Repair the community courses, 4: Course forums

[Several years ago, in their leap to mobile and memrise-sponsored language courses, Memrise made a series of changes that completely broke many, perhaps even most, of the community courses. Many course creators spent hundreds of hours of their own time building and supporting those courses. In the hopes that Memrise might decide to care about about a platform for community courses again, I’m going to post some feedback here about the biggest categories of breakage they could fix. This post is part of that series. If Memrise takes these posts seriously, and responds seriously, that could be an indication that they care about this again.]

Background:

One of the key features of the old Memrise, the thing that really made the community platform work and encouraged people to invest their time building courses for it, was the course forums.

Every course had its own forum:

  • You could post questions or requests for the course maintainer.
  • The course maintainer could sign up for notifications of any new posts.
  • Each post had its own title and comments, so you could look through the list of old discussions.
  • People could post tips for other people taking the course, that would be easy to find, or answer each other’s questions.
  • EACH COURSE LINKED TO ITS FORUM so that EVERYONE TAKING THE COURSE KNEW IT WAS THERE!!!
  • A course creator could expect that the users of their course would find the forum, so they had incentive to follow it.
  • When choosing whether to take one course or another, you could look at their respective forums to see how active they were, to see whether the maintainer was active, to see what the user community of that course was like.
  • By facilitating communication between users and between users and maintainers, it also made it easier to find people to take over a course someone else had abandoned.

When Memrise launched mobile, they did not give mobile app users any indication the forums even existed. When questioned about this, Memrise gave really inane answers, like “our focus is mobile, and the forums are on the web”. Well, okay, but won’t mobile users want to know these forums are here, and participate in them, to get support for their use of the mobile app? Memrise never answered that.

Eventually, they just got rid of the whole forum portion of memrise.com entirely, explaining their decision with the same nonsensical reasoning, and instead had us all move over to this new community site - which does not have course forums. Instead, they encouraged course creators to create one post for their course. Which a) is nearly useless compared to a forum, and b) users wouldn’t know to look for, anyway. This more was probably the biggest single blow to the community platform.

What Memrise should do:

Since Memrise is unlikely to ever consider community important enough to actually add their own discussion feature to courses (even though duolingo has it!), here’s a shortcut they can take:

  • Set up a topic tree here on the community site for the courses, so that each course could fit into a subtopic - even if it’s not a language course.
  • When a new course is created, create a subtopic just for that course - a third-level topic in the main tree here. Or, if that’s too hard, then give course creators the permissions to create their own subtopics and just tell them where to do it.
  • Include a link, right from the course’s page on memrise.com, to the subtopic for that course. If the naming scheme is standardized, this link could be automatic. If it’s not, or if creators create their own subtopics, make the link optional - but allow it to be configured right in the course settings, and clearly visible to all users. The link should take you to the subtopic where you could immediately see a list of all the posts about that course.
  • Add that same link on both web and mobile! Mobile users deserve to know where to find discussions for the course they’re taking, not just web users.

“Repair the community posts” series:
1 - Repair the community courses, 1: "multimedia" levels
2 - Repair the community courses, 2: commas and parentheses
3 - Repair the community courses, 3: Show one photo, not all
4 - Repair the community courses, 4: Course forums

@MemriseSupport @JBorrego

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I do think the Forum area and in particular the existence of [Course Forums] could be made more prominent (or advertised occasionally in a news letter), especially for App users.

I did initially ask if space (a field) could be allocated to insert our own link to the [Course Forum].

The way I (and many others) have overcome this issue is to put a note in the short description (which is seen on the App view of the course) drawing people’s attention to the web interface if they want more information (eg from Multimedia levels) or if they want support.

Then on the full web description I indicate the existence of a forum, or if space allows, an address (not an active link of course).

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I would not want any topics to be automatically created but I would like to have a field where I could add a link to a topic on the course that I manually create here in the forum.

cos. I wholeheartedly agree with you in all your four posts. I highly appreciate your contribution to this community and find 95% of the decisions taken by memrise in the past 5 years of extremely poor quality.
Thank you for still taking the time to try and make this place better, like it was before.

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It is interesting to look back at this early forum thread from May 2016.

[Site Feedback] There Is No Point in a New Forum Unless It Is Promoted

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I don’t believe you can create a topic for a course now. You can create an individual post, sure, that that’s only marginally useful. What we need is the ability to have a full subtopic for each course. Like this “General Discussion” topic, and like we have a subtopic for each language now - we should at least be able to have subtopics for specific courses, and link to them. Such a link would show you all the posts in that subtopic - which could be any number of posts, each with their own title, originating user, and comment threads.

I personally prefer the current forum with the course topics over the old individual course forums.

the old fora were simply perfect, an easy, lean solution, a link present on each and every page of learning/reviewing items of respective course. It was enormous setback to take that out…

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@cos, O.K., I agree with everything you said in that thread, and it’s still relevant.

