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Managing successful online communities

Rikki
 

Invision Community Apps for iOS & Android

I'm excited to reveal that we are making Invision Community native apps for iOS and Android!

For the past few months, our staff has been using an internal test build right here on our community. Now we are ready to widen testing to a larger pool of customers. Information on how to become a tester is at the end of this post. But first, let's take a look at the app itself.

Technology Preview
We have a lot of exciting plans for the Invision Community app.

We wanted to take full advantage of a clean slate and build a brand new experience that embraces a native app's interfaces. While the app is unmistakably Invision Community, it features new ways of interacting with your content.

We want the app to help shape the future of Invision Community, and we're asking for you to help.

What we are opening up for testing today is a technology preview. This slim app covers the essentials with a view to much more expansion later.

The technology preview is locked to our community. The app we will release will be a 'multi-community' app; a directory of communities users can browse and save.

We’ve taken this approach because the app stores have clamped down on ‘template’ apps, and the cost involved in building and maintaining a separate app per-community won’t be an option for many of our customers. A multi-community app is a great approach for most: simple setup, minimal cost, still fully-featured, and a great way for new users to find your community too.

What The App Does
For the initial phase of this technology preview, discussions are the main focus which is the foundation of every Invision Community. Also available are profiles, streams, search and notifications - including (at last!) push notifications.

Any areas that the app does not currently support will open seamlessly in a web view within the app. As we build new functionality into the app over time, users will encounter fewer of these hybrid views.

Your feedback will allow us to target the highest priority areas during the technology preview phase.

Pricing
Note: The information below outlines our current intentions, but may change as we finalize the app's release to app stores.

The good news is we intend for the app to be free to both our customers with active licenses and their end-users. In time, we will offer a premium option to communities. This funding will secure the app's long-term future.

The premium option could enhance their listing in the directory, or provide special functionality when users use that community in the app.

iPhone Xs.pngiPhone Xs 2.png

Availability

We intend to release the app alongside the next significant point release of Invision Community, expected to be 4.5. Communities will need to upgrade to this version to allow their users to use the app.

Questions?

Why not a PWA (progressive web app)?
Invision Community 4.4 already supports several PWA features. However, until iOS supports Push Notifications (and other features) in PWAs, we don't feel they are a fully-rounded solution to using communities on a phone. Building native apps allow us to experiment with new interfaces and approaches. As PWA support improves in the years to come, we'll feed what we learn back into the main product for the benefit of all users.

Why now?
Those with a long memory will recall that we've had a few attempts at providing an app in the past that weren't successful.

We are great at building apps with web technologies but creating native apps ourselves wasn't sustainable.

Enter React Native.

React Native is an open-source technology for building native apps. React Native allows teams to build native apps using web technologies, but crucially, React Native doesn't build hybrid apps. They are compiled into real native apps - not browser wrappers, but native buttons, text, dialogs, animations and more.

A year or so ago, we started experimenting with React Native to see if it might be a viable approach for us. And it was. Finally, there was a technology that enabled web engineers to build delightful cross-platform native apps.

As we can build native mobile apps using the technology we are familiar with allows us to incorporate mobile app development into our existing processes.

Why just forums?
Invision Community is a large, fully-featured platform, and building the entire platform in a native app from the get-go didn't seem to be the best approach. Instead, we've focused on the most active area of most communities - forums - with other areas still supported in the app via webviews. Over time, additional features and tools will be built into the app so that it eventually reaches feature-parity with the web version. We'll take feedback from our customers to determine which areas to support next.

How will I add my community to the app?
The next significant point release of Invision Community (expected to be 4.5) will have app support built-in. Including your app in the directory will be as simple as enabling the feature in your AdminCP and configuring a few options. 

Is the app ad-supported?
There are no ads of any kind in the app right now. We may include ads or allow communities to run their own ads as a premium option in future.

Can I get a white-label version for my community?
We aim to offer a white-label option in the future.

Will my plugins work in the app?
Probably not. We're intentionally building the app to work with standard Invision Community features and apps right now. If your plugins add new UI elements or change the functions that users interact with it's likely they will not work with the app.

What about themes?
Themes won't work in the app because the app doesn't use HTML. However, some branding/customization will be available via the AdminCP, and we may expand upon this in future.

Have other questions? Let us know in the comments, and we'll answer them!

