Intranet vs. internet: what’s the difference, and why does it matter?

Intranet vs. internet – what’s the difference? These quasi-homophones shouldn’t cause much confusion, but many people are still unsure about whether these words are related in some way. And if you’re in business, it’s vital that you know the difference between them both.

Almost everyone knows what the internet is – the global computer network that provides information and communication facilities – not everyone is as familiar with the term ‘intranet.’

This has led to some confusion, and often the assumption that both terms mean the same thing. But in fact, they stand for two different things. Not completely different though, many traits of an intranet borrow from the internet – something we’ll go in to later. But before we list the similarities, let’s break down what the difference is between an intranet and the internet.

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4.3 billion people across the globe are connected to the internet, using it to help them with all aspects of their lives, from connecting with friends to keeping up to date with news, and from tracking their health to working more effectively.

And while an intranet similarly helps you to connect, learn and communicate, it’s done so on a much smaller level. Intranets are like mini internets for business, where they can store relevant information, news and data online, but make it accessible only to those employed by the organization.

Intranet vs. internet

intranet vs. internet
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The main difference between an intranet and the internet is that the former is a closed network, and the latter is a public network. In short, the internet is for all; an intranet is for a select group of people.

The internet: This worldwide system of computer networks. This allows the access and exchange of other computers’ information, enabling an array of services that cover communication, entertainment, and news. Information from July 2019 saw that 56% of the world’s population – nearly five billion people – were active internet users. From entertainment to finance, to learning and innovating, the internet underpins every area of our lives. With the Internet of Things, the applications are endless (and in some cases, risible). You can heat your home, power a driverless car, even help you eliminate noisy slurps while eating ramen – all with the help of a Wi-Fi connection.

An intranet: An intranet, on the other hand, has a reduced set of functions which are primarily aligned with helping employees within a business. While similar to the internet in that it is a computer network that shares information – an intranet operates strictly within a closed network. This is beneficial for organizations who want to submit and exchange company information privately.

So, an intranet is a restricted version of the internet, and one that doesn’t allow access to anyone outside its network. Its network comprises of all of its employees and senior level, and in some cases, partners, investors, and shareholders. Intranets typically use a local-only network, which restricts access. Only users directly wired to the system can log on. Despite this, remote workers can gain access from home, and employees on the road can access it via mobile.

Why do companies use an intranet?

intranet vs. internet
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Their introduction into the working environment in the mid-nineties saw intranets act as simple storage for files, information, and top-down communication.

Now, intranets have developed to becoming the hub of a business, allowing communication, knowledge-sharing, collaboration, and more. It’s here where you can file your expenses, book your holidays, and view details of your pension plan. You can contact colleagues in another office, write a blog updating the organization of your latest news, and create a community within your workforce.

For most businesses, an intranet is, without a doubt, a significant investment. But it can also prove to be invaluable too.

In order to function as a business, there needs to be a way of dissipating news and knowledge and creating one source of truth. Organizations, particularly larger ones, need a platform to connect and unite all their personnel, and an intranet can be shaped and modified to allow this, whether it’s one office block in a city, or a global brand with hundreds of locations across the world.

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There is a whole raft of information that companies need to share with their workforce. From a directory of colleagues and departments to booking time off forms to connecting with colleagues – an intranet is the go-to resource.

In fact, no matter what area of the business you’re in, the advantages of an intranet are manifold. You can read our Advantages of an Intranet blog for a more in-depth view. But the main gist of it is that an intranet:

  • Increases productivity
  • Cuts down on admin
  • Creates operational cost savings
  • Reduces error
  • Improves access to information
  • Encourages collaboration
  • Enables crisis communication

The Manchester Metropolitan University story

That’s not to say that the boundaries between the internet and an intranet aren’t sometimes blurred. For Manchester Metropolitan University, for instance, had much of their intranet content on their external site.

This unusual situation saw internal documents and information belonging to the university on their live site, mixing up employee information with student material. This obviously posed some data breaching issues, as well as everyday challenges and frustrations experienced by staff trying to find what they needed.

The Manchester Met team quickly realized that an intranet was fundamental in going forwards and keeping two audiences – their students and their staff – separate in terms of the information most relevant to them.

Intranet vs. internet… vs. extranet

intranet vs. internet
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Of course, neither of these should be confused with an extranet, which is somewhat a halfway house between an intranet and the internet. An extranet permits controlled access to authorized external users to a company intranet.

So, an extranet carries the concept of an intranet but takes it outside of its normal parameters. This platform is more open, and allows third parties in, like vendors and partners. They can either have full access to the intranet, or a selected part of it.

Extranets can sit on existing intranet software or be completely independent. Its primary purposes are to aid collaboration, communication, and insight for the most important people outside of your business.

Round-up

In conclusion, though they have a related theme, it’s important to remember that there are critical characteristics of an intranet that set it apart from the internet and extranets:

Intranets are a closed network: Within the internet, intranets are like islands where businesses can congregate.

Intranets are designed to solve a specific set of problems: The whole purpose of an intranet is to remedy existing issues in a business, namely data storage, knowledge sharing, and the distribution of information.

Intranets are smaller and more secure: Like a mini internet, intranets are solely for the use of a business and act as a secure way to help organizations function.

However, despite the differences between an intranet and the internet , they do have one thing in common: a business operates far better with both.

Guide

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Download our comprehensive guide covering every stage of your intranet journey.