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Kindly comments on Who Wants To Start An Important Startup? - Less Wrong

41 Post author: ShannonFriedman 16 August 2012 08:02PM

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Comment author: sinak 18 August 2012 02:02:44AM *  2 points [-]

MIcaiah, thanks for the detailed and well thought-out response. I'll try and respond to some of your thoughts:

I imagine this would be very hard to monetize and get customers as-is.

As far as monetization goes, I think the best route would be to charge online education providers on per-API-call basis. The end goal would be to become something akin to the "Twilio of online learning." With a sufficiently developed system, I think it'll be possible to convince companies in the online learning space that this is a worthwhile value proposition for their users. End users who have committed to a particular online learning program are much more likely to be willing to use a spaced-repetition learning system to aid in their progress in a particular course.

Your emphasis though, would appear to be more oriented toward existing power users of SRS.

I think I gave the wrong impression here, I think I'd much rather target non-users of SRS. Building something simpler but more accessible seems like a more viable alternative. Gaining traction with average, non-SRSing users, and then later adding best-of-breed features to tempt online learning providers seems like a more reasonable approach.

The average user needs to be sold on the effectiveness of a product very fast, on the first usage (or perhaps even sooner!) in order for them to continue using. However, SRS software in general are almost by definition antithetical to that goal: Their benefits do not come until far into the future, worse still it's an undefined time in the future.

I've thought of a couple of simple use cases for this sort of platform that I think seem easy to build and quite compelling for an average non-SRS user:

  • Vocabulary expansion - For People looking to expand their vocabulary - a simple javascript bookmarklet that would allow users to learn the definitions of new words that they come across.
  • "Remember what you read" - It seems that given the number of things that an average person might hope to learn in a particular day, but which are instead soon forgotten, having a simple way to record those items would be quite immediately valuable. For example, as soon as I found Instapaper, I began saving documents that I wanted to read later. I could see a simple javascript bookmarklet for "things I've read online and want to commit to memory" being used in a similar fashion. This implementation would be a very, very crude version of SRS, but I think it could help get users on board.
  • Name-Face Identification - A tool that helps users learn the names of all the contacts in their LinkedIn or Facebook friends lists. Forgetting the names of acquaintances is a common problem, and an SRS program is an ideal solution.

Beginning with a simple, self-curated deck like the ones described above would also help to avoid the problem of not having good content for first-time users.

Very interested to hear feedback on the above.

Comment author: Kindly 19 August 2012 08:52:21PM 3 points [-]

Congratulations; you've motivated me to decide I'll use some sort of SRS to remember the names of my students, the next time I have to TA a class (most likely in January).

I'll find something to use one way or the other, but if you manage to provide a working alternative by that time, I promise to use it.

Comment author: gwern 08 February 2013 10:32:07PM 1 point [-]

How has it gone so far?

Comment author: Kindly 09 February 2013 01:30:44AM *  1 point [-]

The class I'm TAing has about 60 students in it; I see 40 or so regularly because one of the recitations is early in the morning and fewer people show up to it. Despite being rather lazy about reviewing, I can match around 90% of the photos to names, and make almost no mistakes going in the other direction (trying to imagine the photo given the name).

However, I think I only have around 50% success rate when faced with actual students. The photos I have are likely outdated (they're the photos taken for university IDs freshman year, and I suspect most of my students aren't freshmen) so that might be the problem. Another problem is that when learning the cards, I tend to remember facial expressions and incidental details like background color, even though I try not to; obviously this knowledge doesn't help in actual interaction with the students.

(I used Anki instead of MemStash.co because I couldn't get the latter to do what I wanted.)