As a reasonable partial solution, Memrise could simply add the option for a clickable link in each home page (set up by the course creator) that would take users directly to the relevant forum page (also set up by the course creator) in the current system - on both the mobile and Web versions.

Right now, there’s no easy way for users to know that a course forum even exists, particularly when using the mobile app.

@memrisesupport - could you consider taking a look at this?

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Memrise could simply add the option for a clickable link in each home page (set up by the course creator) that would take users directly to the relevant forum page (also set up by the course creator) in the current system

I agree, while that would be far inferior to having course forums, it would also be a huge improvement from the current state. And very easy to do! Memrise should do that, and we should continue pressing them for course forums even if they do.

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We did ask, right at the start, for a dedicated field (or extra space in the description field) for us to add a link to the Forums we were setting up.

Sorry I see I mentioned this ► above

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I am leaving a reply here because, after almost two years from the creation of this thread, the problem, which is quite a serious one, has yet to be addressed by the @MemriseSupport team.

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Or, @BenWhately, I understand that this is probably not your priority, but would you mind giving a thought on this? One of the reasons why @cos felt disrespected by the Memrise team is that he gave constructive, well-thought suggestions like this, only to be completely neglected.

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Thanks for highlighting this. As discussed in the can, our focus is to build a platform on which users can make word lists and collections of media content that are within the Memrise system and therefore benefit for all the tech that we are building (test types, but also wordlist auto generation from video, podcast etc). Building great community tools around that is essential and being worked on.

The problem here is that Cos has made a well thought out and sensible suggestion for how to keep community working on the old system.

As discussed, we made the move away from that system because we couldn’t make it work in terms of fitting the needs of enough users in order to grow. When we made this shift to Memrise made courses (and improved the mobile apps, as cos says), we unlocked rapid growth. That growth has allowed us to maintain this legacy system - without it we would have had to close the whole site down.

But now the legacy site has been stifling our ability to create new features that serve language learner needs, and therfore to continue to grow. That is why we can’t keep doing work such as that suggested here by cos, which is directed at the legacy product.

As I said on the call, we need to keep moving towards the vision we have - based on extensive research into effective language learning - for a product that allows learners to learn the right words and phrases fast, and then to get practiced at understanding and using them in context.

We have shown that when we stop making progress towards that goal, we stop expanding our reach to new learners. If we stop that expansion for too long, then Memrise will shrink, and ultimately we will have to close down the site. We are a long way from that point now, but over the last 2 years we have not moved as fast as we need to, in large part because we have been held up by technical and product debt.

We cannot risk this situation continuing. For the last two years we have tried to move fast without breaking the legacy product. That has not worked. So not we need to prioritise moving fast and avoiding breaking the legacy product where that is possible without showing down development.

Mems is an example where it isn’t possible without slowing down development.

This situation above from cos it’s an example of something specific to the legacy product - we also can’t afford to invest in this work. I don’t believe it would help us get to the ultimate product vision, and progress to that vision is what we have shown time and again leads to growth. Growth leads to us being able to maintain all our product - even the legacy one.

I apologise again to @cos the feeling we have of being disrespectful of this suggestion. I hope this explanation helps to make clear our reasoning.

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Is it possible to move community courses onto a separate platform? From your words here and the fragments of the call I understand that everything community related will be in ruins because of a different engine: mems, words, levels, courses. To those who are using only community courses it’ll bring absolutely no good and you’ll lose money influx from them, too.

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@BenWhately t’s good that someone from Memrise has finally responded on this post, tagged “feedback”, that I made more than a year and a half ago. But it’s disappointing that this response continues the pattern stretching back many more years, of giving a long extended explanation of the reasons why we can’t get to this sort of thing right now, without ever giving any direct answer to what you think of the idea and whether you might do any part of it when you do have time later.

Yes, it is always useful to get a “not now”, but that’s part of an answer, and acting like it’s a full answer leaves me and others very frustrated. You did this a lot back in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and it’s one of the reasons I left Memrise and started recommending to other people that they avoid Memrise.

From your community call, I understood that you’re putting your development effort into a new Memrise system that will be entirely separate from the old platform. I understood that this means a) New features on the old platform are a very low priority, b) the old platform will no longer be holding you back, so you will likely keep it going in maintenance mode indefinitely, and c) with the two systems no longer linked, you’ll have more freedom to make small changes to the old platform, time permitting.

Given that that’s understood, and you don’t need to repeat all of that in an answer, would you be willing to actually answer this post? What you gave above avoided addressing this post, pretty much. But looking at what I originally posted, here is something you could do to greatly improve the old platform without a lot of work:

  • Set up a topic tree here on the community site for the courses, so that each course could fit into a subtopic - even if it’s not a language course.
  • Allow any individual course creator to create a new topic under that category for one of their courses. Perhaps this would require approval from one of the volunteer moderators here.
  • Have a field in each course that the course maintainer can fill in with a URL to a topic here on the forums. The field could be hard-code that it always links to https://community.memrise.com/ … and have the course maintainer fill in the right side of the URL, so it couldn’t link to any other site.

