Harnessing Collective Intelligence using LiveMocha

In O’Reilly’s core Web 2.0 strategies, there is a focus on leveraging the knowledge of the crowds. The Harnessing Collective Intelligence pattern is focused on developing content that can be leveraged to the strategic advantage of an individual or organisation. There is a clear focus on producing reliable and correct data from the knowledge of experts out on the Internet. Looking around the Internet, there are a lot of examples of collective intelligence; Google Docs, crowdsourcing via Twitter and suggestion engines such as Last.fm and Urbanspoon, but none mentioned really do much in the way of building the global village.

This is where LiveMocha comes in. LiveMocha is a social language learning platform, where the users are both students and teachers. All of the courses hosted on LiveMocha are written and maintained by the community; even interactive writing and speaking “exam” submissions are checked and assessed by native speakers in the community.

LiveMocha Language Lesson
Interface for learning to speak and read a language in LiveMocha

The LiveMocha experience has myriad positive factors making it a viable way to learn a language online – course content is produced by experts peers, and is checked by other course experts. Users learning a language are supported by users who are experts in the language and can actively contribute to content. There is a focus on users helping users in both cases. As the user base and active contribution accelerates, more languages and quality content becomes available, increasing application value, which is likely to attract more users, magnifying and multiplying the effect.

Users are invited to use the service and actively participate through multiple channels, encouraging growth and customer loyalty. An account on the service is free (lowering the barrier to entry), an account is designed to be social and courses are mostly free. For users acting as experts (the language teachers), there is a point reward or cash reward system for their teaching, and this is linked to feedback from student users as to the quality of their teaching. This implicitly creates an environment where good content and better teachers are rewarded and recognised more, improving content quality.

The only real negative for LiveMocha is that the quality of a course comes back to the quality and knowledge of contributions. The quality and accuracy of each course’s content comes back to the number and quality of contributors available to develop and approve content; its all tied back to the network effect.

Overall, LiveMocha is quite unique. The service deals with a topic which is uniquely innate to a global audience, and leverages the knowledge of its users well. The number, coverage and quality of course, while considerable now, will continue to grow as the active user base grows. It will be exciting to trial this product over a longer period of time to see if it is completely feasible to learn a language solely online using collective intelligence.


12 thoughts on “Harnessing Collective Intelligence using LiveMocha

  1. Interesting post Trent,
    I had heard about this site a while ago, when it had fewer members- at that time I did not see the value in joining the site (1. Because it was now widely used, and the language I was interested in was not available, and 2. I could not preview the website without joining, a pet peeve of mine). This site looks like it has come a long way by increasing the number of users while still ensuring the quality of the content. This website is also a great example of being able to tap into ‘niche’ markets, if you were to browse the shelves of bookstores to find language guides on half of the ones listed on the site – you wouldn’t be able to find anything! I have known people to join this site simply because they can’t find access to language guides anywhere else in bookstores or on the Internet (e.g. Punjabi).

    Great post,

    1. Hi Mindy,

      That is an excellent point that I had not considered during my investigation – of course it seems obvious now. Clearly, this factor provides a lot more incentive to native speakers of a given language where there is a niche market – there are limited resources to meet a larger demand, meaning credits are more valuable. This is something that LiveMocha would need to consider to ensure internal marketplace consistency, while still encouraging growth in these niche areas to grow the reach of the website.

  2. This is a pretty neat concept, harnessing the power of the collective intelligence to teach languages. If there’s one thing that I think we’ve all discovered on the internet, it’s how difficult language is to learn/work with.
    One thing that wasn’t clear to me however was do the authors get reimbursed if the site is charging for their content? If not it seems like it’d be a barrier to gaining others to contribute.
    Also you have a typo in there, Users are invited to use the service and actively participate trough multiple channels,

    1. Hi Chris,

      Authors and contributors are reimbursed through a credit or cash system where there are reviews and checks on quality before a user is rewarded. There is an internal marketplace of LiveMicha credits which can be used to purchase courses for the contributor, or they may be exchanged for cash.

      Also, thanks for pointing out the error in my spelling.

  3. Great post Trent! Agreed that in any instance where consumers are contributing content, you inevitably come across issues with the quality of that content. Learning a language through a collaborative site like Live Mocha has to be easier than using a book or language tape – often these don’t teach conversational language skills, rather then focus on vocabulary. I am interested to give this site a try – although I do agree with Mindy, try before you buy is key with sites like these.


    1. Hi Steph,

      The good thing about LiveMocha is that it is free for the beginner courses – so you essentially get to try before you buy. This is why LiveMocha has such a good advantage – they use a “free for many, price for a few”, which sucks you in first and then you pay for extras.

  4. Thanks for the insight into LiveMocha, I hadn’t come across this site before and will be sure to give it a go. I have several Iphone applications which lack the conversational needs that this site could provide. The fact that your only real negative for the site was the integrity of courses reflects its reliance on collective intelligence and tells me that they got the rest of its features (Framework) right. The power of any of these sites is dependent on the engagement of the users, therefore I shall go sign up and add a new English speaking node.

    1. Hi Shaun,

      My apologies for the slow reply. I agree – I’ve had experience with apps on iPhone where it is difficult to actually have a native speaker assess your performance. LiveMocha could make a lot of money and gain significant market share by making similar features available on iPhone, perhaps in a context where you could post what you are learning or need to learn while on holiday or business in a foreign country with a foreign language.

  5. People teaching people a foreign language… Although the idea is far from novel, the online versatility that Web 2.0 has provided adds a new depth. I would ask how those that contribute their time into teaching others, receive compensation, short of any moral feelings of “fuzziness”. Great review though, and of course I have to give it a go. Even if it is just for fun.

    1. Hi Justin,

      As I replied to Chris’ comment, there is an internal marketplace of LiveMocha credits that a user is awarded when they contribute to another user learning a language course. The allocation of credits depends on the throughput of the user (raw number of items processed), but more importantly, the quality. Clearly LiveMocha is interested in ensuring quality of collective intelligence for all users, so this provides a control over the quality of the service.

  6. It’s a pretty cutting edge concept don’t you think? Personally I wouldn’t think it would have worked as I thought there would be n abundance of people asking questions with none getting answers. However their point reward system to fix this is obviously working effectively.

    One thing I’m still curious about is if users get different forms of credit based on the usefulness of their contribution. Also if a contribution is rated as good, then the website could use analytics to gather intelligence for improving automated translation – harnessing the data of the social intelligence. When considering a future outlook, thats a clear possibility.

    1. Hi Anthony,

      Yes – credits are awarded based on the quality of the contribution. Users providing assessment feedback (such as that for written text and spoken passages) are assessed by the student on the quality of their feedback. Although there could potentially be problems with some users abusing the system (e.g. being rude for no real purpose), again we would assume that collective intelligence (incorporating convergent thinking) would kick in and place a control over this.

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