The old school (digital) hub

“Digital Hub”. The name struck me on a recent webinar. Again. Reference in the chat was made to webinar resources available on “our Digital Hub”. A real name, in upper case. I’m not sure that metaphors make good product names. I have made and helped make a number of digital hubs in my time. I suspect every organisation has one or something very much like it. 

In the summer of 2021, I think the nomenclature is redundant. The digital qualifier is a nonsense, no? What’s an analogue hub? Of course it’s digital. What else would it be? A cupboard?

A hub is a fixed centre around which things revolve. This is misplaced in the human context of digital. I am the centre of everything around which everything revolves. So are you. We all are. 

Digital Hub, I believe, means “the place where we put all our stuff”. As usual, there is a supply side logic here. The location where the owners of the stuff place and organise it in the belief that this is the most useful solution to a perceived problem. As with most content portal logic (which is now around thirty years old) it is not user logic. The portals that predated the search engine industry tell this story.  I was very fond of Yahoo, Lycos and Excite but I don’t want them back. If a digital hub is more useful than Google, maybe there is a role for it. If not, what problem does it solve? 

Hubs are born from the hope that the organisations designing them can play a central role in the experience of their users – to be the point about which the spokes revolve. There are a handful of services that can claim this territory, they are all productivity tools of sorts. None are content products. Apart from one.

YouTube is, arguably, the exception here. It is genuinely a hub and holds a central position for so many of us. It is exceptional because literally everything is there and we make sure of that by constantly adding to it. It runs on Google search capability, so it does not need to be treated as a hub, it organises itself around our usage. Perhaps most importantly and non-hubbily, it is extremely well distributed via search engines, social platforms, content services and communications tools. We can access YouTube without visiting the URL. (Maybe that’s actually ‘anti-hub’?).

Digital Hubs don’t really exist outside of organisational boundaries. (Do they?). In the wild, the user is the hub. Out on the web and in our social media experiences, we are all the centre point about which our spokes revolve. We like it that way, which is why the best content services are distributed to reach us where we are. The architecture of the internet is created on connection and direct connection, where possible. That’s why it works. Shuffling content into hubs breaks that experience.

So, fewer hubs please. And more connection and distribution.

Hub and spokes of a bicycle wheel.
Photo by Adam Dubec on

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