Forum owners who don't care for mobile

Greg

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Yup, been a while :D

Ultimately though, doesn't that leave us with the same issue - in order to satisfy the mobile user we have to sacrifice something - Some combination of content, features, and adspace have to be removed in order for a site to "fit on a phone". And it seems that not only are we expected to make it fit, we're expected to let others decide what can be removed.
There's an implicit assumption here that mobile is inherently more limited. I believe that it's an incorrect assumption, or maybe more accurately it's an incomplete assumption. There are definitely things that you can do on a computer that you can't do on a phone. The reverse is also true.

Most trivially, websites can't do push notifications, which are a powerful vector for sustained engagement. However, there are fundamental differences that separate the mobile user from the desktop user. For instance, in the case of an app, if they've installed it, you have an entirely separate set of concerns from desktop users. On the PC a large part of your concern is likely converting passive browsers into users, whereas in the app the game is 100% around user engagement. App users are also going to likely consume content differently; maybe you push things like featured threads and followed conversations more heavily because it might turn out that mobile users are looking to read content passively for little five minute stints and to reply to things they're already involved in. Basically, don't think of the mobile user as a more limited desktop user. They might be on the go, they have a camera, they have a GPS, you can notify them at any time... these are all things that we can and should use.

I do agree that this isn't something that individual forum owners should be expected to solve. This is a problem that needs to be addressed upstream in the forum software itself, which is a place that has been devoid of innovation and is, in my opinion, the primary reason for forums being relegated to a niche. If the forum software was doing its job properly, this topic would never exist. It's 2017! Over half of all internet traffic is mobile. It's absolutely delinquent that this hasn't been addressed in a first class way upstream, and forum owners need to think about it.
 

zappaDPJ

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Ultimately though, doesn't that leave us with the same issue - in order to satisfy the mobile user we have to sacrifice something - Some combination of content, features, and adspace have to be removed in order for a site to "fit on a phone". And it seems that not only are we expected to make it fit, we're expected to let others decide what can be removed.
I think that's largely true but for me it demonstrates a fundamental flaw in web development strategies especially where forums are concerned.

It used to be that designers would use graceful degradation to create pages for the latest browsers that would also work well with older versions. More modern thinking has the developer using strategies that are diametrically opposed to that. Basic markup is used to cater for the lowest common denominator upon which layers of functionality or enhancements are added to better cater for the end user technology.

I'm not expert enough to say whether this provides a solution to cater for multiple viewing platforms as far as forums are concerned but this general philosophy seems to be something a lot of web developers are employing these days.
 

The Sandman

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I do agree that this isn't something that individual forum owners should be expected to solve. This is a problem that needs to be addressed upstream in the forum software itself, which is a place that has been devoid of innovation and is, in my opinion, the primary reason for forums being relegated to a niche. If the forum software was doing its job properly, this topic would never exist. It's 2017! Over half of all internet traffic is mobile. It's absolutely delinquent that this hasn't been addressed in a first class way upstream, and forum owners need to think about it.
Yes!

And no. :(

For most forum admins that I know, building a forum is a multi-level, multi-faceted, always in progress undertaking. There is no single entity to take the reins and make sure everything works on mobile. Out of the box, a standard XenForo installation with no add-ons and no ads works pretty darn well on a phone. And when it doesn't, XenForo will usually fix it so it does.

But then the forum owner installs some add-ons, and a custom style, and sooner or later some ads. Those will to some extent break the forum's mobile goodness, and there's no easy fix except remove to remove stuff that you don't want to remove. The customization we do to make our forums special - make them stand out from the crowd - is what causes most of the problems we see with mobile. There's certainly no single person "upstream" for us to blame.
 

Citizen K

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I have a dream. The dream is that some saintly developer somewhere has the skills to come up with a "Super Subscribe" app. With this app you can enter and store the logins for every forum you are a member of, all under one "roof". The app will, with added filtering if so desired, feed to its landing screen the usual latest posts type stuff, new posts in forum subscribed threads PM alerts and such from all the forums you are a member of. Every link and notification when click/actioned will lead back to your own mobile/responsive site. Mobile users should like it as there would be no need to navigate multiple dedicated forum apps to deal with, admin should like it because it would NOT be presenting an emasculated site al la the anemic TT interface. of your site and the desktop crowd would like becuase it they would be getting push notifications via their browser of choice. Only pre-requisites would be to have a least a responsive site and the willingness to install the app as a plugin.

Just the thoughts of an Admin of a small niche forum daily engaged with the battle to sway members away from SM.

P.S. I admire the fortitude of some posters in this thread who posted treatise like replies on their phones, I lose my cool if I have to type out more than one sentence on whatsapp.
 
