Communities in Nonsocial Mobile Apps

Nonsocial apps with a social community inside of them. It seems to make sense since you already have a captive audience. However, does it always make sense? Let’s first dive into mobile apps that come with communities.

Besides the obvious social mobile apps, there are multiple apps with communities aka groups inside of them. These apps are not primarily social apps, but they attempt to support a community. Since humans are social beings, it can be a nice feature which can make the app more appealing and thus used more often.

Some Community Supporting Apps:

  • Argus – It’s a highly social activity tracker app that has a groups section. There’s more on Argus further down in this article. iPhone and Android apps exist.
  • Coursera has a “Discussions” area in the iPhone app. There’s an Android app too. Discussions are not available until a course starts. So, one cannot peek inside right away and explore it.
  • Lose It! – Weight Loss Program and Calorie Counter – Has a “Social” section with many groups in it. The group activity in it is kind of strong. Strongest are the groups which are promoted as “Featured Groups”. iPhone app and Android app exist.
  • Not quite a discussions area, but Udemy has a Q & A section which has questions directed at the instructor in a particular instructor. This provides longterm value with credibility in the information since the answers come from the instructor. However, there is no sense of community. They offer an iPhone app and an Android app.
  • It’s worth noting that I have seen apps drop support for groups. That can sometimes be the smartest move.

More on Argus

The target audience of the app focuses on people who like to be social while tracking health, fitness, meditation, sleep and other trackable activities. Even though the semi-new groups section is pretty dead, there’s a novel tie in from a group into the tracked activities of group members which I find interesting.

It’s interesting in how it provides a kind of newsfeed style of tracked activities. You can tap on a button in the group and see a combined newsfeed from the group members. Compared to the messages button, this has much more activity. Unfortunately, most of the activities have nothing to do with the particular group you are in since they are not filtered. At a glance, it’s also a slightly confusing user experience.

Also, the downside of the groups section is that it’s slow to load and has an annoying bug which makes the iPhone app crash when you click on a link. As a side note, I happen to run a meditation group in Argus that has 25 members.

All that said, it’s worth a look. The groups has potential if a few things are tweaked, promoted, and fixed.

Externally Support the Community?

Should one just tie into an existing social app such as Facebook to support a community? It’s a fair question. Facebook has a groups feature which can be successful. The most successful Facebook group I have been a part of is the Octalysis Explorers. It has over 2000 members. Like any group, a lot of effort goes into keeping the community engaged. Fortunately for the Octalysis Explorers, Yu-kai Chou is a master at the art and science of engagement. He has a handful of awesome and loyal people who support the effort.

The people supporting the Octalysis Explorers group are continuously driving people to the Facebook group through multiple channels. Even in its own “Join the Movement” section, the group is highlighted in Yu-kai Chou’s great book titled Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. There are also multiple administrators for the group. Also, there is always at least one person actively interacting with every post. A successful community relies on that kind of wonderful support from its administrators and its members.


Even though the implementation and user experience is pretty rough, it seems like the app with the most group activity without overt support is “Lose It!” However, that’s not saying much. The app with the most potential from a technology point of view may be Argus. However, Argus is already a highly social app so its group feature doesn’t add much.

If one can dedicate people to supporting a community on Facebook, that might be your best bet. If you go that route, you will need to continuously drive people to the group through your existing email marketing, verbal announcements in events or podcasts, and every other chance you get. Communities require care and feeding.

No matter how you support a community experience, it can provide an advantage over other solutions who don’t provide such. If one cannot dedicate the resources to the community experience or if the community experience doesn’t ever pay off, my advice is to drop it and refocus on other things.

Mobile Architecture Going Right and Wrong

Most decisions have positive and negative outcomes. When it comes to choosing what technologies to use for a software development team, it often comes down to two different “right” choices. They are right for different reasons and optimize for different things. A smart move is to optimize those things which serve peoples’ best interests (and the interests of their company) even at the expense of other concerns.

Imagine this situation brought to my attention: A team member observes upcoming code duplication between two systems down the road between an iOS and Android product. Among other things, they point out a technological solution that involves adding an additional language that would let them share code between iOS and Android.

From that single point of view, a solution like that sounds OK. Yet, what are the consequences? As you would expect there are pros and cons.


Let’s start with the cons. Adding new things to a technology stack of this kind may cause the following things:

  • Overstressed team by spreading the team too thin
  • Integration overhead
  • Expertise silos
  • Resistance to refactoring
  • Unforeseen issues due to an increase in overall architecture complexity
  • Increased time and pain around troubleshooting
  • Longer time to get new team members up to speed
  • Enjoyment of work going down for some and potentially all

Overstressed Team by Spreading the Team Too Thin

This deserves diving into a little. Imagine the team has recently adopted Android. Let’s say they recently also adopted a new programming paradigm such as Functional Reactive Programming. Now add a couple new team members. What’s the potential result? A magnification of the concerns listed above.


Good things that come can come from adding more to the technology stack:

  • Reduction of duplicate code
  • A new thing to learn (which can be good or bad depending on how much one has to learn currently already)


Which idea is right? Both are right in some ways and painful in other ways. As someone once said:

The hardest decisions in life are not between good and bad or right and wrong, but between two goods or two rights.

Of course decisions need to be made in part against the “-ilities” of architecture. In this case, Architecture complexity increases as one adds technologies. Lessons of the past have taught me that with the adoption of any addition to a technology stack, there can be costs to pay from an architecture and team point of view.

However, consider the people aspect of this too. The quality of a person’s life and their happiness affects productivity. So, measure decisions against those things that will make you excited about working and contributing as well. I highly suggest keeping those in mind. Otherwise, nothing will get done if you are fighting against the human nature of people seeking happiness.

Kotlin, RxJava, and Android is Fun Times 3

It’s almost springtime and time to explore new domains! So even though I still love RxSwift and Swift, I’m looking into Kotlin, RxJava, and how it relates to Android.


Kotlin makes a great first impression! Kotlin has a feel similar to Swift. The functions are denoted with fun. Also, the syntax seems lean.

Some examples are available to try online at After that, a deeper dive into the Kotlin Reference seems like a good idea.

Fun So Far .. Yet Time For an IDE

As described in the Kotlin: Getting Started with IntelliJ IDEA, I installed a plugin into Android Studio to see Kotlin work correctly. It’s a good feeling to know that I am using 1.0.0 of Kotlin. Did you know that Kotlin started in 2010?


With Kotlin knowledge and plugin installed, we move on to RxJava. There’s an insightful and well done Berlin droidcon video by Ivan Morgillo titled Android reactive programming with RxJava. In the context of the Android world, he goes over the concepts of Rx and shows some great RxJava examples.

Android Reactive Programming with RxJava

Ivan is also the author of an RxJava book titled RxJava Essentials released in mid-2015.

Looking around, I see 2016 RxJava Basics by Cosmin Stefan-Dobrin presentation slides that have some good content in there too. Two very interesting slides in there have the title: “Retrofit and RxJava, sitting in a tree.” Although outside of the scope of this article, Retrofit is worth a look.

Finally, there is an RxJava community on Glitter. Having used the RxSwift community on Slack, I know the importance of a strong and supportive community.

All together, it looks like Kotlin and RxJava have what is needed to help one be successful with their Kotlin / RxJava / Android adventure!