Without giving a time frame, and with it being fully understood that you’re not likely to add even simple new features to the old platform in the near future, could you please address this proposal directly? Again, I’m not looking for you to give explanations for why you can’t get to this soon, I’m looking for you to address the proposal itself, assuming we all understand that actually implementing something is very low on your developers’ priorities now. The really really frustrating thing in the past was this total inability for Memrise to get past repeating that “not now” answer over and over and over and over, without ever directly addressing any of the feedback people gave.

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I’ll help by giving some abbreviated examples of the kinds of answers Memrise might give, that would be real answers:

  • I don’t know, but I’ll ask a product manager to look and respond.
  • I don’t know, but since we definitely won’t do anything about it soon, I’ll set a reminder to look at this again in the summer.
  • This idea is good and we probably should implement it exactly as you just described, if we ever have time to do so.
  • This idea has a problem that would make it difficult to implement, here’s the problem…
  • There is a conceptual problem with this idea that means we may not want to do it, here’s why…

Obviously there are other possibilities, but this should give you an idea of why I think you evaded answering, and what a real answer might look like.

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I’m sorry this answer is frustrating you. What I’m saying can be distilled to: this is a very sensible idea, but not one that we can do because all of our efforts need to go into the main product.

I suspect that isn’t going to be a satisfactory answer… But I’m honestly not sure what kind of answer you are looking for. I’m an genuinely trying to help - can you distil you question into a single sentence that I can answer directly?

This is much closer to an answer, in that you say this idea is a good one that would make sense to do. That directly addresses the proposal itself, and what you think about it, in a more direct and straightforward fashion.

What I don’t understand is why you will never do it, but also, I can’t tell if that’s what you’re actually saying. You might actually be saying something more like “this is a good idea that we should do but cannot get to anytime soon because we’re focusing on the new memrise and can’t spend time on even simple features for the old one; however, we’ll take a look at doing this later on (maybe a year or two) if we have more time.” On the other hand, you might be saying “however sensible this idea is, and however simple it would be to implement, we’ve made an executive decision to never add new features to the old platform ever again, even if they’re easy to do and have tremendous value to the users of that platform.” So you can see how your answer still seems vague and confusing - but also how you finally actually started giving a semblance of a real answer in this last comment, unlike previously.

I’m honestly very baffled at how you could read my comment above and still not get what I’m saying. Is it any clearer now?

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I cannot understand this answer, me having used memrise for the first time many years ago as well, I don’t get it. I don’t think a lot as evolved in the past 2 years. It felt more like devolving. And who says new learners wouldn’t be happy with features that have been removed previously or altered? That’s why people are asking for it in the first place, because they liked it!

There are so many people not giving feedback, that it would be time to listen more to those, caring about the product.
Shrinking the community focus makes Memrise more feel like it’s dead
Sometimes I felt like “Is Memrise abandoned?” For an old user, the biggest change noticeable was seeing Memrise getting stripped down.
I do not want to look disrespectful, but this was the feeling I got.
Yes, there were also improvements I noticed, but they looked smaller in comparison.

And about effective Language Learning what about this: ?

Why is there no translation when I am typing in a Hearing Test?

When I learn new words or when I do a classic review, there are are listening queries where I have to write the word in the language which I am learning.
The problem about that is, that I can type that word in my learning language just fine after hearing it, but I don’t know what it actually means. I don’t know what I just typed, but I typed it correctly. This is not really helping while learning a language.
If I am correct, It did not used to be like this in previous app versions.
In some cases, there is a literal translation for the word/sentence, which is helpful, I like that. But in many cases, there is no literal translation, so there is no translation at all for me.

Why is a Word considered “learned” even If I never typed it successfully?

This is another big problem while learning, normally the typing test is the last query before a word is considered as learned. But if I fail this, the next query is most likely not a typing test, but a hearing test, which is easier. So, in my list of learned words, there are some ones which I never typed correctly.

Why was the ability to copy words out of the Courses removed?

I tried to learn Japanese with Memrise before, at some point I had to update the App, and suddenly I couldn’t select and copy the words anymore. For learning Japanese it’s important to understand all the Kanji which are in those words, so making a list of them to review is essential.

And I know Memrise offers many languages, so asking for included detailed information on Kanji would be too much asked for. But because of that, I need a convenient way to copy them to my external resource of choice, and it was there before. Why was this made unnecessarily harder?

Settings in the App not satisfying

Let me get clearer here: I am missing a setting, where I can increase the number of typing tests, since those are the hardest, I am more likely to remember the words more quickly once I type it correctly. Everyone has a different preference in this regard I’d assume.
I have used the setting to only do typing tests on the Web Version of Memrise, and this was really useful, but this is missing in the App. But still this setting completely disables the hearing tests.

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