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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.

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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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On 9/11/2019 at 6:34 PM, Rikki said:

Firstly, we don't have firm plans for the white-label approach yet, so take any information about that with a pinch of salt because they will likely change.

Modifications wouldn't be possible; what we'd do is build a version of the app locked to your community, with your branding (your own splash screen, name, colors, etc.). You'd then submit this to the app stores yourself, under your name. Once submitted, we can then provide most updates to the app without your involvement (except in a few special situations). Users won't have to download our app and there'd be no 'Invision' branding in it. We anticipate the white-label app being a relatively high-end offering.

SO excited for this!

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I am really excited about getting a native app, but I am not giddy in terms of "wow, look how progressive or on the cutting edge Invision is."

Unfortunately, this is something that should have been here 4 or 5 years ago.

It will be great when it is here, and I think it will help stem a decline in forums as a whole, but is it going to get new people?  Who knows.

I do believe that having monetization in the app should be the top priority beyond "it works."  

For communities that have lots of mobile traffic, we do want to have it monetized, and with Tapatalk... while they are evil and there are many wrongs, at least we were paid somewhat. lol.

What my main concern will be will be as soon as the app is installed, there will be a substantial drop in income as most anyone using the communities on a mobile phone, will do so via the app, and if there is no monetization... will have a negative impact.

And yes... PLEASE invest resources into Blogs, Gallerys, etc...

I have writers who publish to Wordpress sites who feel helpless and limited trying to write an article on Blogs.

In reality though... I agree with a few others here, as a non-programmer, but as a business owner, you can't hold yourself back because you may tick off a few people.

If the future is PWA or whatever... how about leading?  I am sure the apple users would rather have a working mobile experience and NOT get notifications at the time, instead of waiting.

But this also goes to the whole convo of.... doubling down on community (whether community owners should) or accept that the vast majority of the world prefers platforms like FB/IG/YT and we should have our communities centered around those and centralize on a site, etc.  (especially as Google keeps suppressing community generated content, aka Forums from search results.)

 

Edited by Maksim

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Just a general question for people in the know. When an app accesses a web content, does it count as a page view, unique user, etc in, for example, google analytics? I suppose it is done via the REST API interface, but I am not sure if pageview is registered in this case. 

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Some here says that this app comes 5 years to late, and I'm just thinking they are right. Beeing without push notifications for so long has changed the way many use forums. As of now, they enter the site a few times a day and scroll through whatever notifications they have, and are fine with that. 

When the new app arrive they will see that the phone chimes in constantly. It is a new behavior, and I'm not sure that is a positive thing (as an everyday user). Every single user need to get through whatever notification settings they have to change it, and every user would change it to some setting not so annoying on their phone. I know that this will be an issue on my sites for sure. For me at least it was an eyeopener, and I do not

IMG_1048.thumb.PNG.4d44574b753c56251ed130ea31d4007b.PNG

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I think this sort or thing is always welcome, so congratulations.

Having said that, when I upgraded from IPS 3.x to 4.x, I ditched Tapatalk, which was the only app available around that time.

I thought it didn't make sense that Invision Powerboard had become Invision Powersuite, yet the app was absolutely forum-centric. And being the responsive version of IPS a great improvement for mobile users, the only thing we actually regretted losing was the push notifications. Which, admittedly, for some was a bigger deal than for others.

Another reason for ditching TapaTalk was that (at least up to IPB 3.x) TapaTalk couldn't even show polls, let alone a data template that we have added to topics in some subforums. (3rd party application)

But something good TapaTalk has or had to mitigate this, is the ability to prevent posting in selected subforums. I say this is good because if you wish members to post yes or yes using a 3rd party plugin like the one we have or any other template, etc, in selected subforums, you rather have them using a web browser where the plugin works, even if it's linked from the app, like it was the case with TapaTalk, and like you say it will be for other native areas of the Suite with your app.

So, I beg you to add this function of blocking posting in selected subforums using the app directly, particularly if you won't release the code for 3rd party plugins development. (And while you are at it, please remember that excluding subforums serves more forum owners than including subforums when selecting, particularly when you have to click/tap one by one. Excluding serves those forums with any number of subforums, while including only serves those forums with just a few).

