I'm very excited to release this interview. So dive deep into the genesis of Invision Community as we converse with @CharlesW from Invision Community, dissecting the brand's journey, its product development, and its vision for the future.
1. Background and Vision
Going back to 2002. Can you tell more about the origin of Invision Power Board and how the company has started its adventure?
Origin and Evolution:It started as just a “script” as way back then that was what you did. We were basically kids (not a kid now!) and just trying to make a living. We already had a vision that it could be more than it is and now, 20+ years later, we have a good business and really loyal clients. I would say the biggest things looking back that we could have done differently was to be more purposeful in moving the product forward. We do it all the time now as you have to stay current to stay relevant, but we could have started that process sooner as we still have some people hanging on to v3!
Invision Community, formerly Invision Power Board, started on its journey in 2002. Initially conceptualized as a “script”, the company has evolved over two decades, offering enhanced, client-centric community platforms, and enjoying a robust clientele.
Vision & Future Projections:
Invision Community was founded with a vision to offer more enriched community interactions. This vision remains, but with a focus on continuous evolution to stay relevant. Charles envisions the company remaining innovative, with future strategies addressing the changing dynamics of online communities.
Charles reflects on the journey, acknowledging a more proactive approach in product enhancement could have been beneficial. He expresses gratitude for the loyalty of clients, some of who still hold on to v3.
2. Product Development and Market Perspective
How do you prioritize new features or improvements for Invision Community?
It’s a pretty organic process. New ideas and features tend to make sense at the time we are implementing them. Many great ideas may sound good at first glance but either do not work when you start to think about them or other times morph into a whole new idea. Other times a client will make a suggestion and we think “that’s a cool idea but here’s an even better approach.” Those are the most fun when you can take a client suggestion and run with it an unexpected way
How has the rise of other social media platforms influenced the direction of Invision Community? With many community platforms available, what makes Invision Community stand out?
The big thing that makes us different to social media platforms and I think makes us stand out is the focus on the conversation. Social media is less about WHAT you post than WHO did the posting. Social media is not designed to have ongoing conversation as you shout out your thought, people get angry, and then everyone forgets about it as someone else has shouted something. Think about it: when was the last time you followed up on a conversation on social media that happened more than a day ago? In Invision Community we really focus on the content and conversation and those conversations can go on and create deep connections.
3rd Party Applications, Plugins and Themes have drastically declined over the years. I believe the top days was when 3.4 was around. Why do you think that has declined over the years? What was the main reason for the marketplace deprecation?
Many reasons but I would say the two key points are: unlike other platforms, Invision Community is pretty well-featured out of the box and new clients have no interest in such things. They just want it to work and get out of the way so they can engage their community. Many years ago plugins had their place but the client interest just is not there like it used to be. So while our business has grown, the interest in plugins and the like has gone down.
There are many concerns about the self hosted market and some argue that it would fade away while focusing on your SaaS model and Cloud Service. Is that concern justified? Why do you think that concern is raised? What guarantee can you give that self hosted will sustain a possibility in the future and that it will keep being supported and receiving future updates?
Those concerns are extremely valid and it’s hard to say what the future will bring. Interest in running your own server and all that entails is simply declining. We have dozens of clients switch from self-hosting to our cloud services every month and the reason is always something along the lines of them just wanting to focus on their community rather than the technology. Yes, some enjoy running their own servers but really most do not.
When we decided to keep a self-hosting option for Invision Community 5, our first thing we had to learn was how to make that viable. With the market on decline, we had to find a way to keep it in a way that made sense. So, we made a focus group of various clients across many different types of communities and presented our ideas. They provided feedback and, over the course of a few months, we came up with the new terms and pricing for Invision Community Classic (self-hosted). For some, the new Classic license is less money and some it’s more but the key thing it’s still available to all.
Features like Real Time Viewing, Courses and Live Topics are great features for any Community Owner. How did you feel the need for those features and will we ever see them on a self hosted Community?
Many of those features are premium features and are also not available on some cloud packages. It’s not a cloud vs. Classic thing, it’s just a matter of what features you are interested in acquiring for your community.
Will the design of v5 change as much as it did when v4 came out? What are some interesting features you plan on having? In terms of Search Engine Optimization, what will the major differences be between 4 and 5?
The process of integrating new features is organic, with a focus on practicality and client suggestions. Many ideas morph into innovative features, fostering rewarding client interactions.
Invision Community stands out due to its emphasis on the quality of conversation over the poster's identity. Unlike social media platforms, it allows ongoing, deep conversations leading to profound connections.
3rd Party Applications Decline:
The decline is attributed to the well-featured nature of Invision Community, leading to decreased client interest in plugins and themes.
The shift from self-hosting to cloud services is acknowledged, emphasizing the declining interest in running servers. However, Charles assures the sustenance of self-hosting options, with Invision Community Classic being presented with revised terms and pricing to meet diverse needs.
