TL; DR: Boasting a user base the size of Twitter and roughly the same number of page views as Reddit, Tapatalk is the relatively unknown tech powerhouse behind hundreds of thousands of community forums. The Santa Monica-based company, originally known for software that introduced native mobile app experiences to web-based forums, recently launched a comprehensive platform that delivers managed cloud hosting, community software, and ad network optimization that enables organizations to increase user engagement, content creation, and revenues.
Online forums and message boards have been around since the beginning of the internet, but the technologies and interfaces have historically seen little innovation to capture mobile audiences and generate revenue.
In the age of social media, only 15% of internet users read or comment on forums — but we know community engagement is a key factor in a brand’s relationship with customers and its ability to drive sales.
Noticing the gaps in forum accessibility and modernization, Tapatalk Founder and CEO Winter Wong is re-engineering the online interactions with mobile-driven and cloud-based solutions that help groups easily connect with audiences and improve the user experience. The results are impressive — according to Winter, forums that move to Tapatalk’s platforms from self-hosted software usually see 20 to 30% more page views and new content contributions.
“Just by moving onto our platform, we guarantee you’ll make more money than before, and you’ll have more members contributing back to your community,” he said. “You can invest the majority of your time into nurturing great content instead of worrying about the database, server, infrastructure, or anything else.”
Promoting Seamless Mobile Experiences for Forum Users
Tapatalk started in 2012 by focusing on introducing unified mobile access across community forums. The Tapatalk Mobile app lays on top of the existing software to provide a centralized, consistent access point that optimizes the user interface. Some key features include:
- Instant push notifications: Community members can receive alerts when someone likes or responds to their post, or when a new update is available.
- Easy photo sharing: Connect to your phone’s camera roll to post linked images or attachments. The app also supports Google Drive and iCloud Drive, enabling users to upload PDFs and other formats.
- Quick responses: Communications resemble text messaging, so members can instantly respond to forum threads or private messages.
- Enhanced, customized designs: Admins can personalize the community forum’s color scheme, cover photo, and logo to showcase their brand. The user interface can either load pages and posts automatically or support simple navigation.
Because Tapatalk Mobile is compatible with the likes of vBulletin, phpBB, xenForo, and other platforms, app users can discover additional forums in the Tapatalk network. The app launched with 22 forums and quickly scaled to cover more than 200,000.
“Our goal is always to help forums improve their engagement with their members,” Winter said, mentioning that increased interactions often lead to more revenue and content creation. “Our mission is, ‘How can we make it easier for them to access the communities they like?’”
Tapatalk Groups: All-in-One Managed Community Platform
Having steady success in the mobile realm, Tapatalk leaders began looking last year for the next challenge it could solve for forum owners and community contributors.
“We have very good penetration on the mobile apps, but that’s just a small slice of the membership,” Winter said. “We wanted to make sure we could provide the same experience to the web users as well.”
Tapatalk Groups introduces a bevy of premium features in the comprehensive platform, including social sign-on capabilities, spam prevention, questionable content detection, and the ability to accept member donations or set up premium subscriptions.
When building the solution, Winter said the Tapatalk team focused on legacy support and stability. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the company created a branch of open-source powerhouse phpBB.
“It has more than 15 years of coding and user base, so the platform is really stable,” he said. “We improved it and modernized it so it makes sense for users in this generation. We try to make it easier for them.”
Robust cloud hosting provides nearly 100% uptime, Winter said, and protects against DDoS attacks. Tapatalk Groups currently powers more than 50,000 communities that reach 15 million to 20 million active users each month.
“We can provide something more than just hosting,” he said. “We can provide a better forum software, and we can provide a more managed experience for the community owner so they can just focus on creating great content and nothing else.”
How Tapatalk Communities Take on Reddit and Social Media
In the team’s quest to reinvigorate community forums, Winter told us the industry sees the most competition from platforms such as Reddit and Facebook groups. For instance, new Twitter users can create their first tweet much quicker and easier than a new forum member’s first contribution.
“Those are more centralized networks,” he said. “They’re great because they’re so much easier to use. Young people love it because it’s just easier, and they don’t have to go to different websites. They can log in and post on every subreddit.”
Message boards, however, are owned by different users and organizations, often hosted in different countries, and follow varying laws with regard to data protection and regulation.
“I think there’s a challenge for forums to really compete with those centralized networks,” Winter said. “What we can do is make it easier for them to use, improve the engagement, and preserve members better.”
Between Tapatalk Mobile and Tapatalk Groups, the company reaches more than 400 million registered users — about the same size as Twitter. In terms of page views, the company sees as much traffic as Reddit.
“That’s huge, and we want to unlock that potential,” Winter said. “If we can improve engagement by 20%, the whole industry’s revenue can go up. We’re still very confident in the forum industry, but it needs to have more innovation and a platform approach to solving the problem instead of just selling a software program.”
Successfully Balancing the Needs of End Users and Forum Owners
In the tech industry and beyond, companies that ignore customer feedback in favor of internal development typically don’t succeed. Tapatalk faces an even greater challenge in that it serves and needs to listen to two distinct audiences — forum members and those who own or manage the community.
“You can’t not listen to users,” Winter said. “Our different types of users don’t necessarily align all the time, and they actually contradict each other fairly often.”
Because the message board industry and associated technologies have been around for more than two decades, Winter said all the necessary features and customizations have largely been created.
“For us, it’s actually a matter of subtracting what’s not being used or is potentially being misused,” he said. “How can we take out something to make it less confusing for users, but at the same time, the owners aren’t going to complain? How can we build something flexible for forum owners, but at the same time not confuse the users when the forum switches to a different vendor platform?”