What are some of my choices?
Before I talk about any "best practices", let's take a look at some of the different possibilities for naming and addressing an Intranet.
The easiest and fastest way is to simply use the IP address of your web server for its URL. Plain and simple http://###.###.###.### approach with no name resolution to contend with or DNS servers to maintain. In addition, this method is scalable since each server on the company's network must have a unique IP address. For hosting more than one site on a particular server, you can use either the full directory and file path or a shorter virtual path to access it.
Another way is to set up an internal domain name simply for your Intranet such as www.Intranet.com where the domain name is valid only within your organization. This method may be easy on the users but requires that you maintain some sort of DNS or Hosts table type mapping across your organization to handle name resolution. In addition, depending on how users' machines are configured with respect to the order of and access to DNS servers, people may unwittingly be getting invalid (or even jaw dropping) results if it searches the Internet for this address rather than your internal servers.
Yet another solution is to utilize your company's existing Internet domain name and set up second level domain names for all your Intranet sites. This means that www.yourcompany.com would go to your company's Internet site but all other prefixes such as payroll.yourcompany.com and bigdivision.yourcompany.com would all access internal web sites. This approach also requires DNS servers and their corresponding name resolution. In addition, configuration of your firewall must be such that it prohibits all external users from accessing these Intranet sites yet allows them access to the external Internet sites and any related Extranet sites you may have. Although more sophisticated in terms of network and server configurations, it scales well and maintains a logical and familiar approach for site addresses.
What is recommended?
To me, a best practice is one that makes sense not only to the users but also to the technical staff. This means that it has to be easy for users to handle yet logical and manageable enough for the technical staff to support. Therefore, I recommend the third choice described above.
The reason I think this approach is the best is based on my experiences with naming Intranets in at least 3 major companies. Let me explain.
I wouldn't choose the first approach because it creates total brain paralysis for the users. They don't understand IP addresses (nor should they have to) and are plain afraid to see them. Not to mention, they are never going to remember them and they will be intimidated even more from embracing your Intranet.
The second approach, although catchy for users, can cause technical support a headache because it relies so heavily on name resolution being handled by multiple servers and/or the users' individual machines. So, where http://myplace may work just fine for one user, for another he or she may end up on some bizarre Internet site. Therefore, the sheer difficulty synchronizing all this leads me to not recommend it as a solution.
The third approach, which I recommend, combines the advantage of "user-friendly URLs" with the sophistication of synchronized DNS servers and firewalls. Albeit this approach will be overkill for a very small organization, it can and does work well in very large organizations. Even if you simplify configuration to 2 entries so that all non-www URLs stay internal and point to one central server which then executes a huge If-Then statement to redirect to the correct web server, it simplifies matters, particularly in users' minds. It is so much easier to tell a user to type in hr.mycompany.com or simply hr to access the Human Resources Intranet site than it is to explain the price of tea in China (equivalent to the IP address approach) or troubleshoot name resolution issues. Not to mention, when you create promotional materials for new websites, it gives you a catchy URL to use and for people to remember. Think internal marketing of your sites.
Regardless of the naming convention you choose, the key to making it easy for users to visit and revisit your site is to teach them how to use Bookmarks and Favorites effectively. Teach them how to bookmark sites, how to organize their bookmarks, and most importantly, how to back up their bookmarks from their c-drive to either a network drive or other media. Then, set a standard so all sites use meaningful "Title" tags so people can manage their bookmarks easily instead of seeing homepage.html in their Bookmark listing and being befuddled as to what site it represents.
As always if you have any feedback, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: This column first appeared on IntranetJournal, an internet.com site.