-54

As we've recently mentioned, we are no longer actively supporting our Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange apps on iOS and Android, and they have both been delisted from the App Store and Google Play. While we are maintaining key APIs that allow the apps to keep running for those who have already installed them, we are deprecating and turning off app-specific API features as the need arises.

One such feature is the mobile feed for the Stack Exchange app. It will go away Wednesday, June 30, 2021. The Stack Exchange app's mobile feed serves a similar function as the web-based inbox, allowing users to discover new content and see changes in their reputation. (The Stack Overflow app never had a mobile feed.)

Screenshot of Stack Exchange mobile feed

We decided to turn off the mobile feed because its performance requirements (especially on the database) are too heavy for us to be able to maintain it any longer.

Starting June 30 (late afternoon in Eastern time), the mobile feed will no longer actively pull in new items. Instead, it will display a single item: a message that the mobile feed has been turned off, with a link to this Meta post.

You will continue to receive notifications through the app such as inbox notifications and chat pings.

15
  • 1
    Can you share what the exact endpoint is that is going to be turned off? Is it this one: stackexchange.com/hot-questions-for-mobile ?
    – rene
    Jun 28 at 15:34
  • 7
    @rene No endpoint is being turned off, but /1/feed and /1/feed/anon (not publicly documented, not part of the network API) will stop serving content. Jun 28 at 15:37
  • 3
    @rene I don't imagine that URL going away any time soon unless we were to kill Hot Network Questions entirely. It's just a thin JSON wrapper around the same data as stackexchange.com/questions?tab=hot Jun 28 at 15:45
  • 5
    @BrianNickel thanks for confirming. I have an SE HNQ Feeds for chat webapp that serves a lot of chat rooms around the network. The webapp relies on the /hot-questions-for-mobile endpoint. We're all good then.
    – rene
    Jun 28 at 15:53
  • 3
    user writes: relevant xkcd Jun 28 at 16:04
  • 4
    @BrianNickel thanks for the clarification. If the endpoint rene mentioned gets turned off, I'd like to know as well, since I use it (continually) for some analysis.
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Jun 28 at 16:36
  • 1
    I'd like to add the existing android-app-feed and ios-app-feed tags to thisquestion, but too bad they won't fit :') Also, the memory of the interesting-but-kinda-buggy feeds on the Android app... (ref: 1, 2) Jun 28 at 18:11
  • you mentioned chat pings specifically, are all other notifications going to go away, such as comment pings?
    – Kevin B
    Jun 28 at 21:57
  • 3
    @KevinB There are no changes to any notifications, those were just two examples. Good catch!
    – Kyle Pollard StaffMod
    Jun 28 at 22:05
  • As I understand (and I could be wrong) - the 'inbox' is its own endpoint(s) - api.stackexchange.com/docs/user-unread-notifications and api.stackexchange.com/docs/user-notifications. I believe (and I could be even more wrong) the site proper uses this too.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jun 28 at 22:20
  • @JourneymanGeek The site doesn't use those. SO for Teams notifications and chat event reminders don't show in the API, but do show on the site. Jun 29 at 4:41
  • 2
    This change has now been implemented. The Feed should now only show a link to this Meta post. If there are any unexpected problems with the app as a result of this change, please let us know.
    – Kyle Pollard StaffMod
    Jun 30 at 18:03
  • 20
    If there are enough people using the app, that it's causing noticable drain on the system, I hope it's planned to update this and provide a fix instead of removing it altogether. Or is SE never planning on having an app that's not just a glorified browser? (...really? No app for one of the top computer sites?)
    – BruceWayne
    Jun 30 at 21:13
  • @BruceWayne Unfortunately, yes.
    – 41686d6564
    Jun 30 at 22:03
  • 40
    This is an unfortunate trend. I've been using the app daily for like 6 years. I was really hoping that it would be given new life at some point. The mobile version of SO is largely unusable, so getting rid of the app kind of kills any mobile participation on the site. Jul 1 at 22:41
100

Ironically, I'm writing this answer from the App.

I am dismayed by this decision, and per comments, the further decision to shutter all SE Apps. I don't see a single comment from SE saying that a new app is being developed, etc. Just some comments on how the app is apparently used so much, that some older code is bogging the system down. (Can someone at SE not simply ask how to make app requests more efficient? If only there was a site for that...)

