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Internet vs. Intranet vs. Extranet: What’s the Difference?

Sean Duffy

December 4, 2020 · 8 min read

Last updated: September 2022

The last two years have caused many organizations to rethink how they do business. Suddenly, digital transformation was a top priority — as remote work and rapid innovation became the new norm. Organizations had to maintain business-as-usual in a very unusual climate. Part of that meant evaluating their tools and technologies to ensure they were built to support a virtual work environment. One where security, productivity, communication, and collaboration would not be compromised.

The company intranet was one tool that quickly went from a nice-to-have to a necessity. For many organizations, it became THE mission-critical tool for business continuity, crisis communications, remote work, and more. For some organizations, however, the pandemic has shone a light on what their intranet can’t do, and left them wanting more.

The company intranet isn’t the only software that’s used for digital workplaces and business processes, though. When assessing your digital workplace as a whole, as many companies have done over the last couple of years, it can be confusing trying to differentiate the similarly-sounding networks used. These networks are intranets, internet, and extranets, and we’ll be discussing each of them in more detail below.


Table of Contents:


What is internet, extranet, & intranet?

Let’s take a step back and define the term “intranet” in relation to some other technologies that it’s often confused with. At their most basic, internet, intranet, and extranet are defined as:

  • The internet is a globally-connected network of computers that enables people to share information and communicate with each other.
  • An intranet, on the other hand, is a private and internal network that enables people to store, organize, and share information within an organization.
  • An extranet is a web portal that is accessible by an organization and its external vendors, partners, customers, or any other users that require access to restricted information.

Now that we understand the fundamentals of each, let’s discuss the differences between these three crucial types of networks.

Intranet vs. internet

Besides the spelling and pronunciation (which might sound forced and awkward at times), there are key differences between the first two. one of the most important being that an intranet is a platform that can be bought and sold (or built, in some cases), while the internet is the underlying technology that enables its connectivity. In terms of access, there are also differences between the two. Internet is a public network for all to use, while an intranet is private and internal to a given organization, for only its employees to connect and communicate.

Intranet vs. extranet

The other type of “net” we’re comparing, extranets, provides controlled access to both internal and external members. Some example use cases for an extranet include a partner or vendor portal, a customer community, or a franchise network. While both private networks, the people who have access, as well as the purpose of the each, is the difference again. Intranets are only used by internal personnel, while extranets are used as an interface between the organization and external parties who need access to certain information directly from your company.

Email shouldn’t be the only method of connecting with your partners, vendors, and customers. Learn more about how to engage with your external communities

Distinguishing the “net”

If you consider the prefix of each type of “net,” the distinction becomes quite simple:

  • “inter” means “between”
  • “extra” means “outside”
  • “intra” means “inside”

As you can see, the broadest of these networks is the internet, followed by an extranet, with a company’s intranet being their most core network. An effective and industry-leading intranet platform can be a huge influence on your organization’s internal communication and collaboration abilities, which is why many companies use one.

Top benefits of a next-gen intranet

With that importance established, there are several major differentiators between a great intranet and a cumbersome or unhelpful one. In the past, intranets have gotten a bad rap, with many of them thought of as out-of-date, disorganized file structures that could only be managed by IT.

More recently, however, next-gen intranet technology has emerged. With more flexibility, capabilities, and user-friendly features, the modern intranet has become a core tool for communication, collaboration, knowledge management, and culture and engagement. More specifically, the intranet can solve real business challenges that often slow organizations down, especially with the rise of remote work. Let’s take a look at three areas where an intranet help saves critical time, money, and resources.

1. Create a single source of truth

An intranet gives organizations one place to securely share and store business-critical information. Desked and deskless employees always know where to look and can be confident they’re receiving the latest information.

2. Increase productivity & collaboration

Using email and apps to manage work can be inefficient, time-consuming, and even risky. Furthermore, the pandemic completely changed the way organizations used to operate, so it’s become necessary for every business to use intranet options, CRM solutions, and other technology tools for their day-to-day operations. An intranet can help streamline workflows and cut out the clutter so more work can get done in less time.

3. Connect & engage a remote workforce

The intranet has become a virtual workplace for a distributed workforce. Activities that can no longer take place in person are happening online and an intranet makes this transition easy and seamless, helping to connect remote workers who would otherwise be difficult to engage.

These examples really just scratch the surface of the ways in which a company can use an intranet to their advantage. Partners Healthcare is one example of an organization that used their intranet as the go-to tool for managing communications and bringing their organization together during the COVID-19 crisis.

Vice President of Communications, Rich Copp said: “We had to get our arms around communications without hesitation. Our entire network of 78,000 needed one source of truth.”

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Choosing an intranet for your business

Choosing an intranet solution should be largely about finding a partner that you feel will provide you with the guidance and support to create a digital workplace that engages and inspires your people across the organization. However, when it gets down to brass tacks, there are certain core features you must be able to check off your list when choosing a new solution.

