An intranet is one of the foundation tools for a knowledge management program. We are currently working on the redesign of our SharePoint intranet. This will be our third generation intranet using SharePoint. The redesign team has spent a great deal of time discussing navigation on the intranet.
I have come to the realization that most users want to be able to navigate and browse to their desired content on the intranet. This seems contrary to the internet where most people are comfortable searching for content. I think there are two reasons. First, intranet searches (ours included) have been notoriously bad, by not searching enough repositories and not presenting the search results in a coherent way. Second, users treat the intranet like any other application where they click action buttons to get the information they need.
Users should be using the intranet to help answer a question. So a well designed intranet should be setup to help the user answer their question. This means organizing content content solely around business units (for a law firm practice areas or administrative departments) is not the most useful way to organize the intranet.
We decided to have some organization on the intranet organized around typical tasks. We worked with focus groups and card-sorting exercises to layout a top level and secondary navigation. There was a lack of agreement on where some items should be in the navigational scheme. It seems everyone had different way of thinking about how content should be grouped.
Coincidentally, I just finished reading David Weinberger's Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. He makes a compelling case that an item need not be in a single location when dealing with digital content. The book also shed a lot of light on why people have different ways of wanting to group the intranet content.
Along this same idea, Bob Mixon posted on MOSS 2007 Site Navigation - Topical Versus Organizational and Getting More from the Content Query Web Part (CQWP). He indicates that you can get the best of both worlds in SharePoint, organizing content by business group and by topic. This technique seems like it will be able to give the business groups the ability to manage and update their information, but repackage it and make it available to different user groups in different ways.