37

The Stack Exchange iOS and Android apps have been around for a while. Today, what sounds like a version of it for Stack Overflow only was launched.

What was the reasoning behind the decision to spend developer time pulling the SE general app apart to make the SO-only version, instead of using the time to improve the existing app?

9

TL;DR

The Stack Exchange app is used by lots of power users, but people in general do not know that Stack Overflow == Stack Exchange or that we have an app. This is a problem since the company is now focused on growing Stack Overflow. We didn't want to just completely re-purpose the Stack Exchange app, since it has a use for people on multiple network sites, but we need an app for people who are only Stack Overflow users to try to grow that audience.

Background

The Stack Exchange apps were built with the whole Stack Exchange network in mind. The apps are great for people who participate in more than one Stack Exchange community, and we purposefully made them to help convert 9 AM to 5 PM Stack Overflow users into Stack Exchange users.

The Stack Exchange app first launched on January 2014. In September 2015 we named the entire company (back) to Stack Overflow, instead of Stack Exchange.

Since then, company goals have shifted from "converting Stack Overflow users to Stack Exchange users" (the motivation with which we first made our mobile apps) to doubling down on the Stack Overflow brand and helping "programmers learn, share their knowledge, and advance their careers".

Mobile Team

That history out of the way, let's dive into the mobile team in particular.

I run the team, and I've been thinking about two questions for a while:

  • Is the mobile team working on the right things?

  • At what point do we press the throttle on mobile initiatives, if any?

Currently the Stack Exchange apps have around 15,000 daily active users, iOS and Android combined. According to Quantcast, on a given day we have around 1 million mobile-web unique users. I know comparing DAUs to "uniques" is a bit messy but a rough division of the two implies the current Stack Exchange apps get around 1.5% of the traffic our mobile website does (and stats on posts, comments, votes, etc. are similar).

The mobile team consists of two engineers, me and Brian. Stack Overflow as a whole employs 51 engineers. That means the mobile team makes 3.9% of the entire engineering staff.

The issue here is the contrast in those two numbers.

At previous gigs I would've loved 15,000 DAUs, however when it doesn't correspond to even 5% or 10% of the total mobile-web traffic, it implies that we are working on the wrong thing.

Note that I don't mean wrong thing as in "this is a stupid idea", but as in "given that we are a corporation with a set amount of money in the bank, what is the best use of these engineers' time to help grow the product and keep the company in business?"

It is possible that if we had continued to spend time working on fixing up and adding things to the Stack Exchange apps then more people would use them. However, I don't think that "more people" has any possibility of being "a factor of ten more people", which makes it hard to justify adding more engineers to the team.

So, we needed to try something different to grow the app to a size where it is pulling its weight.

Enter the Stack Overflow App

Right now, a majority of the company is focused on Stack Overflow: Q&A, Documentation, Dev Story, Jobs. As is, those don't fit in the Stack Exchange application, because the Stack Exchange application is not just for programmers.

With the Stack Overflow app, we're trying to move my team out of the pigeonhole we've gotten ourselves in to a place where we can actually get to a size to affect Stack Overflow as a whole.

My hope is that the Stack Overflow app prospers and is downloaded by tens of thousands of people, who know of Stack Overflow but have no idea what Stack Exchange is. If that happens, we can add a Dev Story editor, Documentation, or Jobs to the app.

If that growth doesn't happen, then our time is probably better spent improving the mobile web side of Stack Overflow, since that sees a lot more usage right now than the apps. We still intend to support these apps, but if we can't get them up to the next level of usage then it is unlikely that we'll be able to grow the team to the size we'd like.

  • 10
    "The Stack Exchange app is used by lots of power users, but people in general do not know that Stack Overflow == Stack Exchange or that we have an app." If that's the entire reason, why was renaming the existing app not a viable solution? That would not only solve your issue of people searching for the wrong thing, but has more potential for getting more users out onto the rest of the network as well as just SO. – ArtOfCode May 16 '17 at 18:28
  • 4
    I mean the only reason power users use the app is the notifications. You could scrap all the other features and just make it open a link to the mobile site and it'd be just as useful. There isn't much reason to separate the app into two just for what's essentially a notification provider with a crippled SE interface. – Jason C May 16 '17 at 18:32
  • @ArtOfCode because it's not the Stack Overflow app.. it's a Stack Exchange app, with a feed, and recommended content from all sites. If a person who has no idea what Stack Exchange is downloaded the Stack Overflow app, they'd expect to see Stack Overflow Q&A. – Kasra Rahjerdi May 16 '17 at 18:32
  • 1
    So once a user logs in, or an already-logged-in user opens the app, send them to their highest-rep site's home within the app. – ArtOfCode May 16 '17 at 18:34
  • 6
    @JasonC That's no longer the goal of the company. Stack Exchange Inc doesn't run a network of Q&A sites with some extra bells and whistles for programmers. Stack Exchange Inc runs several services for programmers, and in its spare time does hosts some other Q&A sites. – user642796 May 16 '17 at 18:36
  • 2
    I donno. To me, a big reason I wouldn't recommend the SE app on android at this point of time is the complete lack of bugfixes over 2 years. If the SO app fails, can we get a notification only app please? Also what kind of testing and user feedback led to deciding that the average, non core user (and really, that's who you're talking about here) is going to install an app? – Journeyman Geek May 16 '17 at 23:33
  • @JourneymanGeek yep if there isn't a sizable market for the app we might add Web Push Notifications support to Android, or get something close to a PWA, as we double down on mobile web. – Kasra Rahjerdi May 16 '17 at 23:37
  • 6
    er... I'm confused. Shouldn't there have been some form of market research first? I'm expecting to see "So, we talked to a sample of X users and Y% felt that a SO only application would be far more useful than the current multi site application". SE's data driven these days no? This feels a little speculative, but I might just be grumpy not having my coffee yet. – Journeyman Geek May 16 '17 at 23:51
  • As it is, the SO app doesn't seem to offer anything that the SE app or mobile web can't. Until it can offer something, I can see no reason why it was worth creating a new app over renaming and improving the other one. – angussidney May 17 '17 at 11:59
  • 2
    @angussidney the Stack Overflow app can have Jobs, or Documentation, or a Dev Story editor. Things that have no place in a Stack Exchange app. Right now the apps are the same, but what I want to test is "will the SO app get 2x more organic downloads per day than SE?" -- if so, then I'm adding in Jobs or Dev Story ASAP. – Kasra Rahjerdi May 17 '17 at 13:55
  • No access to review queues makes the SE app feel intentionally cobbled so I rarely use it. It doesn't sound like that is in the new app either. Alienating your community volunteers this way doesn't seem like a wise choice – chicks May 17 '17 at 18:07
  • 3
    I'll download the Stack Overflow app when you add Jobs to it, until then I don't see the point of downloading an app that just duplicates the functionality of the Stack Exchange app. – numaroth May 18 '17 at 20:49
  • Hmm. What I don't get it. The Stackoverflow-App show Stackexchange-Notifications and opens the Stackexchange-App. I think renaming is a good idea. – Peter Weber Jul 20 '17 at 22:00
  • @KasraRahjerdi So the name "Stack Overflow Inc." is good enough to describe the company which runs the Stack Exchange network, but at the same time "Stack Overflow" is a terrible name to describe an app which supports the Stack Exchange network? – Nemo May 19 '18 at 7:19
  • 1
    @user642796 that's probably an accurate description of the current state of affairs, but note that the announcement claimed that «Our commitment to the Stack Exchange network is completely unchanged, and we’ll continue to invest in its expansion and growth» – Nemo May 19 '18 at 7:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .