The upcoming shutdown of the once leading language learning community Livemocha shows that the technological platform a product is based on is as crucial to the success and survival as the offering itself. Livemocha missed the trend of mobile device based language learning and consequently lost its market share and appeal to consumers.
The upcoming shutdown of Livemocha comes hardly as a surprise; one could argue that the language learning community has been on life support for almost three years after its acquisition by Rosetta Stone. One Twitter user stated that Rosetta Stone simply left Livemocha dying in a ditch.
Yet, pulling the plug for good is always a moment of reflection and essentially a point of no return.
As cross-dressing sensation Conchita Wurst belted out her Eurovision Song Contest-winning tune across a room filled with Europe’s hottest tech start-ups, I knew it could only mean one thing: the Europas annual awards evening had officially begun. From Berlin came Babbel, who have become one of the world’s leading language learning platforms. Used in 190 countries, with over 25 million app downloads to date, they swept to victory in the education category in exuberant style. However Busuu, Babbel’s nearest rival both in market and geography, reached a staggering 50m users this year, proving that Europe has truly emerged as the home of social language learning.
Way back in the days, in August 2009 to be precise, I hosted a webinar series called the E-Teachers Conference. Around that time crowdsourcing became quite a popular topic among education startup people, especially in the language learning space. The reasoning behind that trend essentially was: if Wikipedia can do it, so can we.
Most notably Livemocha, which used to be the leader of the pack at that time, crowdsourced nearly all of its freely accessible language courses from its global community. While this enabled Livemocha to add new language options at a rapid pace, it also showed the flaws of such an approach: the localizations were mediocre at best.
This column was first published in EducationInvestor Volume 6, Issue 3 April 2014.
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When it comes to language, Europe is in a unique position. In a small geographical area, connected by a common market and to some extent common culture, we have access to nearly all the world’s most important languages: English, of course, but German, Spanish, Portuguese and French all play major roles in global trade, too. And the European Commission is keen to get people learning: a year ago, it announced the lofty goal of making every European speak at least three languages, calling this multilingualism strategy “mother tongue plus two”.