Crow Canyon SharePoint Blog

Hub Sites: A New Kind of SharePoint Intranet?

December 30, 2017

Office 365 SharePoint Hub SitesIn the first half of 2018, Office 365 First Release customers will be able to make use of a new feature from Microsoft called “Hub Sites”.

A hub site is an intranet-type interface that is populated by content published in team sites and communication sites, which are two types of SharePoint sites. In essence, a hub site is an aggregator of news, activities, and other information from these sites.

Is a hub site an intranet? Will hub sites become the preferred method of creating corporate intranets? And should the many “intranet-in-a-box” vendors be worried about being replaced by this free offering from Microsoft?

As would be expected, there has been a flurry of blogs — written by companies that offer SharePoint “intranets-in-a-box” — that downplay this possibility. Their claim is that hub sites will be a lightweight version of an intranet, not substantial enough to replace a “true” intranet, and that their offerings provide a wider range of features commonly found in intranets.

But it is premature to come to any conclusion and the debate is wide-open. For example, Joel Oleson, well-known SharePoint expert (see his blog: https://collabshow.com/), is giving the following session at the upcoming San Diego SharePoint Saturday January 13th:

“Communication Sites vs. Intranet in a Box – Debate!”
Communication sites are pretty cool, but are they cool enough to be the Intranet? What value do I get out of Intranet in a box solutions? In this session we’ll dig into the ins and outs of SharePoint Online Intranets. I also hope to show off some of the latest and greatest in Intranet in a box solutions from folks like Valo, Powell, and Bonzai.

A Challenge to Intranet-in-a-box Providers?

With hub sites fresh out of the oven, it will take some time before we see how they are used. Clearly, though, hub sites will present a challenge to “intranet-in-a-box” providers. Number one, hub sites will come free with most versions of Office 365 — a hard-to-beat price, especially when the “in-a-box” price tags reach into the many thousands.

Second, hub sites are fluid and dynamic, meaning different communication and team sites can be attached to a hub and then moved around to other hubs as organizational needs change.

Third, navigation, look-and-feel, search, theme, and other UI elements are inherited by the linked communication and team sites, simplifying branding, search, and navigation.

Key Features of Hub Sites

Let’s dig into hub sites in a bit more detail and see what Microsoft is offering. A hub site:

  • Brings together team and communication sites
  • Rolls-up news and site activity
  • Provides search capability across all related sites
  • Enables cross-site navigation
  • Makes it simple to have a consistent look and feel across all sites

 

hub sites sharepoint office 365

Inherited top-down structure

A hub site can be comprised of multiple team sites, communication sites, and also site collections. Sites can only be associated with one hub site at a time and users will not be able to join multiple hub sites to each other.

The design concept of hub sites is to present a common navigational structure, look and feel, and search capabilities across associated sites. This common structure is defined from the top-down. When a team site or comm site is associated to a hub site, it inherits the following characteristics from the hub site:

  • Navigation: Top-level navigation is inherited by linked sites.
  • Theme: Hub site theme is pushed to the linked team and/or comm sites.
  • Logo: Hub site logo is inherited by linked sites.

 

Consolidated news and activities

The audience and purpose of a hub site is similar to a comm site: it’s designed to be aesthetically-pleasing while reaching a wide audience. Hub sites are a way to convey content to a large audience. In a typical enterprise hierarchy, a hub site may be intended for viewing at the division level and populated by multiple sites from the department level downwards. It is meant as a way for segments within large organizations to communicate with colleagues who have contributed in some fashion, whether directly or indirectly.

Hub site content is handled in the following manner:

  • News Aggregator: In an Office 365 / SharePoint environment, news published on sites is automatically pushed out to SharePoint home, SharePoint mobile apps, and to its associated hub site
  • Combined Site Activities: In addition to a site’s home page and on a site’s card on SharePoint home, site activities will be rolled up to their associated hub site. This provides a one-stop-shop for viewing activity across a wide range of sites
  • Scoped Search: Running a search on a hub site displays results from all associated sites. This enables users to perform relatively wide searches across all sites with a shared interest

 

For a more in-depth look at hub sites, see “SharePoint Hub Sites Overview”, a video by Mark Kashman, Senior Product Manager at Microsoft, and “Building Blocks for Your Intranet”, a LinkedIn post, also by Mark Kashman.

Hub Sites, Intranets, and SharePoint / Office 365

Microsoft’s new hub sites will undoubtedly become a popular feature for large enterprises where the employee count is in the thousands. In these scenarios, disseminating information efficiently becomes a high priority and hub sites could become a much-used feature by directors and division heads who value internal marketing opportunities. Small to mid-sized businesses will also find opportunities to leverage the power of hub sites.

Time will tell if hub sites replace or simply complement third-party SharePoint intranets. Meanwhile, as the Office 365 community anticipates the release of hub sites, the debate about the usage and functionality rages on!

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Crow Canyon Software delivers the power of a connected, digital workplace to your organization, helping you be more successful and competitive. We provide the tools that allow you to gain the maximum benefit from SharePoint and Office 365, Microsoft’s premier collaboration platforms.

Want to learn about how our business productivity applications for SharePoint and Office 365 can power up your organization? Give us a call at 1-925-478-3110 or contact us by e-mail at sales@crowcanyon.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

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