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Basically, how can a business stop offering a service?

Additionally, should you give current customers a certain amount of notice? Are there any legal or ethical aspects that should be considered?

Are there any differences for this between free and paid services?

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Hi Sometimes, could you add some more detail on your situation to help us answer? –  connor Sep 1 at 17:16
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I've edited your answer to reflect what I believe you were trying to ask, but in a more on-topic way. Please fix my edit if you feel I have altered the original meaning of your post. –  Matthew Haugen Sep 16 at 7:16

2 Answers 2

up vote 16 down vote accepted
  1. Did you agree to continue providing the service for a certain period of time, or to give a certain amount of notice before withdrawing it?

    You haven't stated your jurisdiction, but in many places any such agreement might carry the force of law—and therefore a breach by you could give rise to claims against you. In common law jurisdictions (predominantly those with British heritage), such claims would only exist in contract if and only if the user had given some valuable consideration in return for the agreement.

  2. Even if you did not agree to any such thing, might the service users have a reasonable expectation that they would receive a certain amount of notice?

    It's less likely that a mere expectation such as this could give rise to any enforceable rights, but again it is dependent on the legal jurisdiction. For example, if the user acted to their detriment in reliance upon their expectation, it might be inequitable for you to act contrary to it.

  3. Even if users do not have any grounds for bringing a claim against you, you might nevertheless damage your reputation/goodwill.

    It's almost impossible to say how much damage might be inflicted (or how it could be limited) in the general case, as the particular facts of your case would be extremely relevant. I can think of situations where companies have given over 12 months' notice before terminating free services for which they probably had no obligation to provide—and yet they still suffered some damage to their reputation as a result.

    Nevertheless some thoughts from the top of my head:

    • If the service only has a few users, you could consult with them to decide how it might best be terminated without harming their needs. This might, for example, involve keeping the service active (perhaps at their expense) until they have been able to migrate fully to an alternative—and might include you providing assistance with that migration. If the service has many users, you could form a panel to represent their needs and conduct the consultation through that panel.

    • If a full consultation is impractical, you could consider a number of alternatives and ask your users to vote on their preference. At least that way, they would still feel as though they had some control over the outcome and it wasn't just thrust upon them as a fait accompli.

    • I would continue for some time after termination to provide users with an opportunity to obtain copies of any data (in a standard format, such as CSV) that they have provided to your system.

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That's a brilliant answer, thanks! The reason for stopping the service is the amount of users, there are too few to excuse supporting the service. –  Diego Sep 1 at 19:43
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You might also open source the product. –  Brad Rhoads Sep 3 at 17:23
    
@BradRhoads: Unless there's an existing developer community for the service, short-term, in my opinion, opensourcing a service would create more, not less work; that said, I agree it's a viable option given the right circumstances and community/customers. –  blunders Sep 16 at 6:28
    
I was thinking of open sourcing the product as a sort of peace offering. "Sorry we can't continue as we'd hoped and if you'd like to continue with using the service, you can now set it up yourself.." I'd prefer that as a customer, even if no further support was provided. –  Brad Rhoads Sep 16 at 16:56
    
Where'd you go, busy? (I'll delete this comment later, you're just not in chat, and I don't know any other way to ping you via SE.) –  blunders 9 hours ago

Charge more and more money for the service.

eggyal's answer is great, though thought I would add that in my opinion (and experience) the best way to stop offering a service is to increase the price for it; clearly, if the service is free, the first step is to charge money for it.

As for notice, I would say putting aside legal factors, no less than 14-days, and no more than 90-days. Also, as with most notices, Mondays or Fridays are the best days to do this depending on the customer/media response you expect and how you plan reply to inbound inquires that follow the change.

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That's an interesting point of view. –  Tiago César Oliveira Sep 18 at 15:53
    
It should be noted that this might also damage your reputation/goodwill! –  kmoe Oct 17 at 12:25
    
@kmoe: Sky might also eat you alive, but that's never happened to me. Saying there risks is obvious, knowing what you're talking about is not. What's the most you've ever billed on an hourly basis? –  blunders Oct 17 at 13:27

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