Glossary

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

If you’re reading this, you already know what the internet is. We use the internet to find information, stay in touch, and upload, download, or stream content (among other things). Workwise, organizations rely on internet access to communicate with clients, partners, and employees.
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But how familiar are you with extranets and intranets? Do they perform the same function as the internet? How do they differ on a granular level? Are there any similarities that businesses can tap into as you seek to improve remote work features for your employees?

In this article, we’ll explain the inner workings of an intranet, internet, and extranet. You’ll have a better understanding of which system is best suited for your organization and how to identify similarities and differences when shopping for an internal communication tool that streamlines your company’s workflow.

What is the internet? 

The internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks. The internet provides a range of communication and information facilities through standardized communication protocols. It is a network of networks that uses the Internet Protocol (IP) suite to communicate between devices and computers.

From learning to building life-changing applications, and even automating manual tasks, the internet is now a ubiquitous part of life.

Examples of internet services

Examples of internet services include:

The web with a collection of over a billion web pages you can view in a web browser like Chrome or Firefox.

Social media apps like Facebook and Twitter where you can share videos, photos, and status updates.

Email applications like Gmail and Outlook where you can send and receive messages and documents online.

Online gaming software where people use the internet to play computer games with each other irrespective of location.

How does the internet work? 

The internet isn’t owned by a single entity. It’s an interconnection of large computer networks that work via a standard internet protocol. It uses both wired and wireless communication such as 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet to send and receive information. 

Each computer has a unique IP address which is used to identify the location of a computer within a global network. Each IP address has a Domain Name Server (DNS) that makes it easier to search and locate a specific computer where data may be hosted.

What is an intranet?

An intranet is a secure and private communication network within an organization that supports internal employee workflows like sharing information. 

The intranet is designed for communication, documentation, and socializing. It functions as the central access point for both external and internal resources that enable your employees to work efficiently. 

The intranet is part of the internet. As opposed to a public entity, it is a private internal wiki owned by a single organization. There is robust firewall security that prevents unauthorized users from accessing the network.

Examples of intranets

A few ways that organizations use an intranet include:

How does an intranet work? 

Similar to the internet, an intranet runs on the TCP/IP protocol. The computers on an intranet also have unique IP addresses for location identity. 

In the past, you could only connect to intranets via Wide Area Networks (WAN) and Local Area Networks (LAN) with a physical location. Thanks to modern intranet CMS, more companies are opting for cloud-based solutions that allow remote employees to connect wirelessly to a company’s intranet and enjoy features such as search engines, blogs, mobile applications, and cloud collaboration.

8 benefits of an intranet

1. Be the single source of truth

When employees spend more time searching for information on multiple platforms, it can lead to frustration, dissatisfaction, and inefficiency. 

Rather than storing company files on scattered drives and duplicating several versions of the same document, an intranet is a central platform to store and share business information. 

The information your employees need to be efficient and productive is at their fingertips. Employees can trust the information on your company intranet because it is expert verified and the single source of truth.

2. Promote brand loyalty

Sharing content such as internal news, press releases, annual reports, and mission statements through your intranet makes employees feel like they’re working for a transparent company. It’s easier to reinforce brand values and build loyalty when employees are kept in the loop.

Brand Guidelines - Press Kit

3. Drive employee engagement

One of the reasons why employees leave is because they’re unhappy with their workplace and are not motivated to show up. 

Your company intranet centralizes your employees’ workflow and keeps them connected in a remote workplace. An intranet is an event calendar, employee directory, knowledge base, communication, and collaboration tool all rolled into one. 

Employees can comment on another employee’s update, host remote events, collaborate on projects, and easily find resources. It encourages employees to create content and share knowledge through feature rich-editors. Done right, intranets lead to increased innovation, productivity, and growth.

4. Personalized communication

In this age of information overload, it has become increasingly difficult to capture and retain attention. No one reads the company-wide broadcast or opens the hundreds of notifications they receive daily.

An intranet allows you to personalize internal communication so employees only receive content that is beneficial to them. With Guru’s internal communication software, you can also send Knowledge Alerts to ensure employees read key updates and gather a record of who has read them.

5. Streamlined onboarding

Employees who have a great onboarding experience are more likely to stay. With an intranet, all the resources and information that employees need to onboard is already online. 

Rather than policing new hires and overwhelming them with information, employee onboarding software like Guru allows you to create an autonomous onboarding experience where new hires onboard at their own pace. 

