Please steal Babbel's Cyrillic typing system
So I was using Babbel back when it was the only one offering Russian. Their Cyrillic typing system is reeeeeaaaallly clever. Really simple, really intuitive (with a couple exceptions), and really easy to learn. Duolingo should totally steal it.
Things they do that are super helpful:
1) They have lessons in the very beginning that are JUST about learning to type Cyrillic letters with a Latin keyboard. That way you know which letter means soft sign, hard sign, and so on. Each lesson teaches you just a few letters. I expect this will happen at some point, since Russian is still in beta, but it's obviously really difficult for brand new learners to use Duolingo for Russian right now.
2) The English/Cyrillic letter conversion chart is permanently displayed. It is in the ones where you're typing, anyway. It would be really useful to have a chart displayed right below the exercises, basically like a virtual keyboard, showing both Latin and Cyrillic overlaid on top of each other, at all times. This could be either in a keyboard shape, or just alphabetically from left to right in one big row (or users could pick one or the other). There have been a million times so far when I have no idea how it wants me to type something, and I know the Russian letter, but I have no idea how to type it correctly.
(By the way, if you go with the virtual keyboard layout for suggestion #2, it would be good to offer both the phonetic keyboard, which matches Latin, in addition to the "real" Cyrillic keyboard that people actually use in Russia. That way people could practice typing with a real Russian keyboard layout just by looking at the virtual keyboard, without even having to do extra lessons for it. They'd just use Duolingo regularly and the practice would be built-in.)
3) Babbel uses the J a lot, to create Cyrillic letters that don't exist in Latin, such as the double letters like "ya" or "yu," so when you type "ja" it turns into the backwards R. It's a really clever solution. I know this might potentially conflict with picking one of the "correct" keyboard layouts, but I think Babbel's method is smarter and easier, and you can get right into learning the language instead of learning the keyboard. Displaying a virtual keyboard would work fine too, though.
4) When you type Latin letters into Babbel, it converts them into Cyrillic for you to see. This is reeeeeaalllly helpful, and you can actually see how you're spelling the Russian words, and can make sure you're doing it right. This also helps with memorization of transliteration. Ideally I'd like to see both at the same time; I'd type in Latin, and Cyrillic letters would appear just above those letters.
Oh, and "shch" is just silly. I know that's the way things have been transliterated forever, but can't we just do "sh" and "shh?" That would work a whole lot better to write that extra W-shaped letter with a tail. I know following transliteration rules can be helpful, but that one always seemed liked it should just be fixed to something simpler.
Anyway, I'm really excited at finally being able to practice Russian on Duolingo, but I've been running into a million problems related to the Cyrillic, and this never, ever, ever happens on Babbel. The way they handle it is spectacular, and it would be worth taking a look at it, and importing some of the techniques. Babbel is free up to a certain point, so you can go see how they do things without having to pay.
I fully agree, the babbel system is really great and comfortable. The big advantage is, that there is no need to switch keyboards and that there is exactly one transliteration for each letter no matter which transliteration system is used, and there are plenty of them. But the Babbel system is not just one more transliteration system, it is an alternative nearly phonetic input system that produces kyrillic letters.
"Shch" isn't silly, and "sh" or "shh" don't make sense. You might not be able to pick up the subtle sound differences but a native speaker or a high level non-native could, which is why they are labelled differently. That might not be the most important thing for a novice, but it's better not to get them into bad habits early on.