Help, We Are Stranded on SOPSI (SharePoint Online Public Site) Island

In March of 2015, the Doomsday Clock started ticking for SharePoint Online Public Sites. Some have transitioned off of the service, but many of those least able to make the move (non-profits, user groups, small businesses) are stranded and concerned. In this post, I discuss the issue and my conversation with Jeff Teper about it. I also ask Microsoft to provide us with more help and assistance for transitioning away from SharePoint Online Public Sites.

SOPSI IslandA couple of weeks ago, I was down in Nashville, Tennessee speaking at SharePoint Saturday Nashville. The event was a huge success and a lot of fun to boot. Those two qualities tend to go hand-in-hand with SharePoint Saturday events, but the event in Nashville was different for one very important reason: it had a “distinguished guest.”

And Who To My Wondering Eyes Should Appear?

Who was the “distinguished guest” to whom I’m referring? Well, it was none other that Jeff Teper himself. Some of you may know the name and perhaps the man, but for those who don’t: Jeff is Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for OneDrive and SharePoint. In essence, he’s the guy who’s primarily responsible for the vision and delivery of SharePoint both now and in the future. The Big Kahuna. Top of the Totem Pole. The Man in Command.

Jeff Teper and Sean McDonough

Jeff wasn’t in Nashville specifically for the event, but he took time out of his personal schedule to do an open Q&A session at the end of the SPS event. This was a *HUGE* deal, and it offered us (the speakers, organizers, and attendees) a rare chance to ask questions we’d always wanted to ask directly of the guy at the top.

Some of the questions were softballs, but several weren’t. A few of us(Mark Rackley, Seb Matthews, myself …) took the opportunity to ask questions that we anticipated might be uncomfortable but were nonetheless important to ask. To Jeff’s credit, he did a fantastic job of listening and responding to each question he received.

So, About These SharePoint Public Sites In Office 365 …

I asked Jeff several questions, but only one of them dealt with a topic that had started becoming a true area of concern for me: SharePoint Online Public Websites.

Some of you may be thinking, “Wait – what are you talking about?” If you came to SharePoint Online after March of 2015, then you might not even be aware that most Office 365 plans prior to that point came with a public-facing website that companies and organizations could use for a variety of purposes: public presence, blogging, e-commerce, and more. It was an extremely easy way for small-to-mid-size organizations to hang their shingle on the web for very little money and with little technical know-how.

Unfortunately, Microsoft announced in January of 2015 that it was deprecating SharePoint Online public sites. Beginning on March 9th of 2015, new customers did not receive a public site with their tenant. Those who already had the public sites, though, were allowed to keep them for a minimum of two years. In that two year period, the organizations with the public sites needed to “move on” and find an alternate hosting option. Microsoft eventually offered up a few options for public site owners, but they didn’t go very far.

Before I continue there, though, let me rewind for some additional context.

Public Sites: The Early Days

The Schizophrenia Oral History Project OnlineLike many smaller businesses, non-profits, user groups, and other non-enterprise customers, I bought into the SharePoint Online Public Website vision in a BIG way when it was laid out at the Microsoft’s SharePoint Conference in 2012. I remember thinking, “this is going to simplify the web presence problem for so many folks who are ill-equipped to deal with the burden of a ‘big site’ and web content management platform.”

Shortly after they became available to me, I set up several of the public sites for my own use. I also put my wife’s non-profit organization on one. As of right now (May 27, 2016), these sites are still alive-and-well in SharePoint Online:

I recommended SharePoint Online public sites to everyone who needed “an Internet presence that was both cheap and easy.” That said, it’s probably easy to understand that the bulk of the public site adoptees (that I saw) were organizations who either lacked money, formal IT capabilities, or a combination of the two.

Back To Now: Why Am I Losing Sleep?

The Clock Is TickingIt’s currently late in May of 2016. The plug could get pulled on SharePoint Online public sites as soon as March 2017. The clock is ticking, time is running out, and I don’t yet have a plan for transitioning to something else for the sites I cited above.

I’m not alone. It seems I’m getting into more and more conversations with other Office 365 customers about the topic, and they don’t know what to do either. It’s not that they want to wait until the last minute to make the move; they simply don’t know how to get off the SOPSI Island.

In my estimation, the organizations that have money and IT capabilities have either transitioned to another platform or are in the process of building a viable plan. As I wrote earlier, though, I think the greatest adoption of these public sites was among those who are traditionally the least capable and underfunded: small-to-mid-size companies, non-profits, user groups, and the like.

When I speak with customers in those segments, their concerns echo my own. They’re still on Office 365 Public Sites and haven’t gone to something else because they lack the money and capability to do so. And they’re growing increasingly worried.

