Duolingo – a lesson in how to destroy user engagement

Nearly all of my posts are travel, food or drink related. This post is tenuously linked to travel as it involves Duolingo and learning a foreign language so you can try to speak some of the local language when you travel.

If you’re not across Duolingo it’s a website and app that tries to teach you a foreign language and to keep you engaged they use gamification. As you pass milestones you get badges that other users can see. They also have a set of weekly leagues where you can progress up the ladder to the Diamond league as you do more learning. It’s a bit of a carrot to get you learning because who doesn’t like a new shiny badge or a bit of recognition as you move up the league tables.

People are engaged more because of the rewards but what happens when the rewards change underneath your feet?

A bit of background first. The weekly leagues are supposed to finish a Monday morning midnight UTC which for me, being on the east coast of Australia, equated to 9 or 10am Monday morning. What this meant was that on a Sunday evening I could smash through a number of lessons to cement myself in the Diamond league for French. Other users know their end times based on their timezone and do the same.

So, what’s the problem, well Duolingo decided that they’d change the league end times without announcing that it would happen.

The way I found out was that I logged in on Sunday evening to be told I’d already been demoted from the Diamond league when there was still supposed to be 10 hours to go, and when checking the Duolingo message board there were many unhappy people. There were pointers to an item in a discussion forum that had this potential change in amongst the hundreds of posts.

Before finding the above thread I reached out to @duolingo on twitter to see if there was a problem but my tweet has so far been ignored.

Similarly, I posted to the message boards only to be further ignored.

Their actions and silence reinforces that Duolingo just don’t care about user experience and their users who were invested in the game. I’m sure there are alot of folk right now who are wondering why they bother to play the game when the rules can be surreptitiously changed beneath your feet while the game is being played.

I won’t be playing the league game anymore, I’ll learn at my own speed and come what may but the bigger problem for Duolingo was that I was a paid for Duolingo Plus member and that subscription won’t be renewed when it comes due.

Duolingo, without your users you are nothing and without paying customers you are less than nothing… always keep the customer in mind in everything you do, don’t make retrograde platform changes, slip them in without telling people, and then ignore people when they ask what’s happening.

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