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Article titled: "Why Duolingo Founder Says the Worst Advice He Ever Got Was to Listen to His Users"

He talks about it in question 14 of this interview: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/290664

I don't blame him though. It's an interesting perspective to have nevertheless. Thanks for all that you do Duolingo team if you see this!

March 16, 2017



Thanks for posting a link to the interview! I hadn't read it yet and it was a good read.

I think your title is a bit off kilter. Rather than saying he doesn't want to listen to us, he is saying that some groups who are speaking are not offering good ideas. Following bad ideas is bad for the company.

I remember when he is talking about. The forums were a messy uproar. I was getting 500-700 notifications a day. Some (not all) long time users were in an uproar because they were uncomfortable with the change. The change did wonders for the metrics though. (In very generalized terms, metrics are the measurements of about how good or bad Duolingo courses and design are doing at helping many people learn language basics.)


I also appreciated the link. The key to remember is that listening to users is not necessarily bad, but you have to keep in mind that only some of the users are contacting you and so it does not represent all users. Metrics can also be flawed sometimes, so those are constantly adjusted to make sure the information given is accurate. For example, how does Duolingo decide that the design is helping people learn languages and how is "learning languages" determined - perhaps by finishing trees?


Good questions! I am not on the team that studies the metrics. So, I don't know the specifics. You might be able to find some information through Google's academic search functions. Some people in the forums say they've found some research that way.


Which change was this? I remember a couple moments when people were upset about a change, but can't remember what it was.


The worst one I can remember was sometime around January or Feb 2014. I can't remember the exact changes instituted, only that the forums were lava.

I found a record in my inbox, but, it gave me a 404 when I clicked it :( This was one of many of the discussions about it. Like several others, it has many comments. This one had 61.

As I continue looking, there are a lot of related discussions with 60+ comments in them.

Here is an official announcement responding to the chaos.: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/1545005


I would be interested to hear more about these metrics. Just saying "listening to the metrics" makes it seem like it's about amount of users and not specifically about helping users learn. But I don't have much information/data to base that off of.


sorry about the click baity title to the discussion. It was also the the title of the article, so that's why it got into my head. Didn't think about how misleading it was, sorry everyone


Sounds fine to me.

Why should a small number of noisy individuals have so much say?

Duolingo should listen to ALL its users through metrics.


This is one of those interesting pieces of advice that is both right and wrong.

It is true that usually only a small but vocal minority of users make up the majority of complaints/suggestions.

If Luis (or others at Duolingo) listened to and acted upon every suggestion here, we'd see both feature bloat (a common Microsoft problem) and language bloat. The latter is probably the bigger issue for those folks clamoring for a course in language X. It's a resource allocation issue and a marketing issue, and the market for some languages is just too small to be worth the investment.

But while perhaps one shouldn't pay much attention to user complaints and suggestions, it is also true that one should pay attention to user needs, because meeting those needs is where the products of the future come from. Someone looking at a PDA from 25 years ago and an iPhone will see many of the unmet needs of the PDA in the latter, and the iPhone has been Apple's most successful product in 30 years, if not ever.

The corporate graveyards are full of companies that stopped paying attention to their customer's needs.

The hardest lesson I ever had to learn as a manager was that it is not a popularity contest.


Apple have actually been at the vanguard of this new approach to design. Observing what people need, rather than listening to what they say they want, which can send you down the wrong design path.


Donald Norman's book, "The Design of Ordinary Things" is probably the best book I've read on user interface design.


Thanks - will check that out.


On a side note, I wonder if his desire to create an education platform that would also benefit poorer people by making Duolingo free and accessible to everyone is actually working. “My views about education are very influenced by being from Guatemala. … The rich people can buy themselves the best education in the world, whereas the poor people rarely learn how to read and write, and because of that, they never make much money,” von Ahn says. “I wanted to do something that would give equal access to education to everybody.” I'm just saying this because my MiL has been traveling to a certain region of Guatemala a few times a year for the past ten years to help the people there become self-sufficient. There is WiFi in the region, but it's not very reliable and most of the people in that region are not able to afford a computer or a smartphone. Since Duolingo only works on a WiFi or data connection, the people of this region in Mr. von Ahn's native country are not able to benefit from this free language education platform.


The key word might be "yet". I wouldn't call Duolingo a finished project by any means.


Few projects (or products) are ever truly 'finished'. :-)


You're probably right. Who knows, maybe he's working on something to help the poorer people in his native country.


In India, they were working on creating a new Duolngo app, that worked on lower spec'd phones. Not heard anything since though.


I think you might be underestimating both the utility and availability of particularly mobile technology in less developed countries, and, most importantly, the rapid pace of change. One of the greatest barriers to rapid deployment of such technology in a society is not so much absolute poverty in a country, but income inequality - if people in urban areas earn significantly more than people in rural areas, local infrastructure investment will tend to be focused on those urban areas. But if that inequality within a country isn't too great, technology spreads very rapidly. These people aren't using $700 iPhones or Samsung Galaxies, but the transition from SMS messaging on $15 nokias to 3G internet connectivity on $40 android phone is a widespread phenomenon.


"...but the transition from SMS messaging on $15 nokias to 3G internet connectivity on $40 android phone is a widespread phenomenon." Can you give some examples of countries where this has happened?


His exercise routine both refreshes him (para 1) and leaves him dead (para 15).


I've always thought polls would be a good idea, and a bit more communication between us.

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