Save Your SharePoint Online Public Site from the Chopping Block

If you’re like me and have one or more SharePoint Online public sites, you may or may not be aware that they’re currently on the chopping block! In this post, I describe what’s going to happen, and I also cover the process you can follow to extend the life of your SPO public site for another year.

The GuillotineI’ve been very concerned about the fate of my SharePoint Online (SPO) public sites as of late. It’s March of 2017, and I know that Microsoft intends to pull the plug on all of those SPO public sites in the not-so-distant future. I have three of them myself: one for my wife’s non-profit organization (for which I’m also the CTO), one for my LLC, and a final one for my musical labor of love.

A while back, I pleaded with Microsoft publicly to give us some help before they shut things down for the SPO public sites. Well, it would seem that we’ve been given some help in the form of an end-of-life reprieve.

I had heard about the possibility of Microsoft pushing the deadline for the “ya gotta move it” date for SPO public sites, but I hadn’t been looking all that closely to see if there was any movement on that front. Since this month is due to close out in the next few days, I decided I’d better actually take a look. So, I went into one of my tenants and found what I’d hoped to find:

Postponing Deletion

Thank the Heavens!

If you’re like me and you haven’t been tracking things as closely as you might have liked, it turns out that you can spare your SharePoint Online public site a cruel and horrible death for roughly another year (i.e., until March 31 of 2018). The process for delaying your site’s demise is relatively straightforward and described in the body of this support article. If you want something a bit more visual, though, then the following walk-through might help you out.

  1. selectAdminSign in to your Office 365 tenant with a set of credentials that have the necessary rights to make changes to SharePoint Online settings. Go ahead – click the link I just supplied.
  2. Click on the waffle menu in the suite links bar near the top of the page. The waffle menu is opened by clicking those nine dots (arranged like a Rubik’s Cube). When you click the waffle menu button, you’ll get a menu with a bunch of tiles that looks something like the image above. You’re interested in the Admin button right now.
  3. Admin CenterClick the Admin button, and you’ll be taken to your tenant’s Admin center as shown on the right. I’ve branded my Bitstream Foundry tenant, so chances are your admin center is going to look different than mine – perhaps with a different color scheme and logo. Note that if your organization hasn’t assigned a logo, you won’t see one in the suite links bar.
  4. Admin centers drop-downAlong the left-hand side of the Admin center will be a set of collapsed drop-downs that represent your various administrative functions and management pages/areas. You’ll want to click on the Admin centers option at the bottom of the list to expand it as shown on the right. When you do this, you should see SharePoint listed between your Skype for Business and OneDrive options.
  5. SharePoint admin optionsClick on the SharePoint option, and you’ll be taken to the SharePoint admin center for your tenant. You’ll see the list of site collections that exist within your tenant in the main window area, and a toolbar will appear above the main window area providing you with options to create a new site collection, buy storage, and quite a bit more. you’ll also see the list of SharePoint-specific admin areas/options appear along the left-hand side of the admin page as shown to the right.
  6. Locate the settings option in the left-hand column and click it. Once you click it, you’ll see a whole host of settings that you can review and change. It is in this list that you’ll find the Postpone deletion of SharePoint Online public websites option buttons that I showed a bit earlier.
  7. Click on the I’d like to keep my public website until March 31, 2018 option button to pull your SPO public site off of death row.
  8. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click the OK button along the right-hand side of the page. This will save your change.

Save your changes!

That’s all there is to it!

Can’t You Just Give Me the Shortcut?

Sure! If you’re not into clicking through all of the admin screens and options I just walked through, you can simply point your browser at https://{tenantName}-admin.sharepoint.com/_layouts/15/online/TenantSettings.aspx to get to the page which is shown in Step #6 above. Note that you’ll need to replace the {tenantName} token in the URL above with the actual name of your tenant to make this work for you.

A Few Notes

This process buys you roughly another year to get your act together and move your SPO public site. You’ll then have until March 31 of 2018 to locate another home for your site and/or its content.

If you don’t follow the process I’ve outlined, Microsoft calls out the following dates:

  • Beginning May 1, 2017, anonymous access for your SPO public site will be removed.
  • On September 1, 2017, Microsoft will be deleting SPO public sites which haven’t been protected via the opt-in I described above. If you haven’t saved your SPO public site content by 9/1, you’re going to lose it!

Hopefully you’ll rest a bit easier (as I have been doing) after opting-in to protect your public site(s). I intend to get my sites moved before next March, and I’ll likely detail that process in a future post. But for now … deep breaths!