Those Are The Alternatives?

Here’s another problem with this situation: the other hosting platforms and options that Microsoft has tossed our way don’t actually provide any sort of bridge or migration option between SharePoint Online public sites and their platforms.

The reality in all of this is that we won’t be migrating: we’ll be rebuilding. We’re going to need to find some way to drag our content out of the pages we’ve created, and then we need to go somewhere else and rebuild from the ground-up.

GrumpySure, Microsoft has provided us with a “migration support” resource, but as I size it up, the “guidance” it provides is more abstract hand-waiving than usable, actionable content. Go read it. Would you feel confident migrating to one of the third party providers mentioned with the instructions as they’re laid-out? I know I wouldn’t – and I work in IT for a living.

And, of course, any time that was spent customizing a SharePoint Online public site is going to go out the window. That tends to happen in migrations (disclosure: I’ve been doing SharePoint migrations in some form for the better part of a decade), and that’s probably acceptable in the grand scheme of things … but the users who truly need help need something more than the guidance provided in the online resource.

Back To My Conversation With Jeff Teper

Fast-forward back to Nashville a couple of weeks ago.

Although I asked Jeff “Hey, what happened with the SPO public sites?,” the question that I really wanted to get an answer to was this: “Why are our options for exiting the SharePoint Online public site platform so … lousy?”

Jeff took the time to respond to the various pieces of my question, but when we got to talking about migration options and the people who were currently “stuck,” the response was something to the effect of this: he thought that most folks had already migrated or were in the process of doing so.

At that point, various other folks in the audience (representing user groups, non-profits, etc.) started sounding-off and explaining that they were stuck, too. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one with sites hanging out on SOPSI Island.

Jeff indicated he’d take our input and concerns back to Microsoft, and I believe that he will. But just to put the request in writing …

My Request To The Microsoft SharePoint Online Team

HopefulOn behalf of all of the non-profits, small-to-mid-sized companies, user groups, and others stranded on SOPSI Island: please build us a reasonable bridge or provide us with some additional hand-holding (or services) to help us safely leave the island.

At a minimum, we need better and more practical, prescriptive guidance. For some, a tool might help – perhaps something to package up assets to take them somewhere else. If I’m allowed to dream, a tool that might actually carry out some form of migration would probably be appreciated tremendously by the smaller, less-capable customers. Regardless of the specific form(s), we need more help and probably more time to make the move.

When SOPSI Island is (likely) wiped-out in 2017, we don’t want to still be stuck on it – watching our sites disappear forever.

References and Resources

  1. Event: SharePoint Saturday Nashville 2016
  2. Events: SPSEvents.org
  3. LinkedIn: Jeff Teper
  4. Twitter: Mark Rackley
  5. Twitter: Seb Matthews
  6. Microsoft Support: Information about changes to the SharePoint Online Public Website feature in Office 365
  7. Channel 9: Deep Dive on the Capabilities of SharePoint Online’s New Public Website
  8. Office Support: Migrate you SharePoint Online Public Website to a partner website

Author: Sean McDonough

I am the Chief Technology Officer for Bitstream Foundry LLC, a SharePoint solutions, services, and consulting company headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. My professional development background goes back to the COM and pre-COM days - as well as SharePoint (since 2004) - and I've spent a tremendous amount of time both in the plumbing (as an IT Pro) and APIs (as a developer) associated with SharePoint and SharePoint Online. In addition, Microsoft awarded me an MVP (most valuable professional) in 2016 for the Office Servers and Services category.

4 thoughts on “Help, We Are Stranded on SOPSI (SharePoint Online Public Site) Island”

  1. You don’t know half the story! I signed up for Microsoft Office Live Small Business in 2009, just as the window had closed for their “free website for life” offer . With the service I signed up for, all you had to do was pay Microsoft a domain registration fee once a year. Sounds great, only $15 a year for a website, including the editor interface, hosting, domain, and multiple domain specific emails. So I did it and things were working well. THEN, a year or two later they said, oh we’re going to start charging around $7 a month plus the $15. Ok, I said, that’s comparable to web hosting companies, although I was not pleased they backed out of the $15 a year thing, let alone if I had been someone who got a “free website for life.” And if you had gotten multiple domain email addresses (@yourbusiness.com) it would be $7 a month for EACH of these “users” – good thing I had only signed up for one.

