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Push Notifications, Mobile App, and Development

I run a local motorcycle riding community, and Facebook is killing our forum. Members are becoming more and more "lazy" and once they make a few friends on the forum, they eventually add people to facebook, and then start using facebook to communicate instead. And it's not so much that it's laziness, as it's convenience.

Push notifications I think are the answer to help forums survive, with of course, some "sort" of mobile app. When a user gets tagged in a post (ex: @username), someone replies to their post, when someone quotes them, when they get a private message, etc... it would be fantastic if the mobile user could get a push notification - just like facebook does. And when the user clicks on the notification, they are taken to the appropriate spot within the forum. How powerful would it be for the users phone to be like "HEY! Mike commented on your post! Check it out..." or "Joe quoted you, see what he's got to say!"

I'd be fairly happy with an app that just publishes/uses the mobile version of the website, so long as the push notifications worked correctly. Native iOS/Android development would be cool, but even a Xamarin/Phonegap-esque type app could work.

Some might say, "what about tapatalk"? Well, tapatalk blows.

Like most communities, we're free/not a business/don't make money. I keep things advertiser free, don't charge memberships, etc. My community is built out of passion, and a love for motorcycles. So any development costs have got to come out of my pocket.

Now, I'm a Graphic Designer/UX Architect/Front-end Web Developer and can lend some help to the project, but I never got into mobile app development. I also really, really love my community. So I'm willing to pay to help with development. I'm really tempted trying to hire some mobile app developer in India to help build this, of course, I don't even know where to start to trying to find a trusted mobile app developer... but I know people have done it. Even better, I'd love to pay a developer who's active in the Vanilla community, and familiar with how Vanilla works.

I don't quote know how much I could afford. A couple hundred easily. Maybe more. I might even be able to get some "crowd funding" from my community to help, depending on the costs, how soon we can get it, and how well it'd actually work. Maybe I'll sell a kidney. I dunno. Once a killer mobile app is built, it could be sold white-label style to other Vanilla forums for $300 a pop and you might be able to recover some development costs.

Let's discuss. Let's make something happen. And soon! :)



  • rbrahmsonrbrahmson "You may say I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one" NY ✭✭✭

    Perhaps this may help:

    I tried this demo on the Chrome brower on my Android and it worked. The page alludes to iPhone as well.

    So now we need to integrate into notifications...

    I skimmed the notificationscontroller and it has two event hooks (BeforeInformNotifications and InformNotifications) but haven't looked at what is passed to them. Perhaps a plugin could be developed. I haven't researched it much further, too busy right now, but there is hope...

  • phreakphreak Vanilla*APP (White Label) & Vanilla*Skins Shop MVP
    edited March 2016

    @iversun: I am working with two skilled developers on a iOS and Android App. The apps will be native and i am very open to whitelabeling them to some Vanilla forum makers. I am doing the UX. I have been using Tapatalk before and... it was a mess. Those people have very low ethical standards so i made a late but neccessary descision to base my community on some software i can trust.

    As we are also developing other Apps currently the speed of the Vanilla development is currently based on my cash flow. It would make sense to speed up things to rather have an app 3 months earlier than 3 months later. So anyone who like to support is welcome and i am more than happy to crowdfund some costs of the initial product creation.

    Although don't forget: App development is probably about 10 times more work than web development and $300 for iOS and Android won't take the project far. It's not only the initial creation, it's support, updates, plugin integration and so on.

    I totally agree with you that Facebook is a lazy killer for many communties. Discussions are less effective but it's just plain easy for people.

    If you like to know more write me a PM and let's get in contact. I am happy about everyone that is on the same line with me that apps for Vanilla are heavily important to keep your community important.

    • VanillaAPP | iOS & Android App for Vanilla - White label app for Vanilla Forums OS
    • VanillaSkins | Plugins, Themes, Graphics and Custom Development for Vanilla
  • AaronWebsteyAaronWebstey Headband Afficionado Cole Harbour, NS ✭✭✭

    I have people asking about re-enabling Tapatalk, after a recent upgrade/re-theming (thanks to @phreak for the help in fact :) ). I'm concerned about performance, as it seems like their weird install process and unorthodox directories can't possibly bode well for it. Plus, they stopped maintaining the plugin in late 2014? I think I'm going to have to tell them we can't do it.

    That being said, having iPhone and Android apps available, as you guys are describing, would be very, very popular. It's possible I could crowdfund toward this too.

    @phreak , you should set up a crowdfunding run for this. Let people donate at will, set up a couple milestones, etc. Maybe say that if any given forum's users donate $1k ($5k? whatever), then that forum gets branded apps when they're ready?

    This would be huge for us, I think. And for the internet forum community in general.


  • @AaronWebstey said:
    That being said, having iPhone and Android apps available, as you guys are describing, would be very, very popular. It's possible I could crowdfund toward this too.

    TBH, I'm surprised this isn't far more popular, let alone the fact this simply hasn't happened yet. I'm willing to help whatever way I can. The only thing I don't want to do is throw money down the toilet, or throw money at something that is going to take 4 years to develop.

