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Making the case for a XF native app

Discussion in 'XenForo Suggestions' started by Ludachris, Aug 3, 2015.

  1. Ludachris

    Ludachris Well-Known Member

    I know XF is forum software, and I understand that forums are fundamentally different than social media. I know that Tapatalk is a viable option for many forum owners. I've tried it but it wasn't the right solution for my site, mainly because it doesn't work with various plugins that website owners tend to use to try and set themselves apart from their competition and make their forums more sticky and cool (among a few other deal breakers). I understand that an app is costly to develop and that it's difficult to come up with something that will make the masses happy.

    With of all that said, here's the case I'm making for an XF native forum app:

    If your forum members take photos using their phones, where are they more likely to share those photos these days? The road blocks and extra steps it takes to open a browser on the phone, navigate to your forum, click around and find the right place to post the photo in the forum, and then use the upload feature to click around and locate the photo on the phone takes WAY more time than clicking the Share button after you take that photo and selecting FB or Instagram. And when you have a lot of the people in that forum as friends on your social network, why go through the extra hassle of also sharing that content in a forum?

    Social media networks have given the user the ability to make their own networks that they used to depend on forums to access. I don't think this will kill forums, but it will certainly start taking away from a big part of what used to make forums sticky. For some communities - take the car enthusiast communities for example - those photos signify what a member is working on at the moment with their car, and that is an extremely important community-building element that is starting to drop off in forums these days because it's FAR EASIER to share that content on social media via mobile, especially with the upward trend in mobile device usage for interaction. This is not a problem that is/will be exclusive to the automotive community.

    I've been talking with members of my site for several months about this, getting their feedback and taking notes. The consistent message coming back is that the forum will always be a great place for finding technical information, but that FB is becoming more preferred for engaging and networking with other car enthusiasts because of how simple it is to use, especially on a mobile device. The problem is, being a technical resource ONLY is not going to keep a forum community thriving.

    Over 65% of my traffic views the site on a mobile device these days. I'm using a mobile friendly theme without Tapatalk (for various reasons). And though the site is easy enough to use on a mobile device, I would LOVE to have an app that is native to XF that was build in a way that it coule be extended by some of the talented plugin developers we have in this community (like @Bob who built Showcase and other cool content-centered plugins). If I install an app it has to encompass all areas of the site where I collect content - when that user clicks Share after they take a photo I need to be able to give them quick and easy options to share that content in my forum somewhere so that they don't just share it on FB or IG instead.

    The simplicity and ease of sharing content from mobile is becoming more and more expected from the average user. And the traditional way the user has to go about posting in a forum is falling behind in terms of modern day usability. I'm not advocating forums be more like social media. I'm advocating exploring ways to make forums as easy to use as social media on mobile device and doing it in a way that it's extendable - so that plugin developers can tie their plugins into standardized locations.

    I'd pay an upfront license fee and a monthly fee for that and I know quite a few other forum owners who run their forum as a business and rely on advertising revenue would invest in this as well. I'd think it's worth exploring and I imagine the XF decision makers probably already have, and probably keep revisiting as mobile usage continues to increase. As someone who didn't used to be too concerned about social media being a competitor a few years back I now see why it's very possible that forums could be used less and less for sharing content and networking among people with similar interests - which could turn forums into obsolete, searchable newsgroups.

    We need to keep people engaged and make it extremely easy to have new, quality content posted on our sites. I've always felt XF was forward thinking in the forum space, which is why I moved over from vB last year. I'm hoping the XF devs will seriously consider revolutionizing the way members post content on forums using mobile devices, I like most everything else they've done with the script so far.
  2. Martok

    Martok Well-Known Member

    Personally I'd rather have the XenForo dev team (and bear in mind there are only 3 of them) focusing their efforts on developing XenForo 2.0 and beyond than diverting time and resources into developing multiple mobile apps for all of the major platforms and then having to maintain them.

    Maybe in the future when XenForo is the defacto forum software developed by a larger team then fair enough. For now when responsive design will suffice, then no.
    gldtn, Axel B, Divvens and 1 other person like this.
  3. Ludachris

    Ludachris Well-Known Member

    Hopefully by that time forums haven't fallen too far behind. I never felt like FB was a real threat to forums but I became pretty alarmed when I started really paying close attention to how my top members are using it and comparing that to how they use the forum now versus a few years ago. Stuff they used to share in the forum, which was really great for building community and fostering camaraderie, has shifted over to FB and IG. So though I do share that sentiment Martok, I'm also worried to see what might happen to forum usage in the next 3 years.

    It's not that forums are not usable via a responsive style on a mobile device, at least not in terms of how people are traditionally used to using forums. I think my responsive style is great in that sense. It's that content sharing from a mobile device is not nearly as easy to do in forums compared to how people are now getting more used to sharing content from a mobile device via social networks. The user behavior is changing due to mobile usage and people tend to use the easier route. Though my experience might not be the case for all XF admins I can't imagine I'm the only one who has monitored this closely and not noticed this trend.

