Over the years, as ugly and byzantine online forums like Reddit and Yahoo Groups have prospered, many startups have tried to improve the user experience for public online conversations. Sometimes, venture capitalists give these people a lot of money, especially when they say they’ll be more dramatically different — more mobile, more visual, more intelligent about the so-called “interest graph.”

But it’s hard to bring people together in a new place, so many of those new sites and apps fail to foster actual discussion — and the legacy of text-heavy page load after page load in piles of sub-folders persists. Except now there’s a startup, Tapatalk, that seems to have carved off one corner of online discussions and made it work.

Tapatalk is a nice mobile experience for forums that already exist. It’s not broken like so many of these sites are when you access them from a phone, and it even has fancy doodads like push notifications.

Tapatalk creates a personalized news feed for each user’s favorite participating forums — popular topics among its 80-percent-male users include watches and cars. Millions of people were willing to pony up $4 to download the Tapatalk app on various platforms, and millions more have downloaded it since it went free.

“Our approach is always to respect existing content that has been around since the beginning of the Internet,” said Tapatalk co-founder and CEO Winter Wong.

Five-year-old Tapatalk originated in Shanghai and moved to Los Angeles recently as part of MuckerLab. After making its app free and starting to pursue an advertising strategy, the company has now raised $5.8 million in seed funding from Floodgate and IDG-Accel.

Tapatalk has 2.5 million active monthly users and works with some 70,000 sites that have added its plugin. But that’s still a very small slice of what’s out there; Wong says by his calculations, there are 375 million global users of online discussion communities.




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