SharePoint’s Navigation Struggles – A Bit of History

SharePoint has always struggled with navigation.  Every customer I have been to we have either torn out the navigation completely, or had to customize it in some way to achieve their goals.  SharePoint 2013 is no exception to these navigation woes, and if anything, we have taken a step backwards. In looking at what customer's want, I have found there are three types of navigation:

  • Global-global – this navigation exists across the top of all sites in a SharePoint farm and is exactly the same.
  • Local-global – this navigation is for the site collection navigation and is the same across the site collection
  • Local-local – this navigation is for the site navigation and shows important lists and pages on a site

To be clear, SharePoint has never had "Global-Global" navigation.  It has however had the "Local-global" and "local-local" navigation, with some helper tools for inter-site collection navigation.  In order to fully point out this backwards momentum, let's take a look at some of the previous out of the box UIs:

2007:

 

As you can see we started with some nice tabbed navigation, with the quick launch.  It was nice and simple, we also had the breadcrumb to get us back up to anywhere in the site tree.  However, to really get valuable navigation, you had to enable the
PublishingSite and PublishingWeb features to get the fly out navigation
of subsites:

 

2010:

 

In 2010, we lost the breadcrumb control that was directly above the place holder main area, but we gained the folder icon in above the ribbon.  Again, we have to enable the publishing features to get any real value out of the local-global.

2013:

 

In 2013, the local-global was moved from directly below the ribbon, to inside the ribbon.  We also lost the folder icon.

As you can see, we have lost (removed from the master pages yet still exist in the code base) some great functionality over the years.

It had seemed that Metadata navigation was in many of our minds (based on marketing hype) the solution for the "global-global" navigation problem that SharePoint has had for many years, but alas it is not:

 

Unfortunately, if you have actually tried to implement it, you will run into these sets of errors:

Trying to use the term store more than once:

 

Using Windows PowerShell to set it:

$navSettings.CurrentNavigation.Source = 1;
$navSettings.CurrentNavigation.TermStoreid = new-object System.Guid("6ffccd26-5aba-44a5-83a9-60a468261054");
$navSettings.CurrentNavigation.TermSetId = new-object System.Guid("420d7ef6-6040-4138-8e15-1d04773955ba")
$navSettings.GlobalNavigation.Source = 1;
$navSettings.GlobalNavigation.TermStoreid = new-object System.Guid("6ffccd26-5aba-44a5-83a9-60a468261054");
$navSettings.GlobalNavigation.TermSetId = new-object System.Guid("420d7ef6-6040-4138-8e15-1d04773955ba")
$navSettings.Update()

This gets you the dreaded "Error loading navigation: The Managed Navigation term set is improperly attached to the site":



So where does that leave us?  It means we have to move the Local-Global of 2013 from the ribbon, back to where it was in 2010 (directly below the ribbon) and then implement our own global navigation provider in the ribbon, we also add back the breadcrumb to the content placeholder main:

 

How did I do this?  Well, its not pretty.  Especially when you realize you have to make your own custom master page, not only that, but just about every site definition has some variation on the basic seattle.master.  This shows up in the Search Center and My Site templates.  Which means you pretty much have to implement a custom master page for each one (which I have done in 2013).  Although it is a lot of work, it is well worth it when your customer gives you the thumbs up and is actually able to navigate the sites inside and outside of SharePoint with ease!  A few steps to get here:

  • Create a custom navigation provider that points to a global list with a hierarchy of elements (or where ever)
  • Remove the ribbon navigation (local-global), replace with your navigation provider menu control
  • Put the removed ribbon navigation directly below the ribbon, add the older CSS to give it the top and bottom border
  • Add the breadcrumb directly above the content place holder main area

In a second spin…what does that mean for O365 customers that want to migrate their intranet or anything else they did to SharePoint Online?  Its not good I'm afraid.  You aren't allowed to push your own code, so the navigation providers are out.  That means you won't get global navigation in SharePoint online unless you figure out a way to do it via a custom <DIV> that is populated based on Javascript methods from some data source (preferably from a SPList via REST).  But now you have to implement all the flyout code (unless their is some reliable and simple SDK you can find on the internet to do it and plug into your SP Rest calls and hope that SharePoint CSS doesn't mess with it).   And don't forget about the lovely security in JavaScript that prevents cross domain calls.

One other option I thought about for the global-global was to put it in the first row of the 2013 page.  I had lots of issues with the div tags and flyouts of the basic asp and SharePoint menu's.  Although I'm sure I could figure it out at some point, it ended up being much easier just to put the global-global in the ribbon and move the local-global down.

So, with this little bit of education, hopefully we can get someone in the product team to get serious about providing this type of functionality to meet our customer's needs (global-global) without us having to do anything.  I still think MMS is the way to go, but I'd guess their are issues with doing this in O365 and that's why it was limited to one site collection.

Chris

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