Sign Up For Testing
For the next stage of our testing process, we will be inviting several customers to try the app and provide feedback/bug reports. As part of the sign-up process, we'll ask for some information about your own community. We'll use this to select further testers once we begin testing of the 'multi-community' version of the app later. The answers you provide will not affect your chance of testing the app on our community.

Interested in joining the testing group? Click here to sign up.

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Just take my money already!!

Glad to see IPS was listening.

I won't complain about the slowness. I know this stuff gets complicated.

I think this is a big step in the right direction although I would have chosen PWA's personally.

Just remember, the more you help us stay in business publishing WITH ADS..... the more chance you have to keep your publishers paying, Partner.

pay me kim kardashian GIF by GQ

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I'd agree with other commentators that having the option to have adverts would be absolutely vital for me. My users see ads as a necessary evil so my site can continue to operate and tolerate them.

However, if there's suddenly an ad-free app available, it's only human nature that they would use it in preference to the ad-supported version and my mobile revenue would plummet.

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22 hours ago, SJ77 said:

How does one access downloads (app) from the native app?

As with other (currently) supported areas, Downloads will open in a webview inside the app. It's relatively seamless.

21 hours ago, kmk said:

The app is multilanguage? 

Yes, you'll be able edit the language using the regular translation tools.

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I guess this is a good stopgap. The fact you can do it in react native makes sense.

Philosophically, I think I’ve probably said enough times that from where I sit as an admin, part of the long term success of Invision Community seems to me will rest on maintaining the decentralized and ad hoc nature of communities (as compared to Facebook, Reddit, etc.) That is, as more people realize that the “platform communities” have significant downsides from a privacy and control perspective, we can operate our boutique communities to fill that niche and promote our decentralized nature as a reason to join a community. 

For that reason, I’m still all in on PWAs precisely because they don’t intermingle or confuse Invision as being akin to a reddit with one app with a bunch of subcommunities. I’d be nervous promoting an app that works across multiple communities precisely for the optics that creates of being part of a larger platform/user worries about who controls the data/etc.

However, Apple does what apple does, and I need mobile push notifications, so I’ll take what I can get. 

The comments about ads are fairly relevant and high priority for me though. Anything that reduces the profitability of my community serves to disincentivize me from grinding it out and trying to compete. If this swallows up all my mobile ad revenue (which >50% of total ad revenue) I’m going to be in a tough spot. 

All said, it’s exciting to see these efforts. Looking forward to the launch. 

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57 minutes ago, Morgin said:

Philosophically, I think I’ve probably said enough times that from where I sit as an admin, part of the long term success of Invision Community seems to me will rest on maintaining the decentralized and ad hoc nature of communities (as compared to Facebook, Reddit, etc.) That is, as more people realize that the “platform communities” have significant downsides from a privacy and control perspective, we can operate our boutique communities to fill that niche and promote our decentralized nature as a reason to join a community. 

Yes, that's a fair comment. When I use TapaTalk I get much more of a 'platform' vibe from it, as if I'm using TapaTalk first and foremost, and the actual community is secondary to that. We've tried hard to do the reverse and make sure each community feels like it's separate from the others.

Right now for example, there's no central login system, central activity feed or central notifications, no cross-promotion of communities and so on (though I can't say those things will never appear - I do think there's justification for some of them). Each community is entirely standalone once you tap into it from the directory.

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18 hours ago, Rikki said:

Yes, that's a fair comment. When I use TapaTalk I get much more of a 'platform' vibe from it, as if I'm using TapaTalk first and foremost, and the actual community is secondary to that. We've tried hard to do the reverse and make sure each community feels like it's separate from the others.

Right now for example, there's no central login system, central activity feed or central notifications, no cross-promotion of communities and so on (though I can't say those things will never appear - I do think there's justification for some of them). Each community is entirely standalone once you tap into it from the directory.

Wouldn't a central login system require IPS to get into the user account management game (e.g., you would be an identity provider for our communities by having (presumably) a unified 'IPS ID" that would SSO users into any forum(s) listed on the IPS App they belong to, and registering users for forums they don't belong to)?

Are you sure you guys want to get into that, because that is EXACTLY what Tapatalk does, and I think hints at what @Morgin means when it makes users feel like they are using a platform rather than belonging to any specific community. I can see the business logic and benefits to the end users for something like that, but you're basically Tapatalk at that point.

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3 minutes ago, Joy Rex said:

Are you sure you guys want to get into that, because that is EXACTLY what Tapatalk does …

The comment you quoted says more or less the opposite and explains it. 

