Some problems with Duolingo and simple solutions to them
I love Duolingo. I've been using it for about a year and a half now and have never lost my streak. I recommend it to anyone who's learning a language supported by it.
Unfortunately, as anyone who ever reads the forums can see, there have been a lot of problems with it lately. This is a list of them so that in the chance a staff member checks here, they can get an idea of the issues. Also, I just wanted to rant.
So, here are some problems (and possible solutions to said problems):
Problem: The staff will probably never read this post. This is, I think, the biggest issue Duolingo has: they rarely, if ever, listen to their users. It really seems like they think their userbase is made up of sentient A/B tests: "no one" uses Immersion, "no one" uses Activity, "no one" uses the progress tests or review button or monthly XP bar.
Another major problem in this area is that Duolingo not only never listens, but rarely tells its users anything, either. The removal of the activity streams was announced only after they'd all been removed in months of A/B testing. Same thing with Immersion, same thing with the introduction of gems, same thing with Japanese. When the website updates, like it did just recently, the changelogs had to be made by users who went around the site and looked for things that were different.
The regular forum users make up a very small percentage of Duolingo's users, but we're the most dedicated and, well, actually use the website regularly instead of as the game it looks like it's becoming.
TL;DR: The lack of communication is frustrating.
Possible Solution: Include a regular changelog on the forums. Announce changes ahead of time and get user feedback on them outside of A/B tests. On that note, maybe have a list of newly added and noteworthy A/B tests and what Duolingo might do based on the data present in them. Have a staff member or two who reads and posts on the forums regularly. Even adding an area like the bug reports for submitting feedback would help a lot.
Problem: Gems. "Duolingo is free and will always be free." Sadly, the fourth word on Duolingo's Wikipedia page is "freemium". It costs $5 for a bonus skill and $7 to refill your hearts, which is roughly $1.40 per mistake. "100% free", but it "contains in-app purchases". The iOS version of Duolingo no longer lives up to its motto.
Duolingo does, obviously, need to make money. The gems feature is, according to pretty much everyone on this site who doesn't work at Duolingo, not the way to do it. It does nothing but make things worse for everyone using the app.
TL;DR No one likes gems.
Possible Solution: Keep the ads - provided they're unintrusive - and keep Duolingo Plus, but lower the cost, bring it to all versions, and add more features to it. This is not to say Duo should take any features in the current website and make them Duo Plus-only, but rather that they should make some new features and add them to Duo+. I would certainly consider subscribing if this was done.
Another idea that's been suggested a lot is if the ads were presented in the target language.
Problem: A/B tests are annoying. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, an A/B test is where some of the users have a certain feature and some do not, and then the people performing the test look at the data and decide whether the feature is worth having or not.
It seems like a good idea, and in moderation, it is. The thing about Duolingo is that it seems like everything from the order of languages displayed on the course selection page to the colour of the background is an A/B test. Especially for useful features like the conjugation tables or progress quizzes, being put in the "not have" group can be, to say the least, annoying. (There's even an A/B test on the web version for not having the Tips & Notes!)
I use Duolingo Classrooms, and imagine having a student who doesn't have the Tips & Notes and a student who doesn't have the Words tab and a student who doesn't have the progress quizzes, etc., and you can see how this would be problematic.
TL;DR A/B tests are annoying.
Possible Solution: Allow us to select which A/B tests we're in. This may seem like it would ruin the idea of A/B tests, but it wouldn't: there would be an option in settings for the A/B tests, and we select which ones we want to be in. Which ones we're defaulted into are randomly selected, like a normal A/B test. If lots of people turn an A/B test off, it's probably safe to say they don't want that feature.
Problem: Spam. Post spam, comment spam, downvote spam, upvote spam, and so on. Duolingo tried to fix this by limiting up/downvoting abilities on the forums, but that only makes the problem worse, since we can't downvote the spam that deserves it.
Possible Solution: Require email verification. With Duolingo's current sign-up system, I can register with the email firstname.lastname@example.org and it will let me. If this weren't the case, it would be harder to make a lot of Duolingo accounts, while still not being hard for the average person to sign up.
