Mobile community sites

(Richard Millington) #1

Noticed @Caroline_Lukins recently joined us and figured it might be a good time to tackle some of the mobile questions we have.

How many of you have created a mobile app for your community?

How many have created a mobile-optimized website? (care to share?)

And at what point would you consider doing both? For example, for years only a tiny % (around 15%) came via mobile. Hence we put off developing a mobile site. Would be keen to see how everyone else compares on this one - and any thought mobile thoughts you have.

Recommendations? - for developer agency to build mobile app part of a Community platform vendor's software
(rhogroupee) #2

That’s such a top-of-mind question for me right now Rich!

We mobile-optimized our own site about 6 months ago, and have spent the last year turning our entire platform to responsive design (releasing the week of Nov 30). (For the nerds out there, we chose Foundation for our responsive framework.) When we originally released our platform, we included an iPhone app, but quickly realized that it’s almost impossible to keep up with all operating systems and devices and provide a good experience…we shifted our strategy to going mobile-friendly for the last 3 years, and now moving to full responsive design.

I’ll be curious to hear others weigh in on what they’re doing to deal with the mobile shifts underway…

(Mark Lowry) #3

All of our clients have a mobile-optimized community website. Some samples would be:

About 20% also have a mobile app for the community. The app was something we saw a ton of interest in a few years back, but since the mobile friendly sites are so great we’re not seeing as many groups add the app.

(Richard Millington) #4

That’s pretty interesting @rhogroupee - that you killed the app and went with a mobile responsive design.

Do you mind sharing a little more about the process and the steps involved? i.e. if I’m managing a community, what can I learn about your steps to become mobile-friendly and then responsive? Is it beneficial to become friendly first or can we step straight to responsive?

Any chance of seeing the link too? :slight_smile:

(rhogroupee) #5

Sure, I can share a bit more detail. Our platform is called community. Back when we were offering an iPhone app (about 4 yrs ago), there was a strong movement in the marketplace for “vanity apps.” Over the course of a couple of years, with operating systems, devices, and mobile adoption exploding, we found ourselves having to deal with the app approval process much too frequently to be effective. In order to provide each customer with a bespoke app for their community, we would need to have an entire team devoted to both keeping the mobile apps up-to-date with the SaaS application and staying current with operating system and device changes. Not a good use of our resources.

Key considerations (lessons learned) for building an app:

  • Not everyone wants to download another app (ie, app fatigue)
  • You have to get re-approved in the Apple store every time you do an update, and that process can be unpredictable
  • Every time Apple, Android, or anyone else releases an update, you have to make sure you’re not broken

That brought about a decision to shift to a more mobile-friendly interface. We rolled out an update that detected members coming from a mobile device, and then served up a mobile interface by default. It was basically a stripped down version of the application, faster and easier to use on mobile devices. It allowed members to toggle over to the full interface if they wished.

Key considerations for mobile-friendly UI:

  • You have to make decisions on what functionality will show up in the mobile version
  • Need to think about size of screen…will tablets get the mobile UI or the full desktop UI? At what size does it shift?
  • It can be difficult to perform administrative functions from a mobile UI because it’s so stripped down

About a year ago, we decided to go full responsive design for our own site and for itself. We decided that it would improve the user experience, with less loss of functionality, easier admin, and work seamlessly across screen sizes. We systematically went through every single UI in the platform to re-code and update the design. Since this was such a huge change, we also made the decision to go through every single customer community during the beta period and ensure that their customizations won’t break when the responsive release goes live.

Key considerations for responsive design:

  • You need to choose your framework…two popular ones are Foundation (which we chose) and Bootstrap.
  • You have to make decisions in the UI about what content will show up at each screen size “breaking point,” optimizing what the member will need vs the space available at that size.
  • It’s important to review all code, so that HTML old CSS stylesheets, or tables are updated to work in the new framework.
  • You’ll probably have a side-effect of more consistency of presentation, and more fine-grained control over styling.
    *You will always need to bear in mind the page speed (since you can choose to show or hide certain page elements)

Our own responsive website is here: (site is currently being updated for the new release, so while it’s responsive, the images and product videos are not fully updated yet—have mercy :smile:

If I were managing a community right now, I’d jump straight to responsive, since it eliminates an extra step. With a mobile-friendly approach, you still need to tend to your desktop design and your mobile-friendly version, whereas with a responsive site, it’s one-and-done.

Is anyone else working on responsive design right now?

(Mark Schwanke) #6

Has anyone utilized the notification abilities available in Chrome browser on mobile that allows notification curtain notifications? Facebook is the only site I have seen so far utilize this. If you’re not sure what I am talking about. Install Chrome on your phone and then log into Facebook. Have someone send you a Message and you should see a notification appear on your phone. Takes away the need to install resource intensive Facebook app that bogs down your phone using battery and memory resources.

