look alike
This is usually a combination of 1 and 2 plus an iGoogle kind of interface. We have several customers with this type of intranet. About 80% personalize in the iGoogle way.

Personalization and design
Another thought: there are also design considerations here. The fact that some users don't value personalization can also have to do with the way they've experienced it. I've seen many horribly complex implementations of personalization with ditto design... In those cases I would want to personalize my intranet either.

Personalization and the web
And finally: why do we personalized so heavily on the Internet? The Internet and intranet are different things. But how we use the web teaches us that we love ‘pull’ and ‘personalization’. Just look at the way many build personalized feeds based on RSS, following, hashtags, etc. And also think about all the different apps we use. A quick peek at someone’s smartphone homescreen teaches us we personalize heavily. I’m sure this goes for internal as well if we give it to employees in the right way.

Share your experiences
I’m really curious what your experiences are with personalization. Whether you work with your company’s intranet or you develop intranet platforms for customers. Please leave a comment and will continue the discussion.

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