I'm not sure if Lingvist is ready to "talk business" or it's still pleasure for the "family crew". If I were in startup aiming to build a user base and maybe, just maybe, gain some profit, the questions I would constantly ask myself would be:
- how unique is that (was it done before);
- how popular it could possibly be;
- how difficult is that to implement
I see @Lisa-Lingvist have mentioned some of those questions in her text, but let’s take a look at particular feature “thematized word sets” (I guess it’s too early to call it “personalized “ as in my mind it has very different meaning). So, how unique is that? There are well known players on that market like Memrise, Quizlet, Cram just to name a few. There is certainly a demand for that feature, but how do we stand out among those competitors? All of them share a common problem – it’s user generated content and quality may vary. So, obviously, Lingivst guys were thinking “how do we solve it”?
First thought: let’s create more complete word sets, which cover everything, like “500 words to ask for help” complete. Well, that’s insanity! I can imagine someone taking a course consisting of “Ruf den Artzt” and “Es tut mir überall weh“, but 500 cards of diseases, medical instruments and kinds of medical professionals that is for fanatics! I doubt most average people will ever end that course.
Second thought: let’s make a bunch of highly professional sets like Pro Medicine with thousands medical terms, or Pro Botanic, or Pro Mechanics etc. Well, it’s utopia. You can’t really make general medicine course without making it uselessly big, or splitting it into more specialized subsets, like Psychology, Surgery, Anatomy, Patient care etc. Just to give you a rough idea of the possible variations you may take a look at Cram’s medical section. You gonna need a professional in every specialty to create a proper word-set, it’s not enough to have a computational linguist that know how to crunch numbers from a book, you need someone who knows the field. And it implies money and time. But let’s estimate a demand. There are definitely some professional that need that kind of training, but it’s just a modicum of general language learning community. If you were a huge profitable company like Google, Amazon, Facebook, you may allow yourself to spend time and resources to satisfy that tiny groups, but it’s a luxury for a startup.
I have nothing against general topics like home, tourism, pets, children, idioms, but you ether should keep the courses small (like 50 – 100 cards) or divide them into sections (Pets 101 (for beginners) , Pets 202 (for advanced learners). That wouldn’t attract lots of new users and you have to keep that in mind, but it at least some kind of answer to a question I've finished the course. Now what? Also, I like the idea of small general introductory courses like you did with Essential Estonian. I would be terrified to sign up for a 9000 words course, but to give it a try and learn 100 words, why not? I would love to learn 100 Spanish, or Czech, or Portuguese words. It’s fun, it’s engaging, especially if there is a possibility to upgrade to a full course.
What could really make you shine is specialized courses for test, like 2000 most popular TestDaF words, or 5000 TOFEL words, you name it. There is a huge user base preparing to those tests, much more then surgeons or plumbers moving to Estonia and going to learn some professional Estonian. My guess is that this effort would pay off much more quickly.
All that is feasible with the current technical platform, but if we are talking about Lingvist 2.0 in general, there is so much to do to improve the system as a whole. First of all, beginner needs some guidance, if you can tell (you can ask) that a user is a complete beginner, he probably needs some guidance. When I first time logged into the webapp I chose a French course (there was no German at the moment) just to see how system works in general. Having no previous knowledge of French I had no idea even how to read, but I was supposed to memorize and write words. I believe there should be some kind of a small introduction to the language that guides you and explains the basics and isn’t hidden inside the grammar tips.
I like the idea of being able to read in less than 200 hours, but if you want to evolve, you may also think how to cover those learners who want to learn how to speak and listen, but don’t bother about writing. There could be some kind of selection instead of typing in modes or even some kind of speech recognition.
There is also a huge demand in some kind of replacement for closed down Reading and Listening section. Because that is irreplaceable for learning and at the same time, something that can make user stay on the service after finishing the course. It may be user-generated content or authentic materials in partnership with educational organizations that are more interested in language popularization than in gaining huge profits, like DW or BBS, for instance.
P.S. @Lisa-Lingvist first of all, you’ve taken my message about overpromising too personal, second of all, there are different kinds of overpromising:
In most industries, unachievable promises are a sign of bad leadership. But in tech, where companies are built on impossible ideas, unreasonable pledges are just a part of doing business.
If you promise to create a thrill and excitement it’s good for business. Learn language in less than 200 hours is an exaggeration, but it creates hope and excitement. Only very naïve people would think that it’s enough to go through a bunch of cards to be indistinguishably close to a native speaker. For most of people that “overpromise” doesn’t create a frustration at the end of the course, ‘cause you’ve still learned a lot and can do whole lot more than at the beginning. When you have a button in the interface that says it does something, but pressing it gives you squat it creates frustration and it’s a bad thing. I hope my point is more clear now.