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Steve: Hi, Jill.
Jill: Hi, Steve.
Steve: We have a special guest here today but, you know, first I was thinking we should have a name for our little thing; you know, our little discussion; our podcast.
Should we call it the Jill and Steve Podcast?
Sometimes we have special guests, like today, but…
Steve: Well, don’t give away the secrets.
We have a special guest here.
We had a special guest the last time, Stephen Coyle and we have a special guest this time.
But, seriously, this is one more in the series of podcasts that Jill and I have done where we speak on different subjects.
These are transcribed; they are available at EnglishLingQ.com and we enjoy doing them.
And with that, we’ll move to our special guest.
And who is our special guest?
It’s Mark from two doors over.
Mark: Well, I don’t feel so much like a special guest since I am involved in a fair number of these myself.
It is already the EnglishLingQ Podcast.
I don’t think we need another name for it.
Basically, all the podcasts are discussions mostly between you two but also involving others and me a fair amount of the time, so I think that’s probably good enough.
Steve: The EnglishLingQ Podcast Series it is.
Now, we didn’t invite you here because you’re involved and have been on previous discussions.
We invited you here because you have been very much involved in this whole Web 2.0, 3.0.
I even heard reference to Web 4.0 world of sort of interactivity, conversations, connections between people who have common interests.
It’s a personal thing; it’s a social thing; it’s a marketing thing.
I don’t understand it very well.
Every so often I get prodded by Mark to do certain things so I thought that Mark should come in and Jill and I, who are relative neophytes, we can ask stupid questions and you can give us enlightening answers.
Mark: Well, that whole concept doesn’t sound like it should be too much of a problem; the stupid questions and enlightened answers part.
Regarding Web 2.0, Web 2.0 I understand.
Web 3.0, 4.0, people use those terms; I don’t know if they are necessarily properly defined.
I don’t really know what those refer to exactly.
As for Web 2.0 which is…yeah, the way we are trying to move our site at LingQ.
The basic concept, at least in my mind, is that instead of just having a website the way things are going is to have a community built around an activity on a website so that, in effect, in terms of our language system where on the old Linguist the bulk of the activity was the activities on our site like reading, listening, reviewing vocabulary.
We did have a bit of community there in terms of our forum and with online discussions and we did have a bit of blogging started toward the end on Vox, but all those things we’re trying to make bigger and better on LingQ and to try and involve people more and to have more activities where our members can share with us, with each other, get to know each other and just build up the social interaction as it relates to language learning.
Steve: I mean, I saw it described somewhere that the initial idea with the webpage is that you simply put it up.
It’s like a brochure that’s online, so the webpage is talking at people or is telling people something so it’s very much a one-way street.
Now you read about how and we see — and maybe you can explain to us – some of these social interaction sites that have been so successful like Facebook and so forth where it’s really the computer that sort of connects you to all kinds of people and so it’s no longer the website talking to people who look at it.
It’s a lot of interaction and accessing resources and there’s a sort of an ongoing multi-level conversation and sharing of personal anecdotes and so forth some of which strikes me as being, you know, how much can you take.
A lot of it has to be just kind of frivolous overload and yet in all of that it’s looked at very seriously by marketing people, by educators and so forth and so on.
How do you sort through all the smog there to get at what’s real and what’s useful, in a word?
Mark: Well, not sure really where to start.
There were a lot of points and questions there.
To start with, yeah, regarding all the sites like Facebook and MySpace and whatever else is out there, Twitter and so on, where people are blogging or twittering or whatever you call it, putting up details of what they’re up to and talking to each other and following their friends lives through their blogs and so on, that whole thing, I must say…you know, and I think none of us are in a boat where we really do that but there are lots of people who do and lots of people who spend a lot of time doing that because I don’t see how else you could do that short of spending a lot of time.
I mean I know even when we had our Vox blogging community you can spend a lot of time keeping up with everybody and reading everybody’s posts and commenting and so on.
I think to a certain degree a lot of these things have an initial…like when people first get on them there’s an initial burst of enthusiasm.