    What can I (we) do to help make this happen by the end of the year? Do we need to get a Trello (or similar) board going? Is it simply money? Let's do this, and let's do this soon! :)

  • AaronWebsteyAaronWebstey Headband Afficionado Cole Harbour, NS ✭✭✭

    @iversun that's my main worry as well - getting people all fired up about it, then flushing a bunch of people's cash down the crapper. I'm also interested to know what I can do.

  • phreakphreak Vanilla*APP (White Label) & Vanilla*Skins Shop MVP
    edited April 2016

    @AaronWebstey: I have plenty of experience with Tapatalk and can only recommend not to use it. If you want more info, we can write in PM about it. Also the way it is implemented had an effect on my boards (i had vulnerabilities, missing functions and so on).

    Regarding Crowdfunding: A regular Crowdfund won't do it. Just having an App developed doesn't necessarily do the job. There is also maintainance, integration of plugins, iOS updates, testing on new device sizes (and Apple has quiet some nowadays) and so on would need some kind of SAS service. I will offer this to a certain number of people that would like to do this with me. I want it headache free for those forum owners so i we will work on this smart and ongoing. I am also a Vanilla forum owner and i need it for multiple forums as well as integrated into other Apps.

    Our progress is that we have almost all the iOS functionality of the core forum, now wer are integrating detailed information like post count, flagging, ... we might have a working internal Beta for iOS in about 8 weeks. Then also Android development will start.

    @iversum and @AaronWebstey: It would be best if you could write me and we try to find a mutual agreement for costs and service for you. I really not wanna get rich on that (my core business is somewhere else) but still i would do a little service for some forums.

    • VanillaAPP | iOS & Android App for Vanilla - White label app for Vanilla Forums OS
    • VanillaSkins | Plugins, Themes, Graphics and Custom Development for Vanilla
  • AaronWebsteyAaronWebstey Headband Afficionado Cole Harbour, NS ✭✭✭

    @phreak I have to get my regular forum sorted first. The header CSS is all wonky and I can't seem to fix it :)

    I've started a thread asking what my users think about having an app. I'll keep you in the loop.


  • rbrahmsonrbrahmson "You may say I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one" NY ✭✭✭

    @phreak - the problem with external service is that it won't work for me - my forum is inside the corporate firewall and they won't let us use anything outside it. . So the key question is whether you will open source the entire software so I can host it inside the firewall?

    Also, some of us have some programming ability, so in the spirit of open source, what's your plan for collaboration?

  • phreakphreak Vanilla*APP (White Label) & Vanilla*Skins Shop MVP

    @AaronWebstey: Another primary research is: How many competitors are in my field that have Apps and would it be a good visibility and user generation method to have an App. In My cases it's this.

    @rbrahmson: For an App you don't need to "host" it in the sense of a web project. People who want the App will get ready IPAs (iOS) and APKs (Android) files and can install them where ever they like. I would really like to take this into the spirit of OpenSource. But look at the Vanilla OS scene, it's rather small (of course still active).

    I'm not sure if we can get a proper development in a time frame thats under 1-2 years through OS. I need my apps now, therefore i pay professional developers that fix a bug today if i want it. I have to run thousands of community members, clients advertisement and i am in a highly competitive market. I need bulletproof Apps and i am willing to rent them to other Vanilla fans if they need it. Though i am willing to agree on special deals for people that have done a lot for the OS community and brought plugins and applications to Vanilla that helped me and others to develop their communities. Also other forums owner who would like to licence the Apps will likely need their own customizations. So there is pretty no real way around this plan.

    • VanillaAPP | iOS & Android App for Vanilla - White label app for Vanilla Forums OS
    • VanillaSkins | Plugins, Themes, Graphics and Custom Development for Vanilla
  • rbrahmsonrbrahmson "You may say I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one" NY ✭✭✭

    @phreak, I understand. I wonder though whether the apps you develop are Vanilla forums only or would work for other forums. The latter may be more complex but perhaps allows for an uneven business model where the Vanilla users (or just the contributors) get some free ride...

  • hgtonighthgtonight ∞ · New Moderator

    @phreak said:
    just having an App developed doesn't necessarily do the job. There is also maintainance, integration of plugins, iOS updates, testing on new device sizes (and Apple has quiet some nowadays) and so on would need some kind of SAS service.

    I do not understand why you would want an app other than a native web view of the mobile site bundled with native notifications. That gets rid of most of the other issues:

    • Maintenance - you already to this
    • Integration of plugins - if it works on mobile, it works on your app
    • iOS updates - this would be simpler if you have a thin wrapper
    • Device sizes - If you are worried about this, you do it already

    Is the concern mostly that you want device specific themes? Material design for android, tile for windows phone, etc.?

    Search first

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  • AaronWebsteyAaronWebstey Headband Afficionado Cole Harbour, NS ✭✭✭

    @hgtonight that is what my users have been telling me, basically - that they don't care about an app, they like the way it looks/feels on their mobile browser. Push notifications would be neat but nobody really seems too rabid about it.