    Anyway, maybe a year later they said: Oh, remember how we were the domain registrar for your website? Not anymore! But don’t worry, we moved you to a service called Melbourne IT. Ok, that wasn’t so bad I said, plus Melbourne agreed to keep the same price as Microsoft for the first year. Then, the second year comes along and they raised the price to nearly $40. Ok, I said, that is high but it’s not crazy and I don’t know how to move domains so I’ll just let it be and we’ll see about the future. Guess what? The next year Melbourne says the price will be $160. Seriously. You read that right. A four-fold increase from Melbourne IT and over a ten-fold increase from Microsoft’s original price of $15 in the span of just a few years. Good thing I wasn’t one of those non-profits you mentioned! So I had to figure out how to move my domain to something far cheaper. Great, more work! Thanks Microsoft, you always know best!

    Anyway, along comes 2012 or so and they say: Oh we are SHUTTING DOWN Microsoft Office Live Small Business!! But don’t worry, we are moving to Microsoft Office 365. Ok, that’s not so bad I said. But then they said: By the way, you have to REBUILD your entire site on our new web editor, even though the web editor looks exactly like the old one! Wonderful, more work. Only after did I see that there was a backup and restore feature on both the old and new editors, but they never told us that and specifically said you had to rebuild the site, so who knows if backing up the old version and restoring it on the new version of the same editor would have even worked. (I doubt they even knew about it). Another entry in life’s regret file!

    Then, maybe a year or so later, they said, yet again (I kid you not), we have a NEW editor on Office 365, so you can either rebuild your site (once more) on the new wonder editor or keep your site on the old editor but no longer be able to make changes to it. After what I had been through with these Microsoft genuineness so far I did a final update to my site on the old editor and left it as is. Although sneaky me, I eventually found a way to continue to access the old editor by using a bookmark I had that gave me access to the visitor analytics for my website (btw Microsoft had stopped offering those statistics a while back in this Odyssey so it was pretty much a dead page but it did have a link to the old editor). Great! Precarious backdoor access, such fun! Now this is how you grow a business!

    Here’s ANOTHER nugget: In 2009 I had setup the domain specific email to forward to my gmail using POP3. Then, years later, no emails were coming in. That’s odd! Turns out Microsoft started changing the password on my email every 90 days or so for “security.” So I had to use this convoluted shell editor or something on my computer to enter a DOS type programming instruction to stop the password reset process. Now that’s easy! Microsoft makes things so easy for everyone! They know what’s best and force it on you without asking. Thanks!

    Now, here we are Sean in 2017…only now, do we get to your part of the story, the shutdown of “public facing sharepoint sites,” definitely not what they were called when I started out. As you’ve read, I’ve been around the block a few times!

    So it’s August 28 2017 as I write this. Sharepoint sites are apparently closing on September 1st, although they had once said March 9. There was a one year extension offer if claimed by February 2017, but good old Microsoft buried it in the 365 admin messages, something everyone checks all the time! I only saw it a few days ago while looking for any more info on the shutdown.

    Anyway, I have made a new website on godaddy and it’s ready to go. It only took 3 days at the desk, thanks again Microsoft, the third build I’ve had to do of the same site content since 2009.

    To the old web editor, I have this to say: I’ll miss you. Figuring out how to make HTML widgets work right, creating added space in the text and image boxes so they wouldn’t get squished when someone resized their browser window when viewing my site. You are blameless in all this. The little editor that sort of could.

    What is to blame is the whole 365-sharepoint debacle. Lync, team sites, Yammer, and a bunch of other garbage. What was all that stuff?? Who knows and who cares. I signed up for small business service: website, domain, and email. So simple. But Microsoft doesn’t do simple for long, they can’t help themselves. They ruined it for everyone.

    Anyway, I still have to figure out how to move my domain specific email to my new provider. I am also trying to find out what will happen if, in a few months lets say, a customer uses a reply link from an email chain that was created with the contact us form on the sharpepoint site. I doubt I’ll get those messages. Lost business? You got that right! Thanks again Microsoft. Oh, but guess what Microsoft? You’ve lost my business forever. Take that! I should write an article about all this one day. In the meantime why not read this post to your next “guest of honour” from the brain trust at Microsoft.

    1. Holy cow, John … I’m so, so sorry! What a mess! You’ve had to endure a lot, and I admire your persistence. Unfortunately, I have to agree with you on a lot of it – especially about the lack of simplicity in it all. When I spoke with Jeff Teper about it, he said that they were forced to make a decision internally about where to take the product. Unfortunately for us, we got stuck on the road less (or not) traveled.

      After researching and considering my options, I think I’m going to be heading off to WordPress with my public sites. I really can’t afford to gamble (especially with my wife’s non-profit site), and WordPress has worked remarkably well for this blog of mine.

      In any case, I wish you the best of luck with your site and the email problem you’re wrangling with. You seem particularly resilient despite the continued string of “not great things,” and I hope you navigate through to calmer and safer waters :-)

      – Sean

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