Thanks for reading this. The suggestions I've put here are mostly my own ideas. Feel free to mention any problems and/or possible solutions and I'll edit them into this post.
Hi. I'm the CEO of Duolingo and I can attest I read your post :)
Let me take the time to respond to a few of your suggestions.
[Get rid of gems and] Keep the ads - provided they're unintrusive - and keep Duolingo Plus, but lower the cost, bring it to all versions, and add more features to it. This is not to say Duo should take any features in the current website and make them Duo Plus-only, but rather that they should make some new features and add them to Duo+. I would certainly consider subscribing if this was done.
This is a lot easier said than done. We need to make $62,000/day. Unfortunately, in order to do that with just ads, they would have to be pretty annoying -- imagine ads in the middle of a lesson that you can't easily click away. I don't think anybody wants that. Saying you want to get rid of gems, keep the ads unintrusive and lower the price of the subscription is like saying we should make a restaurant that sells food for less money than it costs to acquire the ingredients. It sure would be nice, but it's not viable.
A/B tests are annoying.
It is mainly because of A/B tests that Duolingo is where it is today. When we initially launched about 4 years ago, only 15% of the people who signed up to Duolingo came back the next day. Today, that fraction is over 50%, and that improvement comes entirely from A/B testing.
Unfortunately your suggestion (allowing some people to self select to be out of A/B tests) ruins the statistical significance of the tests because it biases the population of those seeing the test, so we can't do that.
We're working on that! It will get better soon!
Okay, thanks for replying. Is there anything you're doing to help communication? I know Duolingo needs to make money, but it's pretty clear that there are few people who like the gems, and I'm scared that it will be brought to the web.
It sure would be nice, but it's not viable.
The reason I suggested that was because there were a lot of people (including me) who would be fine with getting Duo+, but it was more than we were willing to pay.
Also, one more question: what's with removing the monthly XP gain, progress tests, language icons, "Review lesson", and trying to make the web version more like the app? I can sort of understand removing Immersion and Activity, but these other things seem way too small to be worth removing.
When you go through a lesson, there used to be a grey button in the bottom-left-hand corner of the screen that said "Review lesson", which you could click on and see what you answered which questions and which ones you got right and such. It was really useful for timed practice, since when you go through the questions really quickly, you sometimes miss what you got wrong.
So that's not there anymore, hence the confusion. I know that not a lot of people used it, but it's such a small bit of the site that there shouldn't be any reason to get rid of it. Same thing for the progress quiz, conjugation tables, and monthly XP bars. What purpose does it serve to remove those? I use Duolingo as the central part of some internet-based language courses and those bits would have been really helpful to have.
This is why the A/B tests are annoying - I get why they're helpful, but why do you guys need to test every little thing? Why do you need to take away the little things that help us? Immersion and Activity were big clunky pieces of code that made the site more expensive, sure, I get that. But do the progress quizzes and XP bars really make that much of a difference? To us, definitely, but to you guys?
I love this site and it's changed my life a lot and I don't want it to go downhill like I've seen a lot of other sites - Memrise with the removal of the mnemonics, Lang-8 with the removal of the ability to register (!) - do.
Anyway, thanks for reading this rant, and I love your site. Thanks for it.
As for the language icons, it looks like their removal was just a bug. It's been fixed now. (There's still that thing where typing 1-2-3 doesn't work for selecting multiple-choice questions, but that might have been fixed too.)
Edit: He doesn't reply. Sigh. L'ironie.
I can't progress without the tips and note version. I use the web version on the mobile just to been able to study them. Instead putting it on native app version, you removed from mobile web version. Now I can only study on my computer. That's the worst problem with it and a lot of people agree with this. Please solve this question.
Thanks so much for what you and your team are doing at Duolingo Luis!! It's MUCH appreciated! :)
Can I ask a question that's been troubling me ever since I recently began visiting the Duolingo forums?
