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.
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".
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.