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Greg

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Add-ons breaking mobile integration should be strictly intentional. If the frontend and the backend weren't so tightly coupled, you'd write an add-on such that it implements the backend components that are needed to back whatever it's doing, then explicitly build in support for any frontends that exist. Styles can have well defined shared images and colors such that the building blocks are consistent. Ads are de-facto a solved problem in the mobile space- they might be surfaced slightly differently, but companies like Google have figured out how to display mobile ads.

I honestly believe that the only reason a lot of these things look hard is because it's broken from the top.
 

The Sandman

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I honestly believe that the only reason a lot of these things look hard is because it's broken from the top.
What you're saying makes sense - I'm purposely playing Devil's Advocate here.

And I'm sure there are ways of making forums more mobile friendly. We need to see a paradigm shift from the key forum software developers but they're already set in their ways with little reason to change what they do from their point of view.
 

we_are_borg

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The problem with mobile vs desktop is that its more then only showing content. Forums are not made to show the content on desktop and mobile, we try to but when graphics are involved they fail. I gave an example of what images i did with astromany pictures to big for mobile. You'll need some system in place that can address this serve big images on desktop/tablets and small on mobile and i am not talking about hiding or trick with css. So it needs to be a system that can serve different images to different devices. What you also see with mobile vs desktop is that they want the same theme/style instead of making sure what works on the devices. You see that many hide elements on mobile so lets send a desktop version to your mobile and then hide stuff that does not work on mobile.
 

MarkFL

La Villa Strangiato
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The improved mobile experience:

ainsights.samsung.com_wp_content_uploads_2017_04_dex_additional_lifestyle_image_1.jpg

Now you have a mobile device that is actually internet ready. :cool:
 

Digital Phoenix

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I've mentioned quite a few times that most of my browsing is done via mobile, and as a mostly mobile user, I don't give a rats arse about shiny, flashy features when I'm browsing via mobile.

All I care about is that the content is easily accessible and that I can easily respond to it. Year on year the world is becoming increasingly mobile, people don't want to to have to be shackled to a desk in order to consume anymore.
 

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
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I think it really relates to the niche you're in and the balance on content consumption vs content creation, a key thing I've seen largely elided over in this debate.

Yes, for some niches and debates, mobile is fine. Maybe even the optimal platform as the likes of NodeBB and Discourse are showing: content is invariably not heavily formatted, there might be the occasional image but most content is text which is easy to consume and for the most part not so bad to create given modern auto correct plus things like Swype.

But forums that are heavily about specific kinds of content are always going to be second class citizens on mobile even if we try to pretend they are not. Photography forums for example are definitely stronger on desktop even if affordances are made e.g. auto producing multiple sizes of image to cater to mobile. The reality is that such forums thrive on higher levels of content creation, and specific content creation, than "typical" forums, and unless the content creation method is deliberately kept as simple as Facebook (which may not be sufficient depending on the desires of the forum and its community), it's going to hurt on mobile to publish content.

Forums about coding also have a problem around content creation on mobile, even more drastically than photography forums, because screw typing code on mobile. I say this as someone that has had an iPad for several years and do probably half my browsing on mobile, including forum posting... I'm writing this post on an iPad for example.

My niche is in roleplay, long form text posts with characters' names and character sheets and need to look things up about the characters, the lore, other stories. On a phone, I genuinely cannot imagine this working well, though it's not so bad on tablets, there's enough screen real estate to do split view etc.

And then I remember the average RP forum and its members' sense of aesthetics. Big images, big signatures, big avatars. Very creative people, and using the format to showcase their stuff. Doing this on mobile... doesn't end well.

My experience is that people that are content creators in such an environment do not use phones for content creation unless it's really short form, such as discussing something out of character, but might use tablets for writing RP posts, and will tend toward being on a desktop surprisingly often.

That said, is this true across all forums? No, not even close. The problem is, though, each community is different, their needs differ, and expecting an out of the box package to accommodate everything is going to end sub-optimally for someone.

I wonder what a forum software that was strictly mobile first, desktop second would look like.
 

Nev_Dull

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It seems clear from this discussion there are two primary roadblocks for forum owners when it comes to mobile users: the software and the hardware.

While the current crop of forum software offers responsive design that tries to accommodate all screen sizes, it isn't really meeting the needs of phone users. Forum software needs to be rebuilt to deliver the best user experience on all screens.

There's always someone here talking abut some "innovative" forum software they are working on, most of which is some copy of facebook or other social media software. What we really need is for a developer to build software based on how people actually use forums, rather than kludging together various social media widgets with the same old interface. I don't know what that might look like. Maybe a very minimalist designed software that's optimized to bring the most content to any screen, or perhaps moving to a backend-only product, with downloadable apps to suit the user's screen size.