6. Reduce administrative cost and improve efficiency

Streamlined workflows and processes on an intranet save time for both HR and other departments. You save money on paper and printers with digitized forms for performance review, expense reports, and other HR policies and procedures.

Rather than having multiple team leaders create documentation for the same processes, you have a single source of truth for each process in a department which brings clarity and increases efficiency.

7. Improve feedback

Tools like forums, surveys, polls, and social features encourage two-way communication between employees in an organization. You can use surveys and polls to learn about what’s working in your organization and features that could be improved upon. Managers can also use the intranet to give and receive feedback from teammates.

8. Encourage cross-team collaboration

The old rigid department structures of organizations are fast dying out. They are replaced by an agile workplace where employees go where their skills are needed. 

Intranets eliminate silos. The social nature of an intranet means that employees can use search functions to find and connect with peers who share similar interests outside of their department. Ultimately, this organic type of relationship building leads to more collaboration, teamwork, and knowledge sharing across teams.

Intranet vs Internet vs Extranet

What is an extranet? 

An extranet is a subsection of a company’s intranet. Similar to an intranet, it is a controlled private network where vendors, partners, and authorized customers can access information from a company’s intranet.

The term extranet became popular in the early 2000s when several organizations used it to describe a central repository of shared data that is only accessible to authorized members of specific workgroups.

Since the extranet is structured like an intranet, it relies on IP and TCP for data exchange. Extranets also have security features such as firewalls and password-protected login details to prevent unauthorized access.

Examples of extranets

  • A distribution network to maintain communication between suppliers and distributors
  • A central collaboration tool for a franchise to communicate across numerous locations.
  • Cross collaboration across government agencies
  • Ecommerce site integration to exchange inventory data via a secure network
  • A project management tool where a project manager can share documents and contracts with subcontractors and other stakeholders
  • A board portal where members of an association can access meeting minutes and board documents
  • Onboarding documents for subcontractors or freelance hires who do not have access to your employee intranet

What are the differences between the internet, an intranet and an extranet?

Feature

Internet

Intranet

Extranet

What does the word mean? Inter means between Intra means within Extra means outside
By definition A global network of computers that enables people to communicate and share information A private network that is restricted to only employees in an organization A private network within an intranet where organizations can communicate and share information with external vendors, customers, and partners that require access to restricted information
Purpose No specific goals as anyone can use the internet to create content or share information Designed to solve a specific set of problems such as knowledge sharing, data storage, and internal communication Designed to improve collaboration between an organization and other third party entities
Accessibility It can be publicly accessed and isn’t owned by anyone It is not publicly accessible and is owned by a single entity Restricted access on a need to know basis
Connection Between computers around the world Between employees in an organization Between an organization and its vendors or customers
Ownership No one One entity Could be one or more entities
Security Dependent on the internet user to secure their network connection Enforced via a robust firewall to prevent unauthorized access Enforced via a firewall that keeps out unauthorized users and separates the extranet from the intranet
Users Anyone Employees in an organization Employees of all connected organizations in the extranet
Relation A network of networks Relies on the internet to work Relies on the intranet to work
Size of the network By far, the largest network in terms of connected devices A small network where only employee devices are connected It has a similar size to an intranet
Regulation Not regulated Regulated by policies guiding a single organization Regulated by multiple organizations
Example Using Instagram on your phone or researching resources via Google A company like Asana using Guru to communicate internally with its employees and share information A company like McDonald’s using an internal network to maintain communication with franchises across the United States

Are there any similarities between the internet, intranet, and extranet?

Shared features between the internet, intranet, and extranet include:

  • Internet protocol such as TCP/IP
  • Purpose of sharing information and communicating with users over the network
  • Accessible via a web browser
  • Messaging functions similar to an internet app
  • They might have different encryption techniques but the firewall security features are similar

Use the combined power of the internet and intranet to improve employee communications and workflow

If you’re shopping for an internal solution to improve employee engagement and support your organizational workflow, you don’t have to choose. Modern intranets rely on an internet connection to work. Hence, you only need an intranet to enjoy the features of the internet and extranet.

Intranet software like Guru is highly secured to prevent unauthorized access. You store all your company documents in a central platform so everyone has easy access. Employees are better engaged because they have the tools to collaborate remotely and expert-verified information to complete work tasks.

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