People spend a lot of time and then I think for a lot of people it’s hard to maintain that level of enthusiasm to continuously blog about yourself and comment on other people’s blogs and so on.
Obviously, there are some people that do maintain it and do a lot of that and they enjoy it and that’s great.
I think it’s sort of a recreational activity for some people.
I think, hopefully, what would be a little different with us and, you know, we should have that sort of social part that just general interest of our members who want to speak to each other and connect and so on, but what’s different about our social network, if you want to call it that when we finally have it properly set up, is that people will be yes, communicating with friends but doing so in a language they are trying to learn so that, in effect, they are learning while they’re having fun and interacting, which I think makes us a little bit unique.
Steve: However, you know, we have seen that in Japan we have had Japanese speakers maintaining Japanese language blogs about language learning, which seems to provide them with some level of moral support and mutual encouragement.
I’ve seen it, like somebody will post oh, I’m so discouraged.
I did this and, you know, I didn’t do well and so forth and so on and then they’ll get three or four Japanese language posts saying oh no, you know, kosiko (??7:53) or whatever, you know, you must try harder.
There’s a whole mutual support group there, even in their own language, so that level of social interaction with learners of your own language group is also a good thing.
Mark: Absolutely and I think that’s one thing that we’ve said since day one is that while we believe learning on your own and using our system is the most efficient way to learn a language, we’ve also often said that it’s difficult to continue doing it on your own all by yourself in isolation.
One of the big advantages that schools have or maybe the only advantage that schools have is that they enable that social interaction between peers, which motivates you to keep going, to keep showing up everyday.
Steve: Of course, we’re looking at doing two things using this new Web 2.0 social interaction on the Internet and so forth.
It’s not only social interaction because it’s also taking advantage of resources that are available on the Internet like podcasts and so forth, which you might also maybe refer to.
In fact, I won’t ask all ten questions at once, so I’ll give you a chance to answer them.
I’ll begin by saying we’re looking at it from an educational point of view and from a marketing point of view.
If you look at the educational side of it there are some exciting opportunities to take advantage of resources that are on the Web.
Maybe you could talk a little bit about how that might work.
Mark: We have some ideas about taking advantage of podcasts and blogs in addition to all the, I don’t know what you call it, not properly produced, but conventionally produced content that’s available on the Web.
Specifically as it relates to podcasting and blogging, obviously, we want both audio and text.
Blogs don’t have sound; podcasts don’t have text.
We are trying to figure out the best way to interest bloggers or podcasters to provide either the text or the audio and also somehow link to our site so that people can use that material to learn from.
Obviously, we want to try and figure out a way that provides more sort of incoming links or traffic for us.
To do that we obviously have to provide some benefit to those bloggers and podcasters.
Number one: they’re looking for traffic.
Number two: I think a lot of bloggers and podcasters are having trouble figuring out how to monetize their podcasts and blogs, so if we can sell their content somehow through our site then there’s an attraction for them.
There’s a bunch of ideas there.
I don’t really want to specifically nail down any tactic because we haven’t perfected or completed our specification.
Steve: Certainly, that’s a big part of our strategy just as the idea of getting the involvement of our learners as content providers and potentially tutors in their native languages and so forth, so there’s that whole educational aspect of that interactivity in the Web 2.0 environment.
How about on the marketing side?
Do you want to comment?
I mean, we all see these audio clips, video clips, Seth Goden, Guy Kawasaki and so forth and so on.
You’re our combination of Seth Goden and Guy Kawasaki, so how do you see on the marketing side?
What is, in the end, going to work?
Is it the face tying into a Facebook?
Is it trying to do something on our own?
How do we, you know, establish creditability that people will talk about us in a positive way?
I mean, how do you see all that, in a word or ten or more?
Mark: Well, I mean, I think one of the issues that we face is that we don’t have a massive ad budget to spend nor is it obvious that by spending a whole bunch of money we would make that money back because our customers are everywhere, but there’s no specific…it doesn’t seem like in the past we’ve been able to target specific groups to market to where that marketing has been cost effective because our service isn’t very expensive.
