Improving intranet engagement

One of the main hurdles you face when setting up an intranet is user engagement. You have to get people to actively use the systems you put in place. Even if everybody is on the same page and believes that getting organized with an intranet will save time in the long run the motivation may not be there to explore new software and to change old habits.

You set up an intranet and then, after a couple of months everybody has reverted to their old style of working and the company is back at square one. Different versions of files are emailed back and forth like before. Every now and then important documents get lost. There is no clear overview of what’s happening in the organization and the company spent a bunch of money on an intranet solution that didn’t stick. This is a large (and very frequent) problem today.

We’ve been thinking a lot about this problem because we have an intranet product (Papyrs) and it works on a subscription basis. This implies that as long as companies actively use our intranet product they will renew their subscription and we make money. When employee engagement drops off and the intranet stops getting updated with new information the value of the intranet decreases rapidly and the subscription inevitably gets canceled.

This, by the way, is one of the big advantages of subscription software. The software company (that’s us in this case) only makes money for as long as value is provided to the customer. Given that aquiring new customers is much more expensive than keeping existing customers happy (typically by a factor 10) keeping our customers happy is absolutely crucial. This in stark contrast with old enterprise-style intranet packages where the big sale happens up front. After the software company cashes the check it doesn’t matter much whether the customer is still happy 6 months down the road. And so, unsurprisingly those intranet systems are often delivered over time, over budget and to make matters even worse, they match the needs of the people in the organization so poorly that they are then left unused.

So to summarize the problem: An intranet is only valuable when lots of information is stored on it and when this information is kept current. This in turn means that user engagement is vital. Otherwise the company will revert to their ineffective old ways and we’re back to square one.


So what keeps people more involved with your intranet? We’re going to look at all these issues from our perspective (as the creators of Papyrs), but the insights apply to intranets generally, and to other forms of social software where user engagement is critical for success.

1. Let people get involved easily

  • User friendly interface
  • Straightforward functionality
  • Users shouldn’t be able to break anything

2. Keep everybody on the same page with email

  • Let people choose the subjects they get emailed about
  • Make it clear who will get email updates and when

3. Encourage everybody to contribute to the intranet

  • Set permissions liberally (your coworkers really aren’t going to vandalize pages)
  • Encourage everybody in your organization to make changes and improvements wherever they see fit

4. Make everything look inviting and appealing

  • Keep all pages organized with a sensible structure.
  • Split up pages that get too large
  • Add links to related pages

5. Fast universal search

  • The more data on your intranet the more important search becomes
  • Find-as-you type search helps a lot
  • It must be fast & reliable. Many intranet solutions have a search box that don’t always return results that you know exist

6. Access from mobile devices

  • So people can access important documents and discussions on the go

We designed Papyrs with the issues above in mind, so our users don’t have to worry at all about most the above. Of course it’s still up to our users to write quality content for the intranet and to keep everything organized but Papyrs does a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

Setting up an intranet for a business isn’t easy. If people refuse to use the intranet software the intranet will fail. If people can’t easily find important information or easily contribute to the internet the intranet will fail. A lot has to go right for an intranet to become a central activity hub for your organization. So when you create an intranet make sure to vet it on the aforementioned points. Or just take the easy road, and sign up for a free Papyrs trial.

New in Papyrs: Navigation Widget, Google Calendar and more!

We’ve been working on quite some new features for Papyrs, time to introduce some of them!

Category Navigation widget

If you’re using categories to organize your Papyrs intranet pages, you might want to navigate your pages by category. At the Pages Overview, you can already find an overview of all your pages by category. We’re now releasing a new feature that allows you to add category navigation directly to any page. Different pages can show navigation controls for different categories. For example, if you have a page with information about a certain project, you can show “related pages” by adding a navigation widget that shows the other pages and (sub)categories in the project’s category.

You can add the Category navigation widget by adding a Navigation widget, and selecting the Categories option.

Updated Google Calendar integration

We redesigned the Google Calendar integration, and we think it looks really pretty now!

Quick reminder: you can add a Google Calendar by adding a Media Widget to your page, and then going to Google Widgets and selecting Calendar.

With Papyrs you can add Google Apps calendars and personal (gmail) calendars. Just authorize Papyrs to connect to the Google Calendar and we’ll take care of the rest.

The new calendar!

Calendar overview for the entire month (click to enlarge)


Viewing the week overview

Viewing the daily agenda

Time picker

We added a new control for time inputs on the forms you create with Papyrs. As before, you can type in the time yourself, but you can also quickly select one using the time-picker.

Search filters
You can now filter search results. This is handy especially if you have a lot of documents and files on Papyrs and you know what you’re looking for. If you’re only interested in pages, you can type "page: meeting notes" (without the quotes) and Papyrs will show matching Pages. If you’re looking for a file (a pdf file or word document perhaps), then you can simply type "file: idea" and you’re going to get a list of pdf files.

Here is the complete overview of the search filters Papyrs understands:

page: Search within pages
file: Search for attachments (attachments on pages as well as attachments on forms)
contact: Search for contacts and profiles
feed: Search for comments
form: Search for matching forms

I’m sure some of you noticed this these filters are exactly like the search filters in Google and GMail. Most people are familiar with filters like these already, so we think most people will get the hang of it quickly.

Sorting checklist filters

A small improvement to Checklists: you can now re-order the items on your list. Especially useful if you want to prioritize the items on your lists!