    I'll keep doing what I can to address this trend as best I can but I feel without a native XF app I'm always going to be at a major disadvantage.
    IPF, Coop1979 and RDR like this.
  4. Martok

    Martok Well-Known Member

    Whilst stuff may be shared on social networks, they are pretty poor in organising this stuff and being able to find it afterwards. Try using a Facebook group like a forum and it just doesn't compare to the organisation or searchability of a forum.

    Personally I believe the future is not in apps for forums but in responsive designed sites that incorporate the increasing features that are coming to modern mobile browsers, such as push notifications.
  5. akia

    akia Well-Known Member

    rather than the xenforo dev messing about with a forum app, I'd like to see them build a proper and full api with documentation. that way it opens up many opportunity's for extension including other developers being able to build apps etc.
    Veer, tajhay, zylstra and 6 others like this.
  6. Ludachris

    Ludachris Well-Known Member

    Oh I'm not saying that social media is good at organizing content so that it can be searched for or easily found later. Quite the contrary, which is why forums still are so important. As content consumption goes, especially that of the technical nature, forums are far better than social media - which is why my members were saying that forums would always be good technical resources.

    It's the content sharing/posting that I'm talking about. That point where the user takes a photo, or takes several photos, and wants to share that content with others to show people in his/her network or community that they just installed their newly rebuilt race transmission in time for this weekend's drag race event... in years past that sort of community-building content would almost always be posted in a forum (if it were to be shared online). These days, you tend to see more of that type of content shared on social media, in addition to, or in many cases, instead of forums simply because it's easier to do. Having a mobile friendly responsive design isn't going to add a forum icon in the share menu of mobile devices to drastically reduce the clicks required to post a photo when the user wants to share them from their phone. That's all I'm getting at. Once you start using FB or IG a little bit you can see why forums seem like they require a bit more effort to use than they used to - not that they actually do, it's just that social platforms make it MUCH easier to post content quickly.

    Maybe a full API makes more sense. For something as integral as an app I'd probably feel better having it offered by XF rather than a 3rd party, unless of course maybe it was one of the more trusted developers.
    IPF likes this.
  7. Ludachris

    Ludachris Well-Known Member

    I'll add to this - I brought this up last year around this time too... many communities have one (or several) key events that take place each year, which the forum members attend and take photos while they're there. Not long ago, forums would be the common place to share these photos and talk about all that happened. Event follow-up threads were quite common and the community-building aspect of them was significant. Due to it being so much easier to share photos from a mobile device to FB and IG now, those threads are far less common and less active. That content and interaction appears to be taking place more on social media because it's simply easier to use for that purpose. I'm sure this isn't isolated to just automotive forums.

    Again, I'm not knocking the value of forums or how important they still are, nor am I discounting how good XF can be on a mobile device when using a responsive theme for browsing. I'm just pointing out the behavior changes I'm observing in forums I manage and others that I use. There appears to be a shift taking place in terms of content sharing and I'd like to prepare my forums for it if I can. I think it's a major opportunity that XF can address and be a pioneer.
  8. melbo

    melbo Well-Known Member

    I wrote this a year ago when I first saw the light after comparing my users FB usage to their forum usage.
    Tapatalk app alternative made for Xenforo and XF plugins
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2015
  9. Ludachris

    Ludachris Well-Known Member

    LOL, yup, I knew I had already brought all this up. Looking back through all the posts in that thread sum up everything pretty well. Hopefully the XF developers pay attention.
    melbo likes this.
  10. n00bsaibot

    n00bsaibot Well-Known Member

    I like this idea and feel that depending on just a responsive theme for mobile is short-sighted.

    But I am curious to hear opinions on getting users away from Tapatalk to a custom app. That seems a herculean task in itself.
  11. Ludachris

    Ludachris Well-Known Member

    That's a tough one. I turned Tapatalk off when we moved over to XF knowing that it didn't work with the Showcase plugin, which is an integral part of my site. I didn't want users to access the site in a way that completely hid the major parts of the site that made our forum stand out from the rest. I was in a unique position though, as my forum is the market leader and we have some loyal members. I wasn't afraid of everyone jumping ship because of that. I might have had a tougher time if I was to try and do that now.

    If I ever integrate a mobile app it has to allow users to post content not only in forums but in Showcase as well. Until then I'll just rely on a responsive theme and deal with the fact that they're sharing more content on social media because the social media apps make it easier than sharing photos on forums. That's why I'm pushing for a native app that is developed in a way where plugin developers can hook into it somehow, if that is even possible.
    melbo likes this.
  12. dethfire

    dethfire Well-Known Member

    Just about every responsive theme I've used is not good enough. Using a forum via a mobile responsive theme is still too cumbersome. Often links and button tap areas are far too small. Also writing area needs improvement. I seriously loathe writing anything of length on my phone.
    Kintaro likes this.
  13. kontrabass

    kontrabass Well-Known Member

    I like using XF on a browser. I have users that do too. I also have users who demand a mobile app like it's a constitutional right. I ripped tapatalk out last year, and have had slight decline in traffic, but not too bad (even with the "I can't stand to visit the site anymore! Where's the app???!!" rants I get whenever I post on our facebook page).

