Office 365 SharePoint Hub Sites - What's Old is New

Microsoft recently began rolling out the new SharePoint hub sites to Targeted Office 365 tenants. I took some time to look at hub sites, and wanted to capture some notes and thoughts about what I think is an exciting new feature. This is not meant to be an exhaustive review, there are many articles that offer deeper reviews. After poking around into the configuration and integration points of hub sites, I wanted to capture the following:

  • Hub sites will help organize "modern content" in Office 365
  • What's old is new in SharePoint, and that's a good thing!
  • It's a great start...

Managing Hub Sites

Let's start at the beginning. First, you need to register an existing site as a hub site. When creating a hub site in SharePoint Online you have several options including:

While this is early stages for hub sites, and you will need to test which option works best for you, I am very impressed with the Office 365 CLI and want to give a huge shout out to Waldek Mastykarz and team for all of their efforts.

Check out the Office 365 CLI

For most, PowerShell is the most likely candidate so the following is a list of all the cmdlets (both SPO and PnP) with "HubSite" in the name.

PS C:\Users\pete> Get-Command *HubSite* | Select Name


Rather than rehash the excellent documentation on programming model and the API's for hub site, see the overview of programming SharePoint hub sites. For complete details and descriptions of the process and cmdlets, see PowerShell cmdlets for SharePoint hub sites.

Hub Sites - A Great Start to Organize Modern Content

There are some obvious reasons for hub sites. As someone with more years of SharePoint development than I care to admit, many of these "reasons" for hub sites simply provide functionality SharePoint had "back in the day". Notice, I did not say good old days, as I really think Microsoft is on the right path and I really did not like hand rolling *.ddf files and onet.xml files made my head hurt!.

Organizing your intranet with hub sites list the following benefits of hub sites:

  • Cross-site navigation
  • Content rollup
  • Consistent look-and-feel
  • Scoped search

These are all great and, for anyone trying to provide value to customers in SharePoint Online, are long awaited analog features to those that we've had for years on premises. I certainly do not yearn for the days of onet.xml files, but the cross site navigation, content web parts, site provisioning providers, and many other features were very mature. Hub sites seems to be a great step in providing the functionality we had in the past, but targeted towards how work, collaboration and evergreen updates in Office 365 occur today.

One significant benefit in my view is the flexibility that hub sites allows. For anyone who has set up a "mega-menu" for a customer and had to deal with dynamic organizational change, team structure, and more, hub sites seems like a great start to enabling a simple, flexible, configurable way to manage related sites that can change with the organization over time.

What is old is new, and that's a good thing!

The hype cycle seems to be waning for Microsoft Teams, at least as far as it being the new and shiny, with one sure sign of this being customers are now asking fundamental questions about governance again - a very good sign. But these conversations beg the question about what value hub sites bring to Teams, SharePoint, Stream, Planner, etc.?

For anyone who has a history of SharePoint, SharePoint Online and the new modern sites and pages present some challenges to "old ways" of design, development, deployment, governance, and other aspects, frankly for the better. Shedding the baggage of "site and sub-site hierarchy design", on site deployments, and deep hierarchy is definitely a mental shift for consumer's and consultants, but the benefits of a shallow, wide site collection architecture are considerable. Suffice to say that with the advent of the Office 365 unified group, the new flattened pattern enables managing sites, features like Teams, Planner, Stream, and many data governance tasks, enables the way work gets done today (take a look at you tenant's Security and Compliance Center or read some of Joanne Klein's content some time for more details). Hopefully consultants and enterprise SharePoint folks moved away from the old way (deep site hierarchies) a long time ago, but if you haven't you MUST read Stephanie Donahue's Modernizing Your Approach to Site Architecture in SharePoint and Office 365 post for some awesome insights on this topic.

When you combine with this new shallow & wide pattern of provisioning site collections, associated with multiple Office 365 features, with the recent release of SharePoint site scripts and site designs, you start to see some compelling scenarios. All of the arcane, infuriating, tribal knowledge (i.e ddf files, feature framework, and more) we had in the past, continue to be replaced by patterns which are more in line with general, industry wide web development practices. They are not the same, and they probably never will be. What was old is new, so now we have site scripts, site designs and the PnP Provisioning to deploy things.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. -unknown

Redesigning, refactoring and rebuilding mature features from SharePoint on premises to be cloud-friendly is no small feat, but there are indeed bricks being laid everyday to move forward. Personally, I am amazed at the SharePoint Team, the PnP team, and the community members ability to maintain an incredible pace of delivering features and real value to the Office 365 platform. Thanks!

It's a great start...

You knew it was coming, didn't you. There had to be a ...but in there somewhere. Hub sites are a great start, but there are some missing features that jump out to me at this point.

  • SharePoint Admin Center indicators - I like the new SharePoint Admin Center, but hub sites, and associated sites, should be visible in the new admin center.
  • Header and footer - the navigation and logo are good, but consistent user experiences are about more than just a logo and navigation. The "UI as an API" and enabling consistent look and feel should extend beyond a small navigation bar.
  • Navigation links API - Manually editing the navigation menu, especially for sites that are associated, is a bad experience. Maybe I missed this in the PowerShell cmdlets or HubSiteData API, but this needs to be there for sure. Based on the API, I'm pretty sure this will be coming soon, if not I will create UserVoice for this as well.
  • Security trimmed navigation - This would be awesome, but I can see some issues with this, so this may be an area for some customization but we would need the API above. Never hurts to ask.

As I mentioned, I think this is a huge step in the right direction, another significant brick laid. I look forward to learning more about hub sites, digging deeper into the API, and trying to keep pace with the new features as they roll out.

Check out the HubSites AMA and if you have ideas or feature, go visit the SharePoint User Voice and log a suggestion.

HTH - leave a comment and let me know your thoughts about hub sites.

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My name is Pete Skelly. I write this blog. I am the VP of Technology at ThreeWill, LLC in Alpharetta, GA.

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