Chapter 24

How Intranet Discussion Software Works


One of the greatest time savers on an intranet is discussion software-software that allows people to share their ideas in public and private discussions. These discussions are not held live. Instead, people come in, post or respond to messages, and then other people at another time do the same. The best of this discussion software does more than simply allow people to have discussions: It can also link those discussions to other intranet resources, such as Web pages or even databases.

Intranet discussion software has its roots in Internet newsgroups, which allows people from all over the globe to participate in public discussions. In fact, intranets may use newsgroup technology as the basis of their discussion software. Newsgroup discussions are server-based, and work on a client/server model. The discussions themselves are on the server, while client software is used to access the server to read the discussions and respond to them. Many kinds of clients are used to participate in discussions. Newsgroup servers all over the world replicate the discussions they each hold, so that people from anywhere on the globe can participate by logging into a local server.

Intranet discussion software works in similar ways. It also works on a client/server model. The discussions themselves are hosted on servers, and client software is needed to read and participate in those discussions. Unlike newsgroups, however, most intranet discussion software requires that special client software be used-you won't be able to use just any discussion client. Intranets will often standardize on certain discussion software that's designed for specific server software.

Intranet discussion servers, like their Internet newsgroup server counterparts, replicate their discussions so that people across an entire intranet can participate. A server may host all discussions in a particular department or division; that server then replicates its discussions at pre-set intervals with discussions in other departments and divisions, so that everyone can participate in all discussions.

The most powerful discussion software goes beyond mere talk. It will, for example, allow someone to place a link to a Web page in a discussion. Then, when anyone in the discussion clicks on the link, a Web browser is launched, and the site is visited. This makes it easy for people to get feedback on sites they're designing, or access information contained in those sites. Similarly, programming tools like Java can be used to link discussions to intranet resources such as databases, so that in discussions people can access corporate data and comment on it.

Some discussion software also lets intranet administrators set security levels for different discussions. Certain discussions may be open to the entire company, while others are password-protected so that only certain people can see them. Some discussions can even allow everyone to read them, but only certain people to participate.

Discussion software allows people to instantly communicate, builds a sense of community, and lets people brainstorm in ways never before possible.

Using Intranet Discussion Software

Intranet-based discussion software allows people across an intranet-no matter where they are located-to participate in collaborative discussions. This discussion software offers far more than the newsgroups on the Internet offers. It allows links to Web pages and corporate resources such as databases; gives intranet administrators tools to create private discussions and to moderate discussions; and enables intranet programmers to add features using programming languages such as Java.