References and Resources

  1. Site: The Schizophrenia Oral History Project
  2. Site: Bitstream Foundry LLC
  3. Site: Bunker Tuneage
  4. Post: Help, We Are Stranded on SOPSI (SharePoint Online Public Site) Island
  5. Microsoft Support: Information about changes to the SharePoint Online Public Websites feature in Office 365
  6. Site: Rubik’s Cube

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

What Happened To My Office 365 Public Site?

Close Out (Early 2016)

It would appear that things are more or less back to normal. I never got an “everything is okay and live” email, but theming and branding are working properly both on public sites (tick, tock, tick, tock …) and internal sites. No conflicts at this point. Since I like to tie things up when complete, we’ll call this one “done” for now and move on.

What the heck happened?Update (Evening 7/23/2015)

Microsoft has been looking at this issue, and progress is being made! My public site looks like it has returned to normal … but I know that we’re not quite out of the woods yet.

John from Microsoft followed-up with me yesterday and said the following:

“We have pulled the flight that was impacting everyone from production.  The plan is to address these issues before turning the flight back on.  Would you be up for piloting the upgraded flight before we turn it back on for everyone? Also, you mention you know others who are having problems, would they be willing to pilot the new flight as well?  If so, please provide their contact information so I can follow up with them.”

Clearly, there’s a strong “flying vibe” in Redmond ….

I told John that I was definitely a “go” for the flight, and that I knew some others who’d experienced problems. And that’s where I’m hoping that some of you can help.

If you have been encountering problems with your Office 365 public site that are similar to mine – and you want to be part of the fix – let me know and I’ll hook you up with John. Shoot me your name, email address, and public site URL; I think that will do the job.

Stay tuned!

Original Post (below)

First of all, let me state that I’m not talking about the fact that Office 365 public sites are going the way of the dinosaur. That’s old news at this point. Instead, I’m talking about a “disruption in the force” that some of you may have observed when recently browsing to your public sites and discovering that they had … changed.

And what do I mean by “changed?” In my case, it was the observation that my public site’s branding had been altered to something I hadn’t chosen. The background image was different, the fonts weren’t the same, a number of the CSS styles I had applied to address scrollbar positioning and what-not weren’t in effect, and more. In essence, my custom branding had been completely steamrolled.

The After And The (Sort-Of Before)

Office 365 Public Site: Forcing Some Branding Elements BackOffice 365 Public Site: Busted BrandingDon’t take my word for it, though. Have a look for yourself. On the left is my public site as I discovered it a couple of weeks back (i.e., near the beginning of July, 2015). On the right is the way it’s supposed to look … sort of. The fonts and aspects of the responsive design are still off in the “corrected” version on the right, but I managed to hack the proper background, scrollbars, and a few other elements back to where they were previously. Even though I didn’t get everything corrected, differences between the two are immediately obvious.

I was confident that it had been months since I had changed anything on my public site, but I verified the branding assets in the Office 365 site against what I was tracking in source control. As expected, they were identical. The changes I was observing were not due to anything I had done to the public site.

Grumble Grumble …

Facebook Complaint About Branding IssueSince it wasn’t the first time I’d had issues with unexpected changes and behavior on my public site, I wasted little time before going to Facebook to complain aloud. Many of my friends in the SharePoint community are also friends on Facebook, so I figured I’d get some support (moral, if nothing else) there.

Shortly after posting the update seen on the left, I tagged a couple of my Microsoft friends (specifically, Jeremy Thake and Chris Johnson) who work with the Office 365 team(s) and asked if I should have known about an update or change that might have affected my public site in this fashion. Even though I was confident that I hadn’t done anything to directly impact my public site’s look-and-feel, I was not about to rule out the possibility that I had missed something that had been communicated to me. In fact, I have been consulting in information technology long enough to know that my “mental glove” doesn’t catch everything thrown to me; anymore, I just kind of assume that I am in error and work from there.

Jeremy got back to me first and indicated that he didn’t have anything specific to share, but he indicated he would take the issue to folks (internally) who should know. Shortly after that, Chris tagged Steve Walker (another Microsoftee with superhuman powers) to bring the issue to his attention. Steve told me to file a service request (SR) and that he would escalate that SR right away. So, I filed the service request with supporting screenshots and documentation … and as he had indicated he would, Steve escalated the SR in less than an hour.