    That said, I think we would be doing better if we did have an app. I'm fairly certain we had people discovering our forum because of our branded app in the app stores. And the app was faster, plain and simple, no way around that. Less data to load through spotty cellular data networks makes Joe Doe in NoMansLand a faithful forum user, instead of a frustrated lost user.
  14. Kintaro

    Kintaro Well-Known Member

    The suggestion for official APIs is here:
    Full native RESTful API built into XenForo
    but no xenforo's devs say a word about it... :(
  15. ftsservice

    ftsservice Active Member

    It's my opinion XF's development team ignoring some sort of mobile sharing app... are doing so at the peril of their own long term success. Been in this business for 19 years, and the OP's first post was dead on target. If nothing else at least the means to quickly post a few images with a comment.
  16. Ingenious

    Ingenious Well-Known Member

    I totally agree. Virtually all the social banter and exchange on my forum has gone over to Facebook and the members' groups of friends. When people attend events which were normally heavily discussed on my forum, they do it on FB now, because as you say, it's just quick, easy and "native" to do it on mobile, more so when sharing media.

    Where forums still have a key strength is in the wider community and when people want to ask for help or advice across the whole subject and community, rather than their social circle.

    You can stuff as many features as you like into XF2 but if the mobile experience is not nailed down I can see forums in general becoming outdated and more irrelevant as the years pass.

    Whether it's the XF team or a third party, we need alternatives to TapaTalk. Like the OP, I would pay £££ per month if I had an XF focussed app specific for my forum.
    n00bsaibot likes this.
  17. PumpinIron

    PumpinIron Active Member

    There's no doubt that forums (even XenForo) are going to sooner or later see their demise if some sort of native app isn't developed. I realize it's a huge undertaking, but man-oh-man I watch the amount of people that visit my forum and almost all of them are from a mobile device, and on top of that I am constantly getting asked whether or not my forum has an app.

    We're at the forefront here of changing times. The real question is will we be progressive and adapt, or fail to adapt and fall behind.
    Veer, kontrabass, tajhay and 2 others like this.
  18. Biker

    Biker Well-Known Member

    The problem with developing a native mobile application is many don't want multiple apps for different forums. They want a "one size fits all" application that works on multiple forums, regardless of the forum software used. This is why Tapatalk is so popular among mobile users.

    As much as I hate Tapatalk as an Admin, I have to allow it as more and more of the userbase is using mobile devices to access the site. On one site alone, more than 50% of traffic is via mobile devices. That can't be ignored.
  19. ftsservice

    ftsservice Active Member

    The issue isn't app or non-app. The issue is ease of use - Tapatalk accomplished what it did because mobile support was, and to a large extent still is, an afterthought on forums... it sucked to use forums via browsers on mobile.

    That is changing. Mobile browsers are getting more capable all the time, available bandwidth and speeds are increasing, etc. If a platform properly and fully utilizes the capabilities of HTML5, takes into account when a device is mobile in order to streamline data transport size, etc. it can be just as fast and capable, if not more, than an app that is designed to be one size fits all without support for add-ons and various other customization. The problem with one-size-fits all, is one size never fits all... one size ultimately means supporting the least common denominator.

    I dropped Tapatalk from 5 of my 6 forums this summer, after I had all of them working with highly capable and streamlined responsive skins... traffic has not been negatively impacted, and posting went up - and all of these sites have 50+ percent mobile users. I am in the process of testing migration of my largest VB forum over to Xenforo, and when I roll it out on XF... I'm dropping Tapatalk like a hot potato.

    People need to think outside the box, instead of thinking "on mobile the problem is the browser", and instead think "why is the browser the problem" and address it. Sure there a few things missing, like proper push notifications, and the ability to work seamlessly with things like Instagram... but those are not the shorting comings of the browser... they are the shortcomings of how the forum platform is using it, and can be addressed.

    In hindsight, having Tapatalk on my forums was putting short term gain over long term gain, hurt income and served mainly to pigeonhole my sites.

    Edit - a mobile app with basic capabilities is somewhat of a stop-gap, and probably needs to be rolled out as a stop gap. But for the long term I believe HTML5, and native browser support within the platform are needed. I've changed my mind quite a bit over the past few months about this topic, because I saw it didn't result in the doom and gloom I thought it would when I dropped Tapatalk from my sites. Take a look at Tapatalk in Google search histories... it's not the darling it used to be --- maybe larger screen sizes and more of mobile being on tablets than purely phones, I don't know yet.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2015
    gldtn and Kintaro like this.
  20. n00bsaibot

    n00bsaibot Well-Known Member

    Apps are the native delivery on mobile. Doesn't matter how great your responsive design is or how many features are not app compatible. You'll always be providing a work around instead of a native solution. Tough to say with certainty but I think that is short sighted.

    Lol. Case in point took an ungodly time to put the italics above on m-browser because the highlight wouldn't take.

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