App vs web application?

Hello Community,

We are in the process of creating an online community that focuses on entrepreneurs and startups. One of the areas we are looking for input is - should the platform be a mobile-based application or a web-based one or a combination of both?
One of the reasons for this is that entrepreneurs, in general, are always on the move (hustling) and if the community can be accessed using a mobile application we might make it convenient for them and hence increase participation.
Secondly, more content is being consumed on the mobile than before and the trends indicate that this will hold true.

I would like to know from all of you about your thoughts on what approach can be futuristic and helpful given our context?

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The technology platform will normally be chosen to match your requirements. So the more details you provide about what you want to do then the more the discussion can focus on the platform features that will meet your needs.

This is a complex discussion that gets more complex the closer you get to looking at specific tools to achieve what you want. So I’m trying to keep this generic.

I think that the issues aren’t so much about about mobile app versus web app. They have more to do with other characteristics which I provide more detail about later in this post:

  • Centralise large databases and heavy calculations.

  • Centralise shared data.

  • Up-time/availability issues are complex. Centralised control and management is easier but network issues become more of a problem. Local apps with local data are probably the simplest way to get 100% availability.

  • Security issues are likewise complex because networks are a major source of vulnerabilities. Whereas local app security is largely offloaded to the local OS and antivirus.

Where platform apps and web apps then differ most is in the user interface and app store presence. Of the two, the user interface issue most favours native apps with full access to the device features. Getting into an app store is always possible, e.g. by creating a wrapper app with some additional unique features added to it. But it can be quit costly.

Back to discussing the more general issues I mentioned above:

Do you need high responsiveness or high performance? Native apps are more responsive and generally have higher performance for lower levels of processing power. Centralised servers have a big advantage when processing a large database or heavy calculations. So community forums with multimedia content are best handled on such servers.

Who generates and uses the data? The more data is shared then the more likely a centralised platform will be best. So if I have a community focus then most data will be shared with other users and is more easily handled using a web-based solution. Community forums exemplify this. Personal private journalling is at the other extreme because there is non need to share the data with anyone else. This favours a local app.

Do you need 100% up-time? A local app (local means running on a device that is with you) with local database is better if you need access all the time but a web app can provide access to data on all platforms. Say I am doing presentations on the road then I don’t want to have to depend on having a working network connection to deliver my pitch. So I will use an app on my device with all the presentation data I need stored on the same device.

Do you need local storage of all the app data? Generally, local storage means a local app too. While a web platform could be used a major weakness/issue is often how to store data locally. Formal cross-platform standards are still being developed.

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@remah. Thank you for sharing this. Our requirements are simple. Below features is based on our 1-year roadmap:

  1. Discussion forum with threaded comments
  2. Payment gateway for membership
  3. Role-based user management
  4. Backend for admin/staff
  5. Blog/content area with inline discussion
  6. Separate access for paid members

Do you need high responsiveness or high performance? Native apps are more responsive and generally have higher performance for lower levels of processing power. Centralised servers have a big advantage when processing a large database or heavy calculations. So community forums with multimedia content are best handled on such servers.

@remah high responsiveness is something we are looking for.

Who generates and uses the data? The more data is shared then the more likely a centralized platform will be best. So if I have a community focus then most data will be shared with other users and is more easily handled using a web-based solution. Community forums exemplify this. Personal private journalling is at the other extreme because there is non need to share the data with anyone else. This favors a local app.

@remah We are building a community and members will be sharing data and other information with each other.

We were contemplating more about this based on one thought which is - Does having a mobile application for your community increase member participation?

Everything you listed is a common set of requirements that is achievable without having to do much or any custom development. So you have many good web-based solutions available to you. Many of those solutions also have options for a mobile app available in the app store.

I would say undoubtedly it does.

Every web app or website I’ve heavily participated in has had users, members and prospective members asking for an app available in the app store for Android and iOS.

As you will be aware, there are opportunities to improve branding and differentiation using from having such an app.

I use Discourse software for my community sites as does this site. Discourse itself is a Javascript application running in web browsers on each device. It also has a hub app for all the Discourse-based sites I use. Even with these apps there are many topics about mobile apps. To give you the flavor, here are two on whitelabelling and native version issues:

Thank you for sharing:)

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Disclaimer: I make my entire living supporting Discourse.

If you mean “should users access Discourse with a web browser or some dedicated phone app” my answer is that I think that asking someone to download yet another app to access something that works perfectly well in a web browser is a bad idea. Many folks disagree.

If you mean “should I develop my own app or use something that exists”, then I’d suggest that you’re crazy to develop your own app (twice in the past month I’ve written code to move some custom forum into Discourse). Software, unlike diamonds, becomes more valuable when more people have it. If what you want is a forum, there are a zillion reasons to use Discourse the forum that best meets your needs.

Depending on just how bloggy you want your blog to be, Discourse does all of that pretty well. If you really want a blog, then using WordPress with wp-discourse is a good solution (and opens up using any of WordPress’s membership/payment gateways.

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Thank you @Jay_Pfaffman for the inputs. We have a tech team in place that is contemplating developing vs looking at existing tools. I will pass on this information to them:)

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