What the heck are gems? $5 for a bonus skill? $7 to replenish your hearts? What hearts? I use the web version and the iOS version of Duolingo, and the only thing that I have seen that costs money is the Ad-Free for One Month ($9.99) option under Special Offers in the store. I updated the app sometime last week to get the Japanese course, so I don't think I'm using a super old version of the app. I'm confused!
You're probably in the "not have" part of the A/B test. Older accounts are updated later than newer ones, so you'll probably get the update pretty soon. Buy everything you can now while you still have the chance.
I updated my app for Japanese as well and didn't have the new app either, but last night, I opened up the app and it suddenly switched over to the new version. I didn't have to update it or anything. So yeah - definitely buy things now.
I don't think most people understand what "Duolingo is free and will always be free." means. It means that even if you are poor and can't spend a single cent, you still have a chance to learn a language. It doesn't mean that the site will never have anything that is a convenience thing that you can pay for, it means that if you don't have money, you can still have every standard skill and course to learn. (in my opinion bonus skills shouldn't cost money, but I understand that they wanted to give something extra for those who want to learn more and are willing to pay for it, and they are not really core material.) Thats a big difference.
Good point. Also, Duolingo is free, but it costs them at least $60,000/day to operate.
Also, hearts. They refill by themselves in an hour or so, so it gives the learner some time to do whatever, or check their notes on things they might remember poorly. Binge studying and cramming a lot of material in a short time actually decreases how effective one can learn, and they try to set up a "healthy limit" against it. It still needs some time to be properly figured out, but it's generally not a bad idea.
I finished my Spanish tree, and I'm using Fluencia.com to learn new material and Duolingo to review my old material. Even with Fluencia.com, they have a smart review system, which has encouraged me to review points in which I'm weak in about every few days. When Fluencia.com thinks it's time for me to do a review, I do that before doing any other new lesson. I'm not upset with Fluencia.com for wanting me to review even though I'm paying them $14/mo right now. To me, the idea of reviewing material isn't bad--especially because one of my goals is to learn Spanish this year.
thanks for the clarification about the A/B tests, I didn't have a clue about them! I didn't understand what everyone is talking about, all the changes, I guess I just don't have them!
I created a post on these issues about 6-months ago as I was getting really frustrated. I have used Duolingo for about 5-years and was very pleased with the progress that I made. I have tried a number of providers of translation programmes. I kept getting wiped out by losing health and the cost of reinstating them was excessive. I also run Babble who charge me about £50.00 a year for not such a good programme. I have completed Duolingo and was relying on practice to top up. I have also completed Basic and Intermediate Babble.
Using the same basic calculations, I worked out that if I wanted to continue Duolingo the annual cost would be at least 10 times, that off Babble.
Is Duolingo Free? I have had a free service ever since I started using the course. I have read the adverts and even took a few up to test them. That was also Free, but I found that the products were of little value and have not kept them up.
I know my problems, I have developed a poor memory and I can't get my head around gender or the order of the words in the sentence. I was making mistakes, but the practice was helping me to sort the matter out.
I was seriously considering packing up Duolingo, but decided to put the post on. I had numerous advices most of which were extremely helpful. As a result, I have written off about 5-years work and started again, using Microsoft instead of Apple and am using a different e-mail address so that my two programmes don't conflict. At the moment, Duolingo have not put the health programme on Microsoft. I am extremely grateful for all of the advice that I have received.
As a result, I am still learning Duolingo as opposed to Babble and having started again, I am taking more time to understand genders and sentence constructions and am getting a better understating.
The downside is that it is extremely slow and laborious and although it is better progress I am not moving forward very fast.
One further problem that I would add is that Duolingo provides a more basic system than Babble, so it does not take you so far and it would be nice to be able to move into a more Intermediate and Expert level.
Looking at my own personal view of what problems exist, I would be prepared to pay a similar price to Babble, the basic system is as good, but without the hearts and the adverts etc. and something more Intermediate/ Expert to go to when you complete the first course.
As I was helped considerably by the responses that I received to my post, I really hope that this helps you.