Duolingo was started by the guy who came up with re-captcha, and the original idea was to have people translate the web, while learning a language. That didn’t work, though, and Duolingo shifted toward a more “normal” freemium business model. Because it was completely free for a long time, and it was a comprehensive program, it has built a gigantic user base and brand, and word on the street is that they’ll go public kind of soon… so… lost and lots of money for the founders.
Duolingo is absolutely dominating the online learning market, sucking up like 80% or 90% market share while all the other apps and sites fight over scraps.
But Duolingo is really not that great. They have a learning tree for grammar, offer vocabulary lectures, different kinds of learning games and spaced repetition. But it’s all just the usual stuff.
And since they started monetizing, it’s not even all that free anymore.
I think the fact that they dominate the market the way they do doesn’t really push them to innovate at all. It’s high time for some real competition and innovation in the space.
If you’re a VC or angel investor… hit me up. I got some ideas.
- fairly comprehensive curriculum
- HUGE user base, which is very active in forums and boards, so you can find answers to almost all your questions there
- okay interface
- a cute owl that motivates you to learn more
- lots of clicking. I tried Japanese and half of what I did was clicking “next” buttons.
- lots of stupid, artificial sounding examples
- confusion over what is a translation and what isn’t (you’ll spend lots of time reading comments)
- learning tree is too restrictive and oyu have to do lots of boring lectures to get to what you actually care about
- many people have finished the tree and are nowhere near even a basic conversation
- a patronizing owl that low-key threatens you to learn more… or else!
All in all, being as big as it is, and mostly free, it’s a good way to take a first peak, but I see it as just a cheap source for exercises.
I’m almost sure you’ve all used Duolingo, so let me know your thoughts in the comments :)