That’s it for today
Hope you like all the new features. And as always, more improvements are on the way!

New in Papyrs pages: Table of contents

Hi everyone, quick update: we just released a new navigation widget to add to your Papyrs pages: Table of Contents.

If you have a long page with a lot of documentation, it’s often useful to be able to jump to different parts within that page. If you add the Table of Contents widget, an index of all headings on your page is generated, so the visitors of your page can easily jump to different sections. If you add or remove headings, the index is updated automatically. See the screenshot below for a small example:

You can add the Table of Contents widget by adding a Navigation widget, and selecting Table of Contents.

Hope you find the update useful, we’ll be back with more soon!

Why Backpack is getting phased out

February 2013 Update: We’ve added a way to import your pages from Backpack into Papyrs.

We just read on TheNextWeb that Backpack, a web app from 37signals is no longer accepting new signups. Existing users aren’t left out in the cold, but you can no longer sign up for their service. Backpack is pitched as an “Easy intranet for your business”. Much like our product Papyrs. So we have always considered Papyrs good alternative to Backpack because with both products you can create pages, organize your documents and discuss and plan everything about your organization in one place. Of course there are also plenty of differences. For instance, Backpack had a lot of functionality for calendars and reminders, whereas Papyrs allows far greater flexibility in the sort of pages you can create with anything from Web Forms to Twitter widgets. And as we explain below, we also have a very different vision about intranet software. Now that Backpack is being phased out one of our competitors is, for all intents and purposes, a thing of the past.

So why did 37signals decide to phase out Backpack?

They didn’t say exactly, but we can pretty much guess why. When you first launch a product it has only a few core features. A new product must do a few things, and it must do those few things really well. Then, as you continue working on your product and make improvements to it (based on the feedback you get from your initial customers) the number of features in the product grows slowly but steadily.

Suppose you start with 3 different products that solve 3 distinct problems. The first product is essentially a user-friendly wiki. Companies can dump all their internal documents on there so everybody stays on the same page. The second product is for project management: it has a calendar, tasks, timelines, and some index of active and archived projects. The third product is, let’s say, for collaborative text editing. Multiple people can work on a document simulaneously and see each other’s changes and annotations. So three products: a wiki, a project management tool and a collaborative document editor.

Initially all is great and these three products solve a different issue and everybody’s happy. Happy? Well, no, just *mostly* happy. Because the moment you have customers the feature requests keep rolling in and most feature requests are going to be pretty reasonable. Your users are going to want to have one login for the different products. They’re going to want one unified place where they can see all activity and updates. And if two out of three products have a calendar, why don’t the events of one product show up on the calendar of the other?

And so the apps converge…

Essentially, every time you add functionality the products become more alike. These web 2.0 productivity products naturally converge towards one-another. When you add tasks to the wiki-app, it becomes more like the project managing app. And when you add rich-text notes to the project manager app it becomes more like the wiki-app. The lines between the apps get blurred and if you’re not careful the apps you built that people love slowly grow into monstrosities that attempt to do everything and as a result become complex and clunky and altogether unappealing.

This is what we realized a little over a year ago when we started working on Papyrs. When it’s inevitable that users want a lot of functionality but all users want different functionality you need to make some hard choices. Even though you know you can’t keep everybody happy you still want to keep as many people as happy as you can.

We think there are two good solutions:

1) you figure out which features are most critical and you create a new app that combines the all best bits from the original 3 apps. You just focus on extreme simplicity and ruthlessly cut functionality across the board. This is what 37signals did and they launched Basecamp Next earlier this year. It has some of the functionality of Backpack, but not all. It also has most of the functionality of the original Basecamp, but not all.

2) you create a product that maximizes flexibility and give users the choice which functionality they want to include. This is what we did with Papyrs. Because Papyrs pages are just made of simple widgets that people can just drag&drop onto a page. Our users use the widgets they need and ignore the ones they don’t. The collection of widgets available to them simply grows over time. We have all sorts of customers who use Papyrs in completely different ways. And because of our widget approach we can add functionality to widgets to make our customers happier without making the product more complex for newcomers.


So although we were a little surprised to see Backpack shutting down, it makes a lot of sense. When you have different products and you notice that they keep growing towards one another and get a lot of overlapping functionality you have to make some tough decisions. 37signals decided to create a new product that has most (but not all) of the functionality from their old products Basecamp and Backpack.

We decided with Papyrs to start with a platform that allows us to add functionality where needed without having to make sacrifices in usability. So hopefully we chose wisely and we won’t have to make a Papyrs Next a few years down the road :)

New feature: Poll widget

Today we’re launching a new widget for Papyrs: the poll widget.

Although it’s already possible to create all kinds of survey forms using the form widgets, a poll can be useful if you want feedback on a single question, and immediately show the results. With Papyrs, you can now add two types of poll widgets. After adding a Simple Poll widget, people can vote for one of the available choices. They can also view the results of the poll, with a bar showing the percentage of the vote for each option.

The other poll widget is the Preference table. Using this widget, people can select multiple options, and a table is shown with the names of people who voted and the selected options. This is great for deciding between multiple alternatives/preferences with a group of people, from planning a date for a meeting to deciding between various designs for a new project.

Some examples:

To add a poll widget to your page, drag the Media/Widget to your page, and select the Poll tab. Only users with View & Submit permissions or higher can vote in a poll, but everyone with access to a page can see the results.

We hope you find the new widget useful. More updates coming soon!