Before you start that list, identify the needs of each of your stakeholder groups:

  • End-users: These are the people who are supposed to use your intranet every day to manage their work. In this sense, we mean employees or members.
  • Content creators: These are the people who use your intranet as a tool for publishing content and communications.
  • Administrators: These are the people who are involved in deploying, building, and maintaining your intranet solution.

All of these groups are essential to the success of an intranet that is truly meant to engage and inform. Failing to address the needs of any one of them when evaluating solutions will inevitably cause friction once you get to the implementation stage.

Now, let’s break down which specific features will help get buy-in from each of these groups.

Features for end-users

You need features that help users be more productive — saving them time, effort, and resources — by having everything available in one place. Not only do you want them to be more productive, but you also want them to be involved and engaged with what’s happening around them.

Your intranet platform should help them do four key things: Consume content, find information, interact with each other, and manage their work. Features that enable this include:

  • Notifications: Keep employees up to date with real-time notifications about new posts or content.
  • Subscriptions: Receive instant, daily, weekly, or monthly notifications for followed content, as set by the user or administrator.
  • Social features: Use blogs, polls, comments, and likes to build culture and create a dialogue between employees across your organization.
  • Search: Quickly find anything in your intranet (or via integrations to third-party repositories), from files to articles to subject matter experts.
  • Profiles: Find which colleague has the expertise you need by viewing their profile or starting a chat.
  • Microblogs: Connect employees with their coworkers, near and far, by creating a virtual water cooler to share a quick note or direct them to important updates.
  • Tasks: Make project management easy by keeping track of all your to-do’s, reminders, and requests.

Features for content creators

These are your digital workplace managers, intranet managers, communicators, or anyone else who regularly posts content on the intranet. As the “super users” of the platform, they’ll need access to a wide range of features that allow them to create, publish, distribute, and manage content — in a simple and seamless fashion. Features that enable this include:

  • Multiple content types: Choose from different channels for publishing content, including blogs, wikis, calendars, and forums.
  • WYSIWYG editor: Also known as a “What You See Is What You Get” editor, users can post content with the ability to format text, add images, embed videos, and switch to HTML code.
  • Translation: Enable content creators to draft, review, and display content in multiple languages for end-users around the world.
  • Moderation: Review and approve content and comments before they’re published.
  • Broadcasts: Call attention to important information by broadcasting messages to the entire organization or individual groups.
  • Drafts: Save content as a draft so you can come back to it later and collaborate with other authors.
  • Future publish: Schedule content to publish at a future date and time so you can load it when it works best for you.
  • Labels: Make it easy to manage and find content by categorizing items by type, topic, department, or your own organizational labels.
  • Read tracking: Enable users to acknowledge that they’ve read and understood a piece of content.
customizing intranet with widgets

Features for administrators

This role can often be split amongst the digital workplace managers and your overloaded IT staff. You need features that ease the burden and allow them to breeze through admin tasks, with confidence in the platform’s security and ability to hand off work to individual teams. Features that enable this include:

  • Easy configuration: Use intuitive drag-and-drop controls to publish content, display information, and view and edit the structure of your intranet, including pages, spaces, and channels.
  • Admin controls: Set permissions and manage members and user accounts with management settings.
  • Solutions: Cut down on implementation time with pre-built solutions for common use cases like onboarding, team rooms, and knowledge bases.
  • Authentication: Make it easy for users to log in to your intranet with single-sign-on (SSO) and LDAP integration.
  • Integrations: Use a simple drag-and-drop widget to integrate out-of-the-box, third-party applications into your intranet.
  • Reporting and analytics: Get performance and usage data at your fingertips — with preconfigured dashboards, overviews, and data from third-party analytics tools.

Finding an intranet that best meets the needs of your organization

At the end of the day, a lot of modern intranet providers will offer the same suite of features as standard, but you should still do a thorough review to ensure your intranet can do everything you need it to — now and the future. It should be user-friendly (for both technical and non-technical staff), scalable and secure, and give content creators an easy and efficient way to publish their content.

However, above and beyond features you should be looking for include a vendor that offers services and support to enable you to grow your basic intranet foundation into a successful digital workplace. If you can find a solution that has it all — from the full range of features to the support you need to get the most from them — you’ll be well on your way to a connected community that empowers users at every level.

Learn more about Igloo’s full suite of features here

Learn more

Is your intranet ready for 2022 and beyond? It may be time to explore your options.

If a full intranet re-haul isn’t realistic, you may want to consider departmental solutions that are backed by intranet technology, but don’t come with the cost or complexity of implementing an organization-wide solution. We can help you navigate the next critical steps of your digital transformation. Book a demo to see if Igloo is the right fit for you.