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17 minutes ago, Joy Rex said:

Wouldn't a central login system require IPS to get into the user account management game (e.g., you would be an identity provider for our communities by having (presumably) a unified 'IPS ID" that would SSO users into any forum(s) listed on the IPS App they belong to, and registering users for forums they don't belong to)?

Yes, but we don't do that right now. I just don't want to completely rule it out from ever happening, because doing that tends to bite us later 🙂 It's not something we have on the roadmap at the moment.

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1 hour ago, Rikki said:

Yes, but we don't do that right now. I just don't want to completely rule it out from ever happening, because doing that tends to bite us later 🙂 It's not something we have on the roadmap at the moment.

As a strategy, it certainly would make sense too - there’s a lot of money to be made in taking what you’ve done with Invision cloud and commoditizing it to cannibalize communities from competing global platforms. I mean, tapatalk tried to give that a go with acquisitions like Yuku among others and they offer a turnkey community solution now, it’s just not very good. There’s room for that type of product to exist alongside providing the platform itself as sort of a white label community solution for others.

Given I’d like to see Invision around for a long time, I’m fully aware that on the business and revenue side you may need to look at Invision itself becoming the community that serves up turnkey subcommunities while handling all the messy account and admin stuff. As long as there always remains some separation for those that need it between Invision as a Reddit/Facebook type of omnibus platform (if or when you make any moves that direction), and Invision the neutral decentralized community software provider, I think we’ll be in a good place.

Edited by Morgin

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Quote

The app we will release will be a 'multi-community' app; a directory of communities users can browse and save.

So basically, Discord for IPS Forums.... just great.

Whole thing is a waste of development time in my opinion, PWA tech is progressing rapidly and this will inevitably become a legacy app on the front of an app to browse a particular community. But I don't think you're really trying to help single community owners here.

It sounds more like you're building a new product to make money with(thats fine in itself). I'm guessing in the future people will need to pay for a more customized or branded experience for their communities?

Feel free to correct me if you do intend to release all features and the ability to brand and customize for free. But I feel this is more of a business strategy to get in on the discord/reddit-style community experience, since a lot of forums are shutting down because of these.

Another question is, since this is a community directory... if a member of "Joe's Fish Forum" gets the app to browse his forum, will they be at any point in the future (right now the answer is no, I'm aware of that... I'm trying to gather the direction of this app) be recommended similar forums like "Mary's Fish Forum", a competitor?

As @Joy Rex mentioned, this is more like a domino effect. In order to improve and make the experience more "smooth" for the user (note: not the owner) you're more than likely going to go the same direction as those before you. The "we don't do it yet, but can't say we won't" responses might as well be a "yes" because if you can't compete with the experiences offered by the apps currently in the market, why go down this route? Yes you can offer a different experience, by not centralizing anything... but lets be realistic, that's not in the best interest of a multi-community user's experience.

p.s I don't mean to sound rude, just not impressed with the direction IPS is heading in.

Edited by Cyrem

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10 hours ago, Cyrem said:

So basically, Discord for IPS Forums.... just great.

Whole thing is a waste of development time in my opinion, PWA tech is progressing rapidly and this will inevitably become a legacy app on the front of an app to browse a particular community. But I don't think you're really trying to help single community owners here.

It sounds more like you're building a new product to make money with(thats fine in itself). I'm guessing in the future people will need to pay for a more customized or branded experience for their communities?

Feel free to correct me if you do intend to release all features and the ability to brand and customize for free. But I feel this is more of a business strategy to get in on the discord/reddit-style community experience, since a lot of forums are shutting down because of these.

Another question is, since this is a community directory... if a member of "Joe's Fish Forum" gets the app to browse his forum, will they be at any point in the future (right now the answer is no, I'm aware of that... I'm trying to gather the direction of this app) be recommended similar forums like "Mary's Fish Forum", a competitor?

As @Joy Rex mentioned, this is more like a domino effect. In order to improve and make the experience more "smooth" for the user (note: not the owner) you're more than likely going to go the same direction as those before you. The "we don't do it yet, but can't say we won't" responses might as well be a "yes" because if you can't compete with the experiences offered by the apps currently in the market, why go down this route? Yes you can offer a different experience, by not centralizing anything... but lets be realistic, that's not in the best interest of a multi-community user's experience.

p.s I don't mean to sound rude, just not impressed with the direction IPS is heading in.

Would you be impressed if we went in that same direction, but while I was juggling 7 iPhones?

