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Some Characteristics of the User Experience of Public Sites in SharePoint Online Office 365

Public sites in SharePoint Online, Office 365 are also referred to as Publishing Sites. With SharePoint Online, a public website is generated once a subscription is activated and has the the domain extension “-public.sharepoint.com” (Office 365 tenants can replace the site name with one incorporating what Microsoft refers to as a “custom domain”, meaning a company’s domain name, if one has been registered for it. Tenants on the public version of SharePoint Online, Office 365 are limited to one public site. Therefore, a click on the “New” button on the left hand edge of the “Site Collections” ribbon for the “SharePoint admin center” will produce a greyed out “Public Website” option. As Yaroslav Pentsarskyy, a subject matter expert on branding SharePoint sites, and published author, makes clear in a video titled Creating a public site, there is no option to select a template for this public site. Incidentally, this video tutorial is included in a set titled SP13-315 SharePoint Online (Office 365) Branding Course. This course is available to anyone with a subscription to SharePoint-Videos. In addition, it is available for purchase for unlimited local viewing by individuals or even by an entire organization.

By default, the SharePoint Online public site is not viewable by the public. This condition is controlled by an on/off switch. In the case of our Office 365 subscription, the control is titled “Website offline”. In our video tutorial set, Yaroslav Pentsarskyy refers to this control as the sole method available to the SharePoint Online tenant to control “anonymous access” to a public SharePoint Online site. He also explains the two ribbons we found exposed with our public site:

  • the first including links to Outlook, Yammer, Calendar, People, etc and
  • the second simply including “Browse”, “Page” and “Site”

will not be visible to any anonymous visitors to the site.

Some of the limitations of public sites in SharePoint Online, Office 365 include the following:

  • Users cannot create subsites, though there is a workaround via SharePoint Designer 2013
  • Sidebar and top navigation bars “both read from the same data source”, as Yaroslav Pentsarskyy explains, which means developers should plan on either simply using one of the navigation options (in other words, by hiding one of them), or having duplicated links in both places. It is important to note Yaroslav does allude to an option to add different menu bars, for top and sidebar navigation, but does not demonstrate the solution in this video tutorial
  • Users cannot add SharePoint Online features to public sites. However, apps can be added for most of the functionality otherwise to be found in SharePoint features

Yaroslav demonstrates how to use an “anonymous browsing” browser to check on how anonymous visitors will see a public site.