Features like Real-Time Viewing, Courses, and Live Topics remain premium and are not confined to specific hosting models.
Design and Features of v5:
Invision Community 5 promises a revamped design with immense customization options, targeting users with varying levels of technical proficiency.
3. Customer Centricity
Can you share a success story of a community that particularly stands out using your platform?
It’s hard to pick just one great community example. We have communities in so many different areas. One area I am proud of is in the mental health space as we host a few communities there and people’s lives have been saved because they had a safe, curated space to talk. We have also helped huge corporations see real benefit and direct sales from engaging their community members. There is so much you can do with community. We are slowly adding more community manager type content on our own community. Our monthly webinars have become pretty popular and we hope to add more talks around community management as well.
Charles highlights the role of Invision Community in creating impactful spaces, notably in mental health discussions. He also notes the direct benefits enjoyed by corporate clients from community engagement.
Community Manager Content:
The addition of more community manager content and monthly webinars have been a focal point, aiming to promote discussions around community management.
4. Challenges & Future Outlook
What are some of the biggest challenges Invision Community has faced in the past, and how did you overcome them? How do you see the future of online communities, and where does Invision Community fit into that vision?
The biggest challenge has been our longevity and convincing people that you have to change to stay relevant. Every so often, we have to make a huge shift to keep up with where the community space is going and some people just do not like change. That’s normal and human nature but if you do not change you become irrelevant. I believe the future of communities like what we offer will be stressing the curated,safe, owned space. A community you outsource, and yes I would call it outsourcing, to Facebook, X, Reddit, etc. is no longer your community. We are seeing a huge shift, particularly in our corporate clients, in people wanting to own their experience.
Adaptation and Relevance:
The major challenge faced by Invision Community is maintaining relevance through periodic shifts and adaptations. Charles foresees the future of communities emphasizing curated, owned space, with Invision Community playing a pivotal role in this paradigm shift.
5. Technical Integrity
How do you ensure data security and privacy for communities hosted on your platform? Can you discuss the scalability of Invision Community for large communities with millions of users?
Security & Scalability:I could write a novel about this. As you can imagine, we are audited quite frequently. Some of our large, well-known brands that use Invision Community also do their own audits of the platform. Everything you might expect is there from TLS to WAF to encryption at rest. Lots of AWS acronyms are used! It is extremely scalable. Your community on our cloud platform is not on a “server”as such. At any moment you could be connecting to a variety of database clusters, Redis arrays, NodeJS clusters, scalable server groups, and so on.
Charles underlines the robust security protocols and scalable infrastructure, assuring communities of the integrity of their data and seamless scalability to accommodate growing user bases.
6. Industry Perspective
How do you think the community platform industry will evolve in the next 5-10 years? With the rising concerns about user privacy and data protection, how is Invision Community adapting to these demands?
I think we are already seeing the shift back to owned and branded communities. However, I think it will be important that those owned communities are not on their own little islands but are connected to the wider world. This is why we developed Community Hive.
Invision Community has all the tools you might need to ensure data privacy. Many people over-think what data privacy is about really. At its most basic level it’s about being a good steward of a user’s data (security, encryption, storage, etc.)and being able expunge personal information on request or at intervals when it’s no longer needed. Yes, there are nuances depending on the laws where you are, but the root case of be safe, be honest, and be trusted is all there.
Evolution and Data Privacy:
The industry is witnessing a shift back to owned and branded communities, with an emphasis on connectivity. Invision Community ensures data privacy through effective stewardship and adherence to various data protection laws.
7. Personal Journey
How did your adventure begin on the internet? What is the most rewarding part of your job? What does a typical work day look like for you and what do you do for fun/relaxation when you are outside the office? What do you find most challenging about your position/role? As someone deeply entrenched in the world of online communities, how do you see their role in shaping digital culture and connectivity?
I started back in the 1900s in 1998 and got online but didn’t find it that interesting but was into how it all worked. My typical day starts pretty early. I’m usually checking emails by about 6:30am. I’m an annoyingly happy morning person. My main role here is sales and consulting. I do a lot of Zoom calls with prospective clients and also talking to existing clients about how best to meet their community goals. It is very rewarding to see all the ways that community managers approach a successful community and then being able to share all that great knowledge with other clients.
The most challenging position is a subset of the most rewarding in that there is a huge variety of community approaches out there. From small, hobby sites to large, enterprises. They all want Invision Community to do what they want to do and it can be challenging to offer a platform that’s flexible but not overly so. I see my role in all this as helping to guide clients down a path to success by trying to summarize all those various communities we work with into something that looks like a great strategy.
Charles’ Internet Adventure:
Charles started on his internet journey in 1998, driven by a fascination with the workings of the internet. His typical day involves consulting and sales, focusing on guiding clients to successful community management strategies.
Challenges and Rewards:
The most rewarding and challenging aspects of his role involve navigating the variety of community approaches and synthesizing them into successful strategies.