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It is less than a year since the term intranet was coined to mean an internal or corporate network based on Internet technology. But already a term that sounds very much like its antonym has been invented. The word extranet is obviously formed from the Latin prefix extra-, “outside”, plus “Net”, and this gives the clue to its sense. Whereas intranets are used internally to boost corporate efficiency, extranets are used externally to improve communication between the organisation, its suppliers and its customers without prejudicing its electronic security. An example is the FedEx system, which allows customers to place orders and interrogate FedEx’s computers to find out where their packages have got to. The word came to wider public attention when IBM used it to describe its huge (and, alas, flawed) system for distributing information at the Atlanta Olympics. The word may be new but the concept certainly isn’t, and already there have been complaints that such neologisms are hindering understanding and muddying straightforward concepts with artificial distinctions.

Page created 5 Oct. 1996

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World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 5 October 1996.