There are enough users using the app that it drains some resources, and SE's response is not to fix or make the app better, but just abandon it and its users? I am curious, of those users who post/interact with the app, what percentage is via the app vs Browser? I trust someone did that basic research before shutting the app all down, so I would like to know.

For a site ranked #137 in global engagement according to Alexa (take that for what you will), this is a very surprising move in my opinion. I don't think the devs/executives at SE need to be told how popular Apps are for customer engagement, branding, etc.

The fact that a website that is trying to be the primary place to find your programming answers (and other topics, on the broader SE network) for everyone, is shutting down their app tells me a lot. This coupled with the recent internal goings-on/firings/resignations sounds like a death-knell for the site's more active users, or even folks who are interested but don't want their browser to have to maintain a login/cookies on their cell phone.

Edit: I keep seeing that the App was killed due to relatively small user base. Again, apps are quite the popular way to interact with websites/companies -- why kill the app, instead of actually taking initiative to make it better so more people do use it? Perhaps people installed it, without knowing it's no longer being maintained, and uninstalled assuming the company can't even make a decent App?

Edit2: also, StakcExchange did a terrible job announcing this to the community. The very first sentence in the OP links to an Answer to a Question. This is where highly important information for users is given? Hoping that we click all questions on Meta for any site wide updates? And then sometimes get a little defensive about the App, and tell us that this has been announced previously? I feel very disrespected. Looking at the question alone linked to in OP, they did their good due diligence and browsed for an answer and couldn't find a simple announcement from the company officially stating their position on the app.

14
  • For what it's worth, this isn't the app shut-down notice; that was officially posted in April.
    – zcoop98
    Jul 1 at 16:59
  • 7
    I use the app solely for notifications. It would even be more convenient if when i clicked on a notification, it'd open my browser rather than trying to open a question with the app.
    – Kevin B
    Jul 1 at 18:02
  • 1
    @KevinB If you choose your browser as the app to open with and set it to always use it that should solve this minor issue.
    – l3l_aze
    Jul 5 at 20:50
  • 3
    To answer your question about numbers: At the apps' peaks, the Android app saw a bit over 10k active users and the iOS app only about 3k. The user base for the apps was incredibly small even when we decided to stop working on them and has only diminished since then (mostly due to them not being maintained). We're talking about like <.01% of daily visitors doing so from these apps, which is why continuing to spend resources on scheduled tasks to generate the feeds makes little sense.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Jul 9 at 19:09
  • @animuson I understand about the relatively few users coming via the app. Has it been discussed that, perhaps the reason is because the app is severely lacking (and as noted elsewhere, not actively developed for years?). Very interesting (and again, very disappointing) move by a billion dollar computer focused "tech" company. I really hope there's a big reveal that a new, actually functioning and engaging app, is coming.
    – BruceWayne
    Jul 9 at 19:36
  • We have no plans to develop a new app at this time. Our efforts are currently dedicated to finishing and refining the responsive design as the de facto mobile and desktop experience.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Jul 10 at 1:08
  • This has been underway since the November 2017 mass layoff. Why are you surprised? Jul 10 at 10:37
  • 1
    @P.Mort.-forgotClayShirky_q because again, one of the most popular computer related sites (one goal of which is too be THE place for your programming questions) is actively abandoning it's app with no plans for a future app. Am I the only one who thinks that's odd??
    – BruceWayne
    Jul 10 at 12:24
  • 1
    And I get it, but it also stinks to be explicitly told that as a company, it's not worth your time to fix an app for about 10,000 users, and instead of fixing it on the backend, we are just being abandoned.
    – BruceWayne
    Jul 10 at 12:38
  • 4
    @BruceWayne There is no "fixing" it on the backend. The feeds operated off scheduled tasks that would put together lists of items and cache them, then mix in personal things (like inbox and rep changes) on the fly for efficiency. All of these tasks are very resource intensive because they have to connect to multiple databases in order to get everything and were already optimized as much as possible. Those scheduled tasks ran always, regardless of how many users ended up consuming that cached information, and they weren't worth running anymore for so little consumption.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Jul 10 at 20:14
  • 8
    The "mobile responsive" website doesn't support markdown "preview". This makes it very difficult to write a well formatted answer. I get it's way more work to support multiple native apps + a mobile responsive website. I guess my point of writing this is to reiterate that one more user (me) would like a top-notch mobile experience, regardless of how it's delivered.
    – dana
    Jul 11 at 8:55
  • @zcoop98 - Is the thread you linked to really the "Official announcement"? In an Answer to a question??
    – BruceWayne
    Jul 14 at 17:55
  • 1
    @BruceWayne No, it doesn't really, but it's all we received. See this comment where I asked about this exact thing for more context on why there wasn't one.
    – zcoop98
    Jul 14 at 18:48
  • 1
    @zcoop98 - Thanks! I was going to say, I never saw anything official either. Appreciate your comments.
    – BruceWayne
    Jul 14 at 19:22
48

I don't know if there are any (stack)apps that use this specific endpoint, but if there are, wouldn't you agree that a one day notice is extremely short?

