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At a basic level, the internet, extranets and intranets are all types of networks. When discussing the internet, extranets and intranets, you’ve got to step back and ask about who the audience is. The audience really defines what each of these types of networks is and how they are structured.
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The internet is the easiest to define since you’re accessing it as you read this article right now. The internet is a series of computers networked together to serve up information to the public.
Audience: The audience is really everyone and anyone – ranging from kids who use the internet to help them with their homework to the elderly using web mail to email friends. When compared to intranets and extranets, the internet has the largest audience by far.
Type of Information Served: If you can imagine it, it’s probably on the internet – news, reference materials, even TV shows – nearly any piece of information or media can be found on the internet. As an example, Bright Hub is a part of the internet. Bright Hub has a network of servers that serve web pages containing articles like this one. Search engines like Google and Bing catalog sites allowing users to find information easily.
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Extranets are set up by organizations to provide restricted access to special information. For example, a company may set up an extranet to share information with their customers. They may give customers access to support information or downloads for their software.
Audience: The audience in an extranet has some sort of relationship – typically of a business nature - with the organization hosting the extranet. Typically, extranets are password protected thus limiting the accessibility to the site.
Type of Information Served: As mentioned above, most extranets are built for customers and thus serve information related to the business – support information, software downloads, documentation or other pieces of information, or media that the hosting organization doesn’t want to make public.
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Intranets are private internal networks that serve information to employees or other closely related individuals of the organization. These sites are not accessible from the internet.
Audience: The audience for an intranet is typically an organization’s employees. In some cases, organizations may offer intranet access to close business partners, vendors or contractors. The content served is meant to allow employees to collaborate, communicate and organize information that is proprietary to the business.
Type of Information Served: Information served in an intranet can range from business process documents, internal user guides, training materials, business presentations and communications to employees. The other main purpose of an intranet is allowing employees to better organize information in their organization as well as being able to find it. For more information on intranets, take a look at this five part series that covers the ins and outs of intranets including how to set one up for your organization.