In the meantime, I did what I could to get some of my site’s branding back to the way it had been. How did I do that? With the liberal application of the dreaded !important CSS directive in the custom style sheet I had created to go with my master page. The !important directive is definitely not something I use (or even like to go near) on a daily basis, but in this case, I was trying to achieve results with a minimal investment of time and effort. I needed my styling to trump whatever was being laid-down after my style sheet was being processed.

So, What Happened Next?

Following Steve’s escalation, I started working with an extremely approachable escalation engineer named John. John and I exchanged some emails, did a late-night screen-sharing session, and generally looked things up-and-down. John concurred that what we were seeing shouldn’t have been happening, and he mentioned that he had another customer or two that seemed to be having a similar problem. Some tracing in those cases seemed to implicate a recent client-side theming change that had been made and rolled-out.

Analysis Of Styles In Internet Explorer Developer ToolsAn issue with client-side theming “felt” right to me. I had used Internet Explorer’s Developer Tools to do some backtracking into the source of the errant styles that were being applied to my site, and I noticed that the background image was being served from a temporary theme directory on the server. Until I started forcing my styles to override the ones that were being applied (an example of which is shown on the right), the theme styles were trumping my own styles.

John was out for a while, but he came back to me recently with the following explanation. And his explanation makes complete sense:

So the problem you were having was the result of a bad interaction with a third-party CSS minification technique called minisp.  By adding HTML comments around our CssLink controls in the master page, the <link> tags we normally render are part of a comment and therefore not part of the DOM.

When Client-Side Theming goes to replace the CSS on these pages, it wants to put the generated <style> blocks immediately before the corresponding <link> tags. Since it can’t find the <link> tags in the DOM, it defaults to adding the <style> blocks to the end of the document head. Since these come after the custom CSS, the rules in our themed CSS take priority over the rules in the custom CSS.

Resolution?

As of July 21st, 2015, there is no official resolution. Since this has been identified as a problem in how client-side theming handles CSS <style> block insertions, though, the ultimate fix needs to come from Microsoft. In the meantime, I’ll be sticking with my hacked CSS style sheet to get back most of the look-and-feel that I need. I could expend additional (development) effort to ensure that my styles are applied after the Office 365 theme styles without using !important, but there are plenty of other more important tasks vying for my attention right now.

Thumbs UpSo, if you found this post and it’s helping you to realize that you’re not going insane (at least not because of public site branding changes you didn’t make), I’ll feel that my job is done.

As I hear more and changes take place, I’ll try to update this post accordingly. Check back every now and then if you want the play-by-play on this issue.

Parting Thoughts: A Tip Of My Hat To Microsoft

In the past, I’ve been pretty vocal about the way that Microsoft has sort of “rolled” changes onto its Office 365 customer base and failed to communicate problems in a timely and complete fashion – actions (or lack of action) that ultimately caused pain and problems. As vocal as I’ve been in those situations, I want to go on-record as saying (just as loudly) that Microsoft has definitely listened to the critical feedback it has been receiving and has acted to make changes that we have indicated we need.

Even though this public site branding issue is indeed a bug, Microsoft listened and responded quickly – without protest, without claiming that “nothing is wrong,” and without some of the problem behaviors I used to see.

Where there were previously few communications about Office 365 outages, problems, changes, and updates, we now have a boatload of information (with some of it actually being pushed) to us to keep us in-the-know on our tenants, where they stand at any given point in time, and where they are going. I can get both at-a-glance health information and deep explanations for issues using the administrative portal’s Service Health dashboard. I get push notifications whenever something happens in my tenant using the Office 365 Admin application that runs on my Windows Phone. I know when new service features and capabilities are rolling out, if changes have been cancelled, etc., by looking at the Office 365 Roadmap. And these are just some of the channels and information streams that are available.

Is Microsoft “all the way there” yet? No, but they are dramatically further along than when Office 365 first rolled-out. Outages still occur – as they do with any service – but I feel like I know what’s going on now. That’s a huge improvement in my book.

References and Resources

  1. Microsoft Support: Information about changes to the SharePoint Online Public Website feature in Office 365
  2. Office 365 Public Site: Bitstream Foundry LLC
  3. LinkedIn: Jeremy Thake
  4. LinkedIn: Chris Johnson
  5. LinkedIn: Steve Walker
  6. Stack Overflow: What are the implications of using “!important” in CSS?
  7. MSDN: Using the F12 developer tools
  8. Microsoft: Office 365 Service Health Status
  9. Windows Phone App Store: Office 365 Admin
  10. Office.com: Office 365 Roadmap