Basically, the cost of marketing to an individual is too high.
So, we’ve got to try and figure out ways that we can have our members spread the word for us and that’s a big part of the social interaction for sure.
The more fun and the more social you can make it the more likely people are going to be able to spread it.
While an individual user might think our functionality is great the chances of that friend’s user thinking the functionality is great enough to come and join are just lower than the chances of their friend saying hey, I can come on.
I can speak to people all over the world.
I can learn a little Swahili at the same time, not that we have Swahili, but…
Mark: Make friends; get on with my friend.
I mean, all those types of things I think will help it spread more easily because in the past, even though we think our system has been effective and our members tell us it’s effective, they have had trouble spreading it because it wasn’t maybe as fun as it could have been, so we’ve tried to make it more fun and we’ll see.
Steve: I think, too, in the new system A: we’ve made it more fun, plus it’s easier to join because you can join for free.
We have more levels than we’ve had before so I think it’s going to be easier for people to come in and just play with it a little bit and if their friends are doing it and it’s fun then they may be, you know, inspired to join.
So, yeah, but if we leave aside our particular situation…it seems every six months there’s a new killer application.
I mean Skype, in a way, was a killer application and a successful one that’s still there.
Flicker, you know, Facebook, now it’s Twitter.
Do these all have legs, staying power?
Do some of them come and go?
How do you, as you are planning our strategy both in terms of education and marketing, know which one is a mirage that you don’t want to take a flying leap at?
Which ones are the ones that are going to be around that you want to, you know, influence your strategy?
With a new thing popping up every three months, is that a bit, you know, stressful really in the sense that you think anything you start to do is going to be outdated in three months or six months?
Mark: I mean I don’t really think that’s the case.
With new stuff that comes up, I mean, it’s a good idea to know about the new stuff and to check it out and to be aware of what they are doing and maybe you can learn something and take some of what they’re doing and plan to incorporate it some time in the future, but I think, generally, our strategy has been the same for quite a while.
We’ve been, obviously, taking longer than we would have liked to implement it, but the basic strategy is the same and I don’t see it changing where we’re trying to build up a social community around language learning.
Yeah, there’s going to be innovations and new wrinkles and improvements all the time and we’ll continue to improve our site on an ongoing basis as we go forward.
The basic strategy is the same and I don’t see where anything we’re doing should be changed regarding those applications that you spoke about.
Whether they would be lasting or not, who knows.
I mean, obviously, when they take off they take off at a sharp rate and then reach a level where I think they plateau, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have tens of millions of users.
You know, I don’t know if that…just because their growth rate has slowed doesn’t mean that they’re not doing well so, I guess, that would be that.
Steve: Well, you know, it’s a bit like the functionality on our site.
I mean there are always systems somewhere that are doing some little thing that we’re not doing and so we often get people saying well, why don’t you do this?
Why doesn’t your flashcard do that or why doesn’t your dictionary do this?
And, of course, you pointed out that we’ll be constantly perfecting our social interaction model and we will also be adding features to our basic learning functionality.
We think that the basic, the overall package, the sort of comprehensive, integrated, package we have is tremendously powerful.
Are there systems out there that have little features that we don’t have?
For sure there are and where there are good features like that we will be looking to integrate them, but you can’t always be looking over your shoulder and worrying about somebody else who has some feature, there will be.
In fact, many people are going to use more than one approach to learning a language.
People may books; should buy books; should do other things.
They don’t necessarily have to find everything possible related to learning a specific language in our system.
I think what we provide still has, I think, outstanding value.
Now, it’s one thing for us to say it but, of course, we hope that our learners will feel the same way and spread the word.
Thank you, Mark, for giving us an expert’s view on all of this.
What we should follow up with in the next episode is Jill and I, a couple of people who don’t know what they’re talking about, talking about this.
That would be interesting.
Don’t you think so?
Jill: Let me think on that one.
Well, thank you very much.
Thank you, Mark.
Mark: You’re welcome.