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"I Didn't Say Internet. I Said Intranet."

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One day at your new job for a good-sized organization, your new boss tells you that the company's employee policy and all the information you need about your employee benefits are on the intranet. She adds, "You'll need a password and username to log on."

You're a bit confused. You never needed a password just to go on the Internet before. Is this company behind the times?

Congratulations! You've been introduced to an entirely new kind of network. It's not the Internet—that ever-present network that you and everyone else can get into with any computer and a browser. This network is different from what you have seen before, and only a select group of people can access it.

It's time to know about the actual difference between the Internet and an intranet.

The Internet.

You already know what the Internet is all about, and you really don't need a technical explanation of how it all works. At home, you get the Internet connection you need, thanks to your account with an Internet Service Provider (ISP), such as Time-Warner Cable, AT&T, or Verizon. Your ISP is linked to thousands of computers and other hardware across the country and across the world. Once you're all set up and connected, you can visit any website that has a presence on the Web.

In addition to shopping and emailing, you can research companies online and even apply for jobs on their websites. You can get more in-depth company information through articles, annual reports and other websites.

Up to a point.

Because as a non-employee, you can't and shouldn't have access to a company's private information, which is intended to be read by their employees only. That information can be anything from their medical benefits, training courses, human resource policies, employee-of-the-year nominations, to product descriptions and more.

That's where the intranet comes in.

An intranet.

An intranet is an exclusive network that can be accessed only by a specific group of people and no one else. Many corporations, government agencies and universities have their own intranets.

Not every employee is given access to their company intranet, although most are. Some employees, based on their type of work or classification, may not have a need to access information on the intranet, which oftentimes involves training, product information, articles and information that pertain to the company.

Intranets from different organizations are not connected to one another, in case you're wondering. And they do not share information with each other! An organization's intranet is developed by its own staff and run internally. When hackers try to break into a company, an intranet is often their starting point.

Onsite-access only.

In many cases, you can only get on your intranet if you're in front a computer that is directly linked to the organization's network. And in most cases, you can't get on an intranet wirelessly, even if you're onsite. Otherwise, any outsider who happened to obtain or steal a username and password could log on, explore and potentially do damage.

For example, let's say you want to read your company's policy on extended personal leaves. If you're in the office, you can log on to your intranet and locate information on employee benefits. You could even log on to the intranet from another employee's computer in your building, as long as it's also connected to the intranet—your username and password will work just fine.

In a way, you can think of an intranet as a "mini-Internet" that's self-contained—designed and controlled by one organization. You won't find too much on an intranet that's frivolous, such as funny pet videos. It's meant to be helpful, informative and an important resource for its employees.

Typically, the IT department of an organization runs an intranet. They control the access, networking and security, and they rely on other departments—training, marketing, human resources, public relations, etc.—to provide and update the content.

This isn't going to be pretty.

How easy an intranet is to use and navigate, as well as how it looks on your monitor, depends completely on the talents and priorities of the folks who designed it. And because intranets are employee-focused and aren't designed to generate sales, attract talented employees or woo investors, they're not as sleek and sophisticated as a company website.

An intranet is not pretty. They're mostly educational and often a little dull. And they're surely not as exciting as the Internet.

Internet, meet intranet

An intranet and the Internet are usually kept apart to maintain security...for the intranet. Some companies that permit a link between the two will often put up two strong firewalls, hoping to provide impenetrable security.

Of course, there's a tremendous downside to that: the threat of hackers. And that's exactly why most organizations keep the Internet far away from their intranet, because a no-frills, straightforward and even boring intranet serves its purpose well...keeping employees updated with relevant information and helpful resources.

That's what it's intended to do, and that's all it has to do.

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