Even if that new forum software came out tomorrow, it doesn't remove the barriers caused by the hardware itself. Most mobile phone users understand their devices come with limitations. Instead of looking at the virtual world through a window, they choose to look at it through a keyhole. In trading convenience for field of view, the majority of phone users have adapted their workflow, using that device primarily to browse and consume content, or as a tool for writing initial drafts of content. We've seen this mentioned a few times in this thread, and almost all the phone advocates have admitted the desktop offers a better experience for creating content. Maybe when we can build practical, flexible screens, companies can make mobile devices with pullout screens and keyboards to provide a better experience in a small device. Until then, the role of phone users is likely to remain primarily as consumers of content.

So what can a forum owner/admin do, given the current state of the devices and forum software? We need to spend time understanding our sites from the mobile user's point of view and we need to understand the value those users bring to our forums.

Mobile users are, or are becoming, the largest group of readers on our forums. As such, we need to examine some of our old assumptions and conventions. The Sandman mentioned two: graphic design and ads. For years, we've put a huge amount of time, effort and money into developing unique look and feel for our forums, but when it comes to mobile users, graphic design doesn't matter (especially for those who use apps to access the forums). We need to fill their little screens with content, not decoration. Moving away from over-designed sites would save us time and money, and improve the experience for all users. Is it a coincidence that forums were at their height when they were at their simplest?

Ads are another problem. Forums were never designed for advertisements. Even on desktops, they stand out as tacked-on afterthoughts. On mobile, they take up a huge amount of space on a small screen and seriously interrupt the browsing experience. An easy to use, distraction-free experience is what mobile users need. If we're really serious about serving mobile users, we need to look at other means, such as subscriptions, to generate income.

Is all this worth it? As Pete says above, that's up to the individual forum owner. This discussion made me take another look at my mobile user strategy. For my forum, I wouldn't change anything. I've done what I can to make the forum easy to read on a phone; responsive design, no add-ons they can't use, and a pretty clean interface. Looking at the stats, I can see I'm not driving mobile users away. But, as I've stated, they do not contribute much content to the forum either. So for now, their value as forum members is lower than the desktop users who contribute the bulk of the content.
 

billgtr

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Aug 13, 2013
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I do have a mobile theme and mobile detection in my forum and the interface works well enough. However, the vast majority of my volume still comes from desktop. My target audience age is about 25-60 and the vast majority of these people still works in a office and sits in front of a desktop all day long. The peak hours for my forum is something like Mon-Fri 5am to 5pm pst so it's pretty much office hours in all US time zones. Mobile is definitely important but desktop volume still rules for me. I guess that also depends on the theme of your forum. Some topics/themes are definitely more mobile inclined, I can definitely see that.
 

Optimistologist

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Internet usage on Mobile has gone beyond Desktops a long time ago. The gap is only widening with each passing day. But, it is understandable that there are forum owners who still love the desktop experience to make the obvious leap to mobile. The biggest sufferer is the final user. Once the user's patience runs out, they will walk out without any regrets. Then, it will be too late for forum owners to do anything. Nobody on the internet is ready to suffer a mediocre experience and this is something forum owners need to know.

The best way to keep your existing audience engaged and add more users is to ensure that you are listening to their needs and catering to their wants.

If a mobile app is something your users want, don't hesitate - just give it to them.
 

Nev_Dull

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Internet usage on Mobile has gone beyond Desktops a long time ago. The gap is only widening with each passing day. But, it is understandable that there are forum owners who still love the desktop experience to make the obvious leap to mobile.
Welcome to TAZ, Optimistologist.
People love to say that in support of their argument for mobile focused forums. However, no one has provided any reliable evidence or statistics that mobile users are creating as much or more forum content than desktop/laptop users. Since forums need content to survive and grow, all those mobile phone waving users are nice to have, but not nearly as essential as those "dinosaurs" on their computers who create content.
 

LiquidServe

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Welcome to TAZ, Optimistologist.
People love to say that in support of their argument for mobile focused forums. However, no one has provided any reliable evidence or statistics that mobile users are creating as much or more forum content than desktop/laptop users. Since forums need content to survive and grow, all those mobile phone waving users are nice to have, but not nearly as essential as those "dinosaurs" on their computers who create content.
I am the owner of ForumApps and I was talking to one of our customers a couple months back. A little background first. His forum has almost 8 million posts, minimum 700 active visitors at any point of the day.
So this person was using a popular mobile app provider for forums but stopped using it due to poor support and lot of vulnerabilities. Anyways, so he had built an admin script which showed daily number of posts with a variable font-size to reflect the kind of activity on that day. His current number of posts per day was around 4,000 and he mentions that he used to get anywhere around 10,000-12,000 posts per day when he had the app for his forum and the activity dropped as soon as he had to let the app go. Well he had no option then, but he had the opportunity now to restore the activity of his forum to it's former level and he took it.

