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Intranet Management

Intranet vs internet vs extranet: a comparative guide

What is the difference between internet, intranet, and extranet, and how are these used in business including use cases.

6 minute read
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Intranet use cases

Have you ever wondered what sets the internet, intranet, and extranet apart? Well, you’re not alone, as these three terms are frequently used, but often get mixed up with each other!

The internet, intranet and extranet are all pivotal in streamlining communication and information sharing. Understanding their unique characteristics and differences is essential to choosing the best solution for your needs. This article will delve into the nuances of the internet, intranet, and extranet including the following:

What is the internet, intranet & extranet?

In a nutshell, here’s the breakdown: the internet is the big, wide world of cyberspace, the intranet is your company’s private digital workspace, and the extranet is a members-only site where you can collaborate with colleagues and partners. 

Let’s dig deeper and learn about the three digital realm’s history and their importance in today’s organizations.

What is the internet?

The internet is a vast global network connecting millions of computers and devices worldwide. It allows users to access a wide range of websites, services, and information, making it a cornerstone of modern communication and information exchange.

Sometimes referred to as a “network of networks,” the internet was first conceived in 1969 by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the U.S. government. The original aim was to create a network that would allow users of a research computer at one university to talk to research computers at other universities.

Today, the internet is used to communicate across large or small distances, share information from any place in the world, and access information or answers to almost any question in moments. Approximately five billion people, or more than half of the world’s population, now have access to the internet. In recent times, worldwide access to the internet helped organizations stay productive and connected during the pandemic, and paved the way for the hybrid workplace.

What is an intranet?

Modern Intranet

An intranet is a private extension of the internet confined to an organization. It is essentially an internal website that creates a digital workplace helping employees stay up to date, find and share resources, collaborate, and be part of a community.

The first intranet sites appeared in organizations in the mid-1990s and provided one-way content and communication to employees. Early intranets were used as a digital storage space for an organization’s knowledge and resources, which could be easily accessed by their employees.
Today’s intranets have evolved into a much more valuable tool for employees and organizations. Rather than a vehicle for top-down communication, modern intranets are dynamic, interactive websites that serve as a communications channel, knowledge management tool, culture and community hub, and collaboration platform. It helps people work better by combining the best features of wikis, blogs, and document and content management systems.

What is an extranet?

An extranet is a controlled, private network that includes external parties such as clients, partners, suppliers, colleagues, or vendors. The group typically shares common interests or objectives; for example, it could be an alumni group or a board of directors. It operates similarly to an intranet but also allows authorized external users to access specific resources, collaborate on projects, and communicate with internal stakeholders. 

Extranets are often used to streamline communication and collaboration between organizations and their external partners by enhancing efficiency, transparency, and productivity in business relationships, all the while maintaining confidentiality and data security.

Internet vs intranet vs extranet

Now that we’ve looked at the background and purpose of the internet, intranets, and extranets, let’s find out how the three digital environments are distinct from each other.

Internet vs intranet

The internet is a global network that is publicly accessible and used to exchange information and resources worldwide. In contrast, an intranet is a private network that is limited to an organization and accessible only to its employees.

Picture the internet as a bustling city where everyone’s invited to roam freely, explore endless avenues of information, and mingle with folks from all corners of the globe. It’s like the ultimate worldwide party where you can find anything and everything you could ever imagine, from cute cat videos to groundbreaking research.

Now, think of the intranet as your private clubhouse, accessible only to you and your colleagues and teammates. Here, you can collaborate on projects, share inside jokes, and catch up on the latest company news without any unwanted guests crashing the party. Oh, and you can also create a pet gallery for all of your crew to share your cutest pet photos (and cat videos)!

Extranet vs intranet

The intranet acts as a digital ecosystem tailored exclusively for internal operations. The extranet, on the other hand, is a controlled and secure gateway that extends beyond your organization’s digital domain to facilitate collaboration with external stakeholders.

If the intranet can be likened to an exclusive clubhouse, the extranet can be thought of as your organization’s VIP lounge. It’s an exclusive digital space where you roll out the red carpet and extend the invite to trusted partners, clients, and suppliers. Of course, you have all the proper security measures in place to ensure only the right guests get through the velvet ropes.

What role can these platforms play in your organization?

Learn about the different use cases, and how they can help you push forward a business case for intranet software.

Read more
Intranet use cases

Key differences between the internet, intranet and extranet

To paint a clear picture, we compare the differences between the internet, intranet, and extranet based on these four factors: 1) accessibility, 2) audience, 3) security, and 4) usage.

AccessibilityAccessible to anyone with internet connectionRestricted to authorized users within organizationExtends access to select external stakeholders with controlled permissions
AudienceGlobal audience, including individuals, businesses, organizationsInternal users within the organizationA mix of select internal users and  external members 
SecurityVaries; may include encryption, firewalls, secure connectionsStringent access controls, user authentication, encryptionAuthentication mechanisms, role-based permissions, encryption
UsageCommunication, research, entertainment, e-commerce, etc.Internal communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing, workflowsCollaboration, secure data exchange, client/vendor interactions

Finding the right tool for your organization’s needs

Any mid to large-size organization will benefit from an intranet—a dynamic, secure, and tailored digital hub designed exclusively for your team’s interactions. 

Unlike the vast and often chaotic expanse of the internet or the limited scope of an extranet, an intranet provides a dedicated space where your team can share ideas, collaborate on projects, and access vital information—all within a secure and controlled environment.

Simply put, if deployed correctly, modern intranets can facilitate cross-company communication, encourage collaboration, enhance productivity, and promote culture.

Building a modern intranet isn’t just a smart move—it’s a necessity for any organization wanting to maximize productivity and employee engagement. To get started, check out our Intranet 101 guide to learn how to build a successful intranet for your organization.

Want to learn more about ThoughtFamer’s intranet solutions? Contact our experts. We’d love to talk intranets and how we can customize a solution for your needs.