I’d be interested in the bird songs, if you’d be so kind as to link
I get what you are saying. There was a time when the internet was awash with startups looking to create ‘platforms’ involving ‘user-generated content’. It was cheaper (producing content in-house is expensive) and it had the potential to be disruptive (think YouTube and Facebook, entirely user-generated content platforms originally).
Sad to see them go the same path as Duolingo, and literally to build in exactly the same fecking limitations too. Memrise is a glorified flash-card program not unsimilar to Anki, but without the tech-orientated UI, but in terms of language learning, it’s not really very sophisticated or orientated to actual learning needs. As a memory trainer, it serves a purpose among many requirements for language learners - learning vocab is one important requirement, but only one. In truth, language learning requires conversation, production and comprehension of native-level language, but most importantly, a bridge that leads towards that level of fluency. Fluent content is inaccessible, in so many ways that technology could actually help with, but language software companies have focused on, sadly, motivation, i.e. trying to make the learning ‘fun’, and to do that, they have included gaming elements. Except they included the wrong fecking elements, like ‘locked levels’. They failed to see one of the most important elements of modern tech - freedom. The very reason that YouTube wins out over traditional TV is because of the freedom to ‘surf’ and find content that serves your needs. And what do they do with language learning? They fecking lock it down. … Big mistake. That many companies keep on making.
But it’s cheaper to do it that way. An ‘open’ environment needs more planning, more investment, before you see a return. And that’s where it becomes a question of risk management, of ‘minimum viable product’ and other such bollocks that gets in the way of a product that would do justice to the unique challenge of learning another language. It’s NOT like learning geography. That’s the problem, or one of them. They don’t understand the challenges, and so they also don’t understand the best solutions.
Thank you for describing the narrative for how Memrise gave up on their original development path in an attempt to monetize as quickly as possible. It makes sense. It’s a failure of imagination, and sadly, for users, who are STILL waiting for software companies to figure out how to make learning a language easier for them, it’s locking us more and more into the wrong solutions.
The story you describe sounds familiar. Breaking existing content and value in the chase for a money-making version of their brand. In fairness, I do agree that the way forward isn’t user-generated content, because of the problems of quality. Too many decks that repeat or don’t really organise their content in a way that would be truly useful for other learners. A lot of content simply copies existing text-book formats, copying the vocab into lists of words to learn. Any learning is better than no learning, but it’s still not optimal. And maybe that’s what Memrise have understood. But still… going the way of Duolingo is not the way. Or trying to stay within the narrow confines of ‘flash-card’ and ‘memory trainer’ is also not really disrupting the industry or helping users find a better utilisation of technology to serve all their language learning needs.
As a pure flash-card platform, they should absolutely focus on making the creation of decks easier - integrated with camera and photo apps, so that people can select items inside an image and create instant ‘flash cards’, with built in reliable translation. That’s the future for pure flashcard software - integrate with other ubiquitous functionality, integrate and exploit to create genuinely NEW functionality. Is that what the industry is doing? Nope. And I’ve been trying in Finland to get companies interested in that approach with little success… no fecking imagination, or vision. It’s not even about risk. Because if you see the vision, you KNOW it’s the future. It fecking speaks to you!
What you said about Memrise hiding functionality, and their recent comments about ‘updating’ their web experience makes me think that the user-generated content is going to be further undermined.
I remember using Memrise about 3 or 4 years ago and finding a LOT of stuff at beginner level, but very little that was useful or well-planned (in terms of contextual features) at intermediate level. At the beginner level, you need some very basic things - diacritics, some verbs, some basic vocab sections (family, counting, nationalities, colours, simple adjectives etc), word order, phonetics. But at intermediate, you need a much more organised type of content that is ‘user-focused’, even if it is not user-generated. You need both more focus AND more freedom, and it’s achieving that that is particularly challenging. But I honestly think the software companies, or the people in charge of them, don’t actually really understand that challenge - of needing more structure and less structure at the same time.
It makes me sad to think of all that time that users put in to creating courses, only to find that changes Memrise made seemed to care nothing for how they would impact user-created content. Poor decisions.
I’m getting into coding and maybe in the next year or so, I might actually be able to consider working on a language learning app that is truly disruptive. If you want, maybe we can chew the fat. Feel free to send me a PM cos. I really appreciated what you wrote and the fact you wrote it. You clearly care, meaning you care about learning languages, or even learning in general. That passion for learning is so crucial if people are really going to combine in order to produce a truly useful learning app.
I totally get what it’s like to be part of a user-generated community only to see that closed down in favour of some misguided notion of where the best possibilities for monetisation lie (e.g. Stylish and userstyles.org). Also Todoist.
Your description of what happened is valuable. Your vision of how things could be handled better is valuable. The answer doesn’t lie, IMHO, in entirely user-generated content, but user-activity almost certainly IS part of the solution for the future. The question is how best to include both. And this is where most of the companies have fecked up. They think it’s an either-or choice.
Feel free to PM me. And a BIG thanks for your reply. It was both interesting and informative, even if it was predictable in the way it chronicled the failures of yet another company to shut down user-orientated feedback in favour of a ‘monetised-based’ subscription ‘platform’ solution. Ironic that Memrise started with an almost ‘platform’ type development pathway, and gave up on the platform (and all the disruptive possibilities that came with that) in favour of a traditional ‘course subscription’ type of service. Nothing fecking platformy about that. Just ‘one among the many’.