People are definitely going mobile, there is no doubt about that, they want access to things... FAST AND EASY and there is no doubt that people will be using forums on their desktop but the main idea to think about is that you're alienating a huge majority of your users on the premise that only "dinosaurs" on their computers, create content.

PS: Posted from mobile ;)
 

Nev_Dull

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I say good for that forum. They are obviously doing something right. However, anecdotal evidence from a couple of forums, well nice to have, isn't statistically important enough to warrant making what could be costly changes for many admins.

As said in an early posts (I know it's hard to read them all on those teeny little screens :D) No one here is against mobile phone users. I appreciate all my users, and my forum has a responsive style that is usable on a phone, if not ideal. My stats show that phone users are not significant contributors to my forum. Despite improvements, mobile phone interfaces are significantly more difficult to use for creating content than a keyboard. Until that changes, they will remain predominantly devices for consuming content. I would like to make it easier for my phone users to consume my content. At present, though, it isn't worth the investment.

If you want real change, you need to look to the forum developers. Instead of adding more bells, whistles, and other claptrap to the same old structure, developers need to think of all those different users and all their different devices. I would like to see someone develop a new software that is just a powerful backend which gives us all the tools we need to organize, manage, and provide proper search for all the content. The front side would be app driven. Users download the app that suits their device to give them the best experience possible. That won't fix the problems inherent in creating content on a phone, but it would certainly help with using it.
 

LiquidServe

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I say good for that forum. They are obviously doing something right. However, anecdotal evidence from a couple of forums, well nice to have, isn't statistically important enough to warrant making what could be costly changes for many admins.

As said in an early posts (I know it's hard to read them all on those teeny little screens :D) No one here is against mobile phone users. I appreciate all my users, and my forum has a responsive style that is usable on a phone, if not ideal. My stats show that phone users are not significant contributors to my forum. Despite improvements, mobile phone interfaces are significantly more difficult to use for creating content than a keyboard. Until that changes, they will remain predominantly devices for consuming content. I would like to make it easier for my phone users to consume my content. At present, though, it isn't worth the investment.

If you want real change, you need to look to the forum developers. Instead of adding more bells, whistles, and other claptrap to the same old structure, developers need to think of all those different users and all their different devices. I would like to see someone develop a new software that is just a powerful backend which gives us all the tools we need to organize, manage, and provide proper search for all the content. The front side would be app driven. Users download the app that suits their device to give them the best experience possible. That won't fix the problems inherent in creating content on a phone, but it would certainly help with using it.
Could you please elaborate what you mean by the new software that you are referring to?
 

Nev_Dull

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I'm no software developer but the concept isn't new. Think of a CMS -- I don't mean Wordpress or Drupal or the other things that get called CMSes. I mean a real, enterprise level content management system. Most of those have no frontend, no presentation layer -- that is provided by a separate web server or through apps. What they do provide are a whole suite of powerful tools to let you capture, manage, and output the content in various ways.

Example: From the content entered for one product, a CMS could simultaneously output the product pages for the website, the printed brochures for customers, the product manual, the support documentation for the customer care staff, and the advertising material.

What could that mean for a forum? That's up to the forum and the admin. At a minimum, I'd like to be able to index all my threads based on meta-data so tsearch would be really useful. I'd like to able to list related threads to the current discussion. I'd like users to be able to reorganize the topic list on the fly, or only display those that are relevant to them. I'd like complete separation between content and presentation, and text from images. And of course, I'd like the output to match the device(s) the user has.
 

LiquidServe

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Example: From the content entered for one product, a CMS could simultaneously output the product pages for the website, the printed brochures for customers, the product manual, the support documentation for the customer care staff, and the advertising material.
What you mentioned here is called automation, we do it at our company. We've implemented process for other companies but something like this requires capital and strategy. Not everybody has to print brochures. It totally depends on the demand of the business.

What Wordpress and XenForo are doing is that they are making forums accessible. You can hire a team of developers to build out a process to generate PDF brochures, print them by connecting it to an API, use a business account with Mailman or some other mail service to deliver it. The possibilities are endless and it all depends on the use case of particular business.
No process is one software fit all. It's all a big jig-saw. All you have to do is arrange parts together and decide what works best for you.

What could that mean for a forum? That's up to the forum and the admin. At a minimum, I'd like to be able to index all my threads based on meta-data so tsearch would be really useful. I'd like to able to list related threads to the current discussion. I'd like users to be able to reorganize the topic list on the fly, or only display those that are relevant to them. I'd like complete separation between content and presentation, and text from images. And of course, I'd like the output to match the device(s) the user has.
I've read threads on XenForo.com recently where forums are integrating Algolia(don't quote me on the name, I guess it was called this) which makes contextual search easier. XenForo does a good job with making their platform extensible. Again, what you require is just an addon away. You just need to find the right one or develop them yourself if they haven't been developed yet.
 
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