Followers and clubs
These features appear to be a complete waste of time. They could be made better by allowing the exchange of contact details (with permission). In that way, individuals could have private discussions, offer advice, etc. Either that or develop an on-site private messenger.
Duolingo is a mixed age environment. The Community Guidelines specifically prohibit people from exchanging contact details. Doing so will get an account banned or completely removed. This is for the safety of our community members. If people cannot say something publicly on Duolingo, it is probably not something appropriate to be saying in this community anyway.
Right, fear. Always a good foundation for building a "community". Thank goodness Duolingo has erradicated all possible online ill from the world! Minors shouldn't be online unsupervised. End of.
As for private discourse being "probably not appropriate", I am forced to conclude that I'm not being addressed by a rational individual. Which is reason enough for my desiring such privacy.
I was in a Japanese club for months, and no one was active or did anything after the first week. Finally everyone dispersed, I joined a new club where every single person practices 400xp or more per week. I managed to raise two levels in about a week, and I can introduce myself in Japanese. So I think the feature is based on how it's used.
It's still just some lame competition. What do I care if 14 strangers are spending more or less time practising than I am? I don't need that. I can motivate myself. What I can't do is chat with a specific person about a specific issue or the language in general.