Obviously, it would be great if you also give admins the option to enable the app or not altogether (and I think you've already said you will). I really would like to have push notifications back, and being able to give users the alternative of using the app, but at the end of the day, its use in our forum would be conditioned to the above factors and probably others too. I look forward to it either way. Keep up the good work.

 

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I've provided some feed back of the limited testing I've done. As for the notifcations I mainly have them all turned off on my phone so it's not much of an issue.

I'm personally not taken with it yet, it hasn't gripped me. And for one of my sites the app will be totally useless due to 3rd party apps playing such a crucial role to the day to day runnings. But this certainly is a step in the right direction.

My biggest complaint to date is having no breadcrumb, which isn't on the main site either in mobile view but I have it added through 3rd party and find it extremely useful.

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Oh one thing to note, for those of us migrating off Tapatalk we may need the ability to set a custom major version number to upgrade members to the new app.

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12 hours ago, sudo said:

Oh one thing to note, for those of us migrating off Tapatalk we may need the ability to set a custom major version number to upgrade members to the new app.

Can you explain this request in more detail?

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1 minute ago, Joel R said:

Can you explain this request in more detail?

I am not sure if both app stores allow you to stick up say a v1.X of the IPB app to upgrade the current BYO tapatalk app version of 7.X (iOS) / 8.X that we have deployed. This would be for people using their own whitelabel app and having their own app store accounts.

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@Rikki

While on the app, how do you get to the last reply in the topic. On mobile view you have the blue dot, however I do see a blue square on the app but you can’t press it so I’m not sure if it’s meant to be the same? Every time I’ve tried in different ways it only take me to the first post in the topic.

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The more I use the app the more I enjoy using it. It’s refreshing to have proper push notifications and a decent mobile interface (not that I am knocking the current mobile interface, but I like the app a lot more).

It’s still got some kinks to be worked out but Rikki and the team are burning through the feedback at a rate of knots. 

Thanks for the efforts with this.

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1 hour ago, CP_User said:

@Rikki

While on the app, how do you get to the last reply in the topic. On mobile view you have the blue dot, however I do see a blue square on the app but you can’t press it so I’m not sure if it’s meant to be the same? Every time I’ve tried in different ways it only take me to the first post in the topic.

That’s very odd as on the iOS app I always end up at the last post, with no visibility of the posts before it.

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Well I’ve made a video just in case.

My next complaint is the slider at the bottom on the page to cycle through pages. Hate it, I find it hard to get to the last page. Number pagination is a better way as it is on the mobile view. Even worse that I have a case on my phone so I can’t get to the end of the slider. Can it be brought in on each side?
 

God I sound like an old washer woman...

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On 10/5/2019 at 10:29 AM, CP_User said:

As for the notifcations I mainly have them all turned off on my phone so it's not much of an issue.

When you've turned off the notifications, is it because:

  • You normally turn off ALL notifications from all apps, so this is standard and consistent across all of your mobile apps
  • You turned off the IPS notification.  And why?  

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Just now, Joel R said:

You normally turn off ALL notifications from all apps, so this is standard and consistent across all of your mobile apps

This one. I don’t like my phone going off all throughout the day at work. So only texts and emails come as notifications. Sorry for the confusion!

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Have all the beta testers been selected?  I have a few sites, with with over 800k posts, and a few have expressed interest in an app.  I applied last week, but haven't heard back.

Thanks

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6 hours ago, The Heff said:

It’s literally in the article... at the end.

Sorry but it does not tell anything about downloading the software to test added forums at the moment. 

There are forums using it for test at the moment. Can i try these?

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6 hours ago, Duken said:

Sorry but it does not tell anything about downloading the software to test added forums at the moment. 

There are forums using it for test at the moment. Can i try these?

Users are testing the app created for Invision Community, not for their own forum.  The link for joining the test group is available at the end of the article.  This is the only thing that is available at this time.     

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