Our motivation for build native apps is solely out of frustration waiting for PWA to implement critical features, such as push notifications on Apple devices.

As far as we can tell, Apple have zero interest in allowing PWA to push notifications to devices. I'm sure the reasons are numerous and good ones for them.

In the mean time, we don't want those who trust their community with us to be left behind.

We still intend to develop the PWA integration and we're not going to force anyone to be listed in the app.

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I think that it's also important to note that we're not simply opening WebView windows to the responsive theme on your site, we're actually building a new modern interface from scratch to improve engagement and content discoverability.

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3 hours ago, Matt said:

As far as we can tell, Apple have zero interest in allowing PWA to push notifications to devices. I'm sure the reasons are numerous and good ones for them.

While Apple has zero interest to implement something, I have zero interest for Apple users :) Hence over 75% of my users would profit from PWA. 

screenshot-analytics.google.com-2019_09.23-14-48-54.thumb.png.9812b2c55ef274b1c352831feef3d2a2.png

3 hours ago, Matt said:

We still intend to develop the PWA integration

Good to hear :) 

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4 hours ago, Matt said:

Would you be impressed if we went in that same direction, but while I was juggling 7 iPhones?

Our motivation for build native apps is solely out of frustration waiting for PWA to implement critical features, such as push notifications on Apple devices.

As far as we can tell, Apple have zero interest in allowing PWA to push notifications to devices. I'm sure the reasons are numerous and good ones for them.

In the mean time, we don't want those who trust their community with us to be left behind.

We still intend to develop the PWA integration and we're not going to force anyone to be listed in the app.

To be honest @Matt, you did that years ago by scrapping your initial plans for an app. It seems bizarre that just as native apps start to be replaced by PWA's IPS have made this decision. It was the right move 5 years ago, but now, I can't say I understand the decision to use time and resources with this sort of solution.

As much as you say it's not going to be like tapatalk, the basic premise of it is hardly going to be significantly different, as it can't be - it's an app for accessing online communities. So, as well as being late and out of touch with the direction many developers are going in, it's also essentially a copy of an existing platform which is a bit like marmite, and that has had features such as monetisation and white-labelling available for some time. 

Surely there are better things to spend time on? For example, the gallery and blogs have had very little love in years and clubs seem to be failing to get any traction. 

Edited by Dll

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2 hours ago, Dll said:

To be honest @Matt, you did that years ago by scrapping your initial plans for an app. It seems bizarre that just as native apps start to be replaced by PWA's IPS have made this decision. It was the right move 5 years ago, but now, I can't say I understand the decision to use time and resources with this sort of solution.

As much as you say it's not going to be like tapatalk, the basic premise of it is hardly going to be significantly different, as it can't be - it's an app for accessing online communities. So, as well as being late and out of touch with the direction many developers are going in, it's also essentially a copy of an existing platform which is a bit like marmite, and that has had features such as monetisation and white-labelling available for some time. 

Surely there are better things to spend time on? For example, the gallery and blogs have had very little love in years and clubs seem to be failing to get any traction. 

I really don't agree that it's late and out of touch. Ultimately our customers tell us they want a way to improve the mobile experience and have push notifications on all devices. Apple don't want to flood the store with copy and paste apps so a multi-community approach is the only solution.

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13 minutes ago, Matt said:

I really don't agree that it's late and out of touch. Ultimately our customers tell us they want a way to improve the mobile experience and have push notifications on all devices. Apple don't want to flood the store with copy and paste apps so a multi-community approach is the only solution.

Are your customers not also telling you that they don't want a multi-community app as well though? Since, if they did want one, they would already use tapatalk?

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Just now, Dll said:

Are your customers not also telling you that they don't want a multi-community app as well though?

Sure, if asked, they would of course all want their own app, but interest alone doesn’t mean that it would be feasible on a large enough scale. Just look at the previous attempts, including those of 3rd-parties. Once admins understand the costs involved in distributing their own app, the interest quickly vanishes. A multi-community app is a compromise, but one that can actually work for many admins.  

Just now, Dll said:

Since, if they did want one, they would already use tapatalk?

Not necessarily. I stopped using Tapatalk and I will (very likely) use the IPS app. It’s far from being the same. Tapatalk was buggy,  a privacy and security nightmare and a third-party solution, which is a problem of its own because there was no priority for the IPS platform and because of the delayed reaction to the native developments. IPS can potentially do so much better than what Tapatalk offers. 

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