I know the company has no (contractual) obligations towards those users that maintain apps. But I would hope that you (plural) feel at least some moral obligation towards these users and next time announce changes like this at least 6-8 days before.

2
  • 1
    I don't think the endpoint is public. But really don't know for sure. If it is, I totally agree that one day notice is too short. :/ Jun 29 at 6:33
  • 2
    I simply assumed "June 30, 2021" to be a typo for "July 31, 2021". Jul 9 at 9:20
43

Well, that's me about 90% cut down on answering people, because I'm happy with the app and don't want to switch between app and browser. I am not impressed by the short notice really, either.

Given most websites try to enhance discoverability, this seems a very retrograde action.

Still I accept it's been decided. Please try to find a way to undecided it more efficiently, that works. Because up till today the feed has been my main way to find interesting questions across the Stack Exchange sites, and to discover new Stack Exchange sites I like.

I've been quite a keen, enthusiastic, stacker.

Now, that's 90% dead. And I have no easy-for-me way to do so.

That's kind of sad, don't you think?

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  • 2
    The apps have been unsupported for years and we have repeatedly told users that app-specific paths, like this one, could disappear at any moment. There was quite a lot of advance notice.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Jul 1 at 13:43
  • 24
    I'm sure so. Except obviously, this didn't happen. A user has no obvious way to know an app is "unsupported for years", and if there was anything "repeatedly told" then its not actually told if it doesn't appear where people actually would look. Which would be my email, and feeds on the app. Not a thing in either, much less anything recently or repeatedly. If you are warning app users, then you kinda need to warn them in ways that app users will see. But that's moot. The issues aren't "we warned you". The issue is, regardless of warning, the action taken damages contribution.
    – Stilez
    Jul 1 at 13:59
  • 1
    That is an underlying problem with something being unsupported. To properly warn people, it would have required further app development to incorporate warnings into the app, which was a hard no. We don't even have an Android app developer anymore. So all we really had was here on meta. Unfortunately, there just really isn't anything we can do about those of you who still use the app in this way but encourage you to use the website instead.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Jul 1 at 14:11
  • 2
    I will give you this direct warning, though: at some point in the future, no idea when, we will shut down the apps completely. We only kept them alive because many users enjoyed being able to get notifications through them and indicated that was the only reason they even used the apps. Whenever we are finally able to implement web push notifications, there will likely be a serious discussion about dropping the apps.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Jul 1 at 14:15
  • 11
    Past history is moot. You could have hired a dev for a day to add a simple startup splash screen or a text message above the feed. If thats a days work id be amazed. You could have added dummy items to the feed from the API. So don't say you told users repeatedly when you did absolutely nothing all this time, except via the website -- which those affected were by definition rarely or never going to hear about. Please look into ways to revive this in some manner that is economical, because those caring to DL an app are probably some of your keenest users.
    – Stilez
    Jul 1 at 14:17
  • 4
    I will say there is little value in thinking up "possible solutions" as it is far more complicated than that. E.g. updating either app would have required very significant time investments because they hadn't been maintained in so long - we would not have been allowed to publish an update to them without making many other changes. Neither of them are even listed on the stores anymore because of those issues. But I also see little value in continuing this conversation here - nothing surrounding the apps is going to change. They are dead and you should expect it to stop working eventually.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Jul 1 at 14:25
  • A shame. But thank you for the heads up. Sadly I'm not sure whether or not web push will work for me - it depends on matters I don't know about. Namely, I run my phone free of Google proprietary software, which means if push notifications require Google's assistance, and not just a modern browser, that's in doubt. I suspect I'm not the only google-free user in this highly tech-aware community.
    – Stilez
    Jul 1 at 14:50
  • 1
    Web push is implemented by the browser. Afaik all of the major players Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari support it, though I don't know if all of them also support it on their mobile browsers (I believe they do).
    – animuson StaffMod
    Jul 1 at 14:57
  • 2
    @animuson Is there a reason there wasn't a formal announcement post made about the state of the apps prior to this? I just dug through previous posts here and on Meta.SO, and all I can find is the community FAQ created last year and some staff answers on posts asking about the app(s), but not a single standalone announcement-style post from staff itself.
    – zcoop98
    Jul 1 at 17:10
  • 2
    @zcoop98 Because our deciding to kill the apps was a direct result of some of those questions poking and prodding at us about their status, and those were appropriate places to make those statements. When development initially stopped so long ago, back in like 2015, it was meant to be a temporary pause. Which devolved into "no plans to start again" to shutting down the Stack Overflow apps to delisting the Stack Exchange apps. I don't think anyone here ever considered a network-wide featured announcement because the mobile app user base is very small.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Jul 1 at 17:24
  • 3
    @animuson at which point did SE decide to not develop the app any further? I am still very overwhelmed by that fact as I only learned it today. And I'm sure there would have been a way to let users know in advance. Why, for example, didn't SE tell the app users e.g. 2 days in advance?
    – danzel
    Jul 1 at 18:10
  • @danzel Formally, we admitted we weren't going back to them at the beginning of 2020. But no one has been "assigned" to them in any capacity since mid-2017 and the SO apps were delisted (and now no longer work) in mid-2019.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Jul 1 at 18:16
  • @Stilez - I'm under the impression push notifications rely on GCN (or FCN - there's no mention of an update). I think push notifications already do (should?) rely on google. I'm not a developer I mean in theory you could poll every so often but that's wasteful - but some things do rely on google. Now I'm wondering what else SE runs that the apps rely on....
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jul 4 at 1:59
  • What do you mean by "find a way to undecided it more efficiently"? Can you elaborate? Jul 10 at 10:35
29