Enabling this would really push towards Mobile Responsive over the app approach IMHO.

(Priscilla McClay) #7

I am working on a new community that only launched this year, and was built and launched as a mobile responsive site - this was one of the key requirements when it was being developed.

The previous community I was working on, we were in the process of moving towards a fully responsive site, but it was much more challenging because it was an old site going through a much-needed major upgrade. Our interim solution was a separate mobile site (synced with the desktop site), but this was a big hassle in various ways.

I can’t think of any circumstances in which either my old community or my current community would need an app. A responsive site seems to meet all our needs at the moment, plus it works well for new visitors and search traffic.

I would imagine downloading an app might require even more buy-in from users than creating an account - as in, they wouldn’t bother downloading an app until they have tried the community and are confident they’re likely to be regular users? I’m speculating there, though - someone else might have more insight.

(Steve Bridger) #8

This is my experience, too @Priscilla.

(Richard Millington) #9

I can’t think of many apps for communities I use. Perhaps the major benefit
would be push notification reminders - but that can only be useful so
often. It works better during an event I think. Otherwise, it’s not so

(rhogroupee) #10

This might be something for a separate topic, but the concept of push notifications has definitely come up a little bit more lately. It is possible, of course, even without an app, but we (the vendor) would need to pass along carrier charges for the messaging. Just another consideration for the mix…

(Mark Schwanke) #11


Nope there would just need to be code changes to utilize the API. So far I have only seen that Facebook has used this API on Chrome.


(rhogroupee) #12

Thanks @MarkSchwanke! You’ve just gone one step beyond my “just-enough-to-be-dangerous” technical capabilities, but I’ll check it out for sure.

(Mark Schwanke) #13

@rhogroupee We all have to do something a little dangerous to grow. I love to do learn and do things at the edge of my skill set. I hope you make it happen. Ironically I saw a notifications pop up appear when I logged in.

(Michael Howard) #14

Good discussion.
We’ve just started rolling out our responsive site today. It’s the culmination of a year’s work but we’re convinced it’s the right way to go. Our platform is Telligent (aka Zimbra).

Over half of our traffic is from mobile and tablet devices and it was crazy having separate mobile and desktop sites. Mobile experts that worked with us were all against having an app - a responsive site was always the way to go.

Early feedback has been good and we’ve built some time in to bug hunt and to change anything that gets a particularly bad reception from the community.

Notifications - we’ve learned a lot about these and we keep improving them. We have a system whereby users can subscribe to their own threads, groups (forum areas) or daily/weekly digests . It was only when the site notifications broke that we realised that many people’s experience of the community was via notifications - they weren’t constantly visiting the site to check what was happening, they were relying upon notifications to let them know - then they would click the link in the email notification and reply on the thread. When notifications broke, site traffic reduced drastically.

(Richard Millington) #15

Boy do we know the feeling. @hawk and I wrestled a lot with what to have on/off by default. It’s one of the areas where we probably don’t quite agree yet. But I think we’re seeing a decent uptick in engagement. I’m just not sure we’ve built this community into a habit just yet.

(Michael Howard) #16

Well, your notifications just brought me here : - )

(Richard Millington) #17

Well one of the great things about notifications is you can tag in people you think should participate - especially if they’re from a relevant organisation and get their opinion.

Isn’t that right @cocastro, @tashinacombs, @mlowryvt ? :slight_smile:

I REALLY love that ability. I think it’s a huge benefit and we don’t use it often enough.

One thing that might be cool is to build up a panel of experts in specific topics, e.g. @SamHouston on security and make it easier for other members to tag them in and get their take. Not sure if it would work, but I’d love to try it.

(Michael Howard) #18

I guess that notifications are helping to create the habit to return. I like a well designed digest of what’s happening and what I’ve missed - I’m not checking in all the time but I’m pretty interested in what’s going on. And keen to be part of the conversation.

We’ve added @ mentions - but our users aren’t so tech savvy - so it will be interesting to see if they gain more use. But yes, on this site, tagging people into conversations will be a powerful and useful thing.

(Richard Millington) #19

A digest can work. But most of those I see are terrible. I usually ignore every digest I receive.

I like a customised / filtered list of material. Quora is probably the only organisation I really love here. I don’t quite know how they do it, but they do an amazing job.

(Michael Howard) #20

I hate to say it, but ours are terrible. They’re a list of ‘x joined this group’ and ‘discussion topic xyz was started’ - with absolutely no content. The most important thing is to show a couple of lines of content - I’m sure that’s what people will find value in - knowing that someone has asked for help about something.

I think that there’s a high value in knowing that someone has replied to a thread that you started - and that notification would certainly bring me back to a topic - but the activity feed, list-style of digest needs a lot of improvement.

So, that’s one of our development projects for next year - add value and context to notifications. Make digests into personalised and useful emails.