    On the other hand, I see @phreak 's point about competition - even though our current users don't claim to want an app, I'd be willing to bet that having an app would draw some (how many?) users away from our competitors' forums, and generate some buzz.

  • rbrahmsonrbrahmson "You may say I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one" NY ✭✭✭
    edited April 2016

    I see the debate on browser vs native apps all over the internet. I think Google at some point in the past pushed HTML5 as a way to negate the need for apps and that has not succeeded, not because it didn't and does not make sense (why develop twice for the web and then incompatible smartphone platforms), but because the market reality dictated it.

    So given the realities I would like to have a minimalistic app with:
    1. push notifications
    2. Sharing (an Android feature, not sure about iPhone) to post discussion/comment. Basically it allows to share content from any app to other apps (so in this case, to share to the forum via a new post or a new comment).
    3. For more than the basics a jump to the mobile themed forum webview (either embedded browser or to the default one, though in Android embedded webview is ideal).

    My $0.02

  • AaronWebsteyAaronWebstey Headband Afficionado Cole Harbour, NS ✭✭✭

    +$1.00 to @rbrahmson 's $.02 worth. Sharing would be very nice.

  • phreakphreak Vanilla*APP (White Label) & Vanilla*Skins Shop MVP

    @hgtonight: I totally agree with you that this would work... but from a competitive view there are quiet some features that should be integrated natively. The big social networks will start to roll out more and more features (for example instant articles will have a heavy boost this year, for publishers thats a relevant case, even if it's a different medium) and there are quiet some things that - from my opinion - need to be built in. A webview doesn't serve well to the messaging habits people have nowadays. Community members ask each other to leave the community and chat on WhatsApp or Messenger. Caching, an attractive App has to speed up a lot of things that don't work that fast in a webview. And there are other things we look into implementing like calling in RSS feeds to improve the Apps appearance with articles and make it readable while having a bad connection.

    • VanillaAPP | iOS & Android App for Vanilla - White label app for Vanilla Forums OS
    • VanillaSkins | Plugins, Themes, Graphics and Custom Development for Vanilla
  • When people talk of "An App", I always ask what they mean.

    It is very difficult to make the intricate part of a site native. If people are going off an doing their own thing, that is even harder and beyond what can be done generally.

    Apps can be good to get round limitations of a browser not being opened and specific tasks.

    it won't speed up general browsing.

    grep is your friend.

  • Background: I run a few small communities on vanilla. Having notifications (other than email) has always been a request.

    An app has always sounded like the best idea, but push notifications better in most cases,

    Pro's for push notification

    • Low centralised maintenance vs native apps, no 'white label customised apk's etc to be updated, pached ect
    • They will make life simpler as users and admins (no registrations and random plugin conflicts... hopefully)
    • Automatically retain our themes as they were meant to be seen (colours, logos and identity, not just one channel among many)
    • Cheaper, (its $99 USD per year just to get a dev account for ios app publishing alone, google play I think is about £30 GBP and that doesn't include development costs + upkeep. Link to very inaccurate but well illustrated posable cost

    Some cons...

    • Its doesn't feel like it has the same 'clout'
    • Osten push requires external servers (depends)
    • No icon on the phone (though you can add bookmarks on home screens in ios and android for what it's worth)
    • Not quite as 'slick', or quick.

    If ever some kind of crowd funding did happen, maybe part of that would be looking at our favourite themes and optimising those.?

  • Searching for push notification, ending to this thread.
    I have created Android Apps using WebView, and support push Notification, the only problem that I need to create plugin for Vanilla, can someone create it?

    My logic is

    1. Plugin need to receive push address
      Everytime user register to push service in Android App, app will send push Address to user profile in Vanilla, need new field in profile, detecting user based login session, if no session, ignore it.
      I need end point url for this, push address will send using GET or POST.

    2. Store API key from GCM
      Plugin have setting to input API key from Google Cloud Messaging

    3. Send push notification
      When Vanilla send notification through email, plugin will check if push address exists, then send push notification.

    Thats it, simple, I will do the rest in Android.
    And share the code in GitHub so anyone can compile it.

    If user not logged in, everytime user open app, it will try to send push address to Vanilla, until success, only when user start app.

    Everytime push address change, it will send push address to Vanilla.
    Mention me if anyone willing to create the plugin, I will give you PHP code for sending push. And we can collaborate to make it happen.

    Why using WebView?
    The easy case, we only need mobile theme.

    Too bad in iOS, we can't submit WebView only apps.
    But I have an idea, if the Android Success.

  • This Android Apps I created using WebView
    It has floating button, for sending post, share the page and close app.
    Can detect url, so if user get url from email or chat, it will open in this app.
    The WebView cab upload image too

  • R_JR_J Ex-Fanboy Munich Admin

    I've created a plugin that adds push notifications through Pushbullet to Vanilla. I haven't finished it, but it should be a good start for anyone trying to add another push option to Vanilla.

    This plugin requires Vanilla 2.3! It is based on an event that isn't available in 2.2

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