Unfortunately this update renders the app almost useless to me. I found the feed of all notifications very useful, but other items in the feed were of little use. It allowed me to see comments, answers, and chat pings without marking them as read. A substantial fraction of the messages require an action I cannot or prefer not to take on the phone, so it is best to only open the inbox on the computer when I can react to everything without forgetting. Many of these have to do with moderation (I moderate on Latin SE) or substantial edits or otherwise require using several pages at once.

Would it be possible to replace the feed with an inbox feed that doesn't mark stuff as read? Or if you can provide a switch that allows me to stop the app from marking anything read, that'd work too. Or just show my inbox in the feed but don't consider it read. Would any of these, or something similar, be possible? That'd be immensely useful and greatly appreciated.

Can we continue to receive notifications through the app such as inbox notifications and chat pings without marking them as read?

8
  • 3
  • 4
    I second this. The only reason I used the feed was because it didn't clear the notifications. Such a shame! The only thing that's left in the app now that's kind of useful is HNQ.
    – 41686d6564
    Jun 30 at 22:11
  • 2
    I'm surprised this hasn't been requested more, it'd be really useful; the original request that bobble linked is from way back in 2010, and the post only has 6 duplicates ever. The most recent is a deleted one from 3 years ago, and all others are from 2014 or prior.
    – zcoop98
    Jun 30 at 23:09
  • 1
    I wonder if the unread api call marks stuff... read when called. If it doesn't, in theory a third party notification app could leverage on that...
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jul 1 at 2:17
  • @JourneymanGeek yes it doesn't mark them as read, and it's rather easy to use too, with the tryout functionality of the documentation: meta.stackexchange.com/a/367032/295232
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Jul 1 at 5:29
  • 2
    @Glorfindel This could be useful, yes. However, the feed was very convenient, specifically because it works on mobile (where you're most likely to not want to clear the notifications) without jumping through hoops. The /unread endpoint, on the other hand, would be a nice-to-have with the help of a userscript but that won't work (as easily) on mobile.
    – 41686d6564
    Jul 1 at 11:48
  • @41686d6564 thanks for spotting that. I agree the mobile feed is easier to use :)
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Jul 1 at 11:53
  • 1
    @Glorfindel Well, it's better than nothing, I guess. I just tested the link in your answer and it works as expected. Thank you! :)
    – 41686d6564
    Jul 1 at 11:58
19

This is disappointing.

I have been wondering why I stopped seeing content in the mobile app. The mobile app has become my primary interaction tool with SE, both for finding answers and for offering them. Even when I am at my computer, I open the app to find answers. I know my computer also works, but I find the extra screen convenient.

For answering questions, I can keep the app open on my phone for hours, coming back to an answer while waiting, while a passenger in the car, anytime when I would otherwise be wasting time reading Facebook or scrolling email. It is so convenient! I loved it!

Now I understand the change, and I will stop wondering what is wrong with my network or my phone. I should have clicked the notice sooner, but skimming it I didn't read it as permanent, but rather as a temporary problem report.

Too bad for me, probably good for the SE bottom line. Why?

First, they don't need to maintain or refresh the apps. This saves labor and other costs.

Second, the server load may be reduced and save some cloud money.

And third, and I would guess most important, mobile apps are notoriously hard to monetize. The screen are small. There is less room for ads and additional links to other SE fee-based products. The rich cookie collections on the computer browser are unavailable.

In the world of for-profit enterprise, maximizing profit is game. Provide the minimal competitive product with the maximum income stream at the minimum cost. This was not the original vision, but it is our reality. It is very difficult for founders to realize even a modest windfall for their efforts without relinquishing control to those who will never share the vision.

Never-the-less, the world is better for the time when the vision reigned. I thank the founders for their vision, for the challenges they overcame executing on it, and hope that they realized some benefit to compensate them for their loss of control.

Thank you for Stack Overflow, the expansion to Stack Exchange, and the value you have added to the world.

This answer comes through the app.

2
  • 2
    The apps haven't been maintained in years, so no savings there.
    – Luuklag
    Jul 4 at 19:19
  • @Luuklag There was a minor fix over the last couple years, but it was server-side otherwise it likely wouldn't have had anything done.
    – l3l_aze
    Jul 5 at 20:52
16

Instead, it will display a single item: a message that the mobile feed has been turned off, with a link to this Meta post.

Have the plans changed? The Android app (left) does not show anything for me anymore (but I did not use it for a while). The last item for the iOS app corresponds to the end of June 30th, but no message either.

Android app with empty feed iOS app with non-updated feed

3
  • 3
    I saw the mentioned message once but now it has disappeared and the feed is empty (on Android)
    – guntbert
    Jul 2 at 17:04
  • 1
    Had that happen on android. I think its caching
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jul 6 at 9:20
  • 1
    It was working fine for me, then no posts at all for a few days, then just this announcement since today.
    – gronostaj
    Jul 9 at 12:20
8

Taking out an application because it was too successful? Isn't this just the opposite of what would be expected?

As a frequent participant on SE since a decade, this app is an important means for keeping in contact with posters and users on posts on which I'm currently active. I'm not after all in front of my computer for the entire day.

It seems a shame that a website that unites some of the best and most knowledgeable technical people on the planet in numerous discussions, would disable such an important tool for communication.

I would rather expect SE to go back on the "status-declined" of the Meta post
Can the Stack Exchange app become open source?

It would make better sense for SE to ask its community for help, if this app was programmed in such an inefficient manner that it became an insupportable burden on the SE servers.

I would suggest to publish the app's source, as well as that of the server modules that handle its requests. I'm sure that good advice would be forthcoming, as well as the programming support that SE might not be able to dedicate to this project at the moment.

7

I am not a big fan of native apps since a PWA can be used instead.

The problem is that the SE sites are not mobile-friendly and the page is atrocious. It is the "use desktop version" in my Android Chrome.

This probably means that I will not be looking at SE sites on my mobile anymore :(

For a modern company, the fact that the mobile version sucks so much is not understandable.

2

Instead, it will display a single item: a message that the mobile feed has been turned off, with a link to this Meta post.

You will continue to receive notifications through the app such as inbox notifications and chat pings.

I don’t see a message that the mobile feed has been turned off; I just see old items in the feed:

Screenshot of feed on app

Moreover, in the last day or so, I have not received any notifications through the app, though it says here that those will continue.

Am I missing something?

#postedfromtheapp

2
  • 1
    Its caching. When I cleared my application cache, its all gone - and I suspect its dated to when the API was removed. Notifications work well for me though
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jul 11 at 20:51
  • 1
    @JourneymanGeek I logged out and back in, and cleared cache. Now it removed all the old stuff except this post, but still has no message that the feed has been turned off. Also still not getting notifications from the app.
    – Alex
    Jul 11 at 22:45

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