Live Mocha is a relatively new social networking web site that won 'best in show' at a recently innovators conference. The premise of their site is that people can learn a foreign language by being connected to native speakers and other learners. It is an interesting application of the social networking concept.
The founders of this product have done their homework and thought a great deal about features, content and the subscription model. Their adviser's include language learning experts to ensure that supplemental content is created with true pedagogical foundations but it is curious that they have elected to create educational material themselves rather than license it from an existing publisher. As their needs grow perhaps this will change but at the very least they should consider including dictionaries and learning aids such as games. (These could be used as premiums).
Established players such as Berlitz and Rosetta Stone don't appear to be playing in this segment. While Berlitz (and possibly Rosetta) have the financial resources they are both either conservative or strictly wedded to their existing content delivery models. As a result, competition is most likely to come from new entrants (Mango, italki.com, Virtualingo.com, Huitalk.com, Kantalk.com, Welang.com) but based research into these, there doesn’t appear to be any immediate direct competitor to LiveMocha that combines online delivery of language learning with all the benefits that social networking can offer.
In a research context some universities have experimented with learning using a social context but, as yet, these don’t appear to have become commercial operations. There is a great deal of interest in applying social networking in an education setting. It is likely that research will be ongoing and that eventually a commercial program will develop. Moodle.org is a course management platform on which an experimental pilot study was based to teach a five week German course at the Open University (search ‘language’). The University of Manchester (UK) used Macromedia Breeze to test voice, video, chat to teach Spanish (link). In my view, the LiveMocha model could be used as a platform for other subjects beyond language learning.
LiveMocha has not implemented a pricing model yet. Berlitz group lessons run about $250 for 10 sessions and Rosetta Stone's self-teaching products start around $200. I would anticipate LiveMocha using these price points as guides but LiveMocha may be considered a ‘supplemental’ approach to language learning which means consumers may not be willing to pay at this level. More importantly though, I think LiveMocha will want to encourage users to stay with them for an extended period because more users represent more of a community and therefore more of a learning environment. Effective pricing is an important element of that strategy. If the community is in constant flux: one week you have three friends and next week they are all different, this is will undercut one of the core advantages of learning language in a social network. Establishing a price mechanism that encourages users to stay with the service/community for 12-18mths could be more financially rewarding than having them come in for 3mths and leave. The social network will be more robust and stable thereby encouraging new community members and existing ones to stay longer.
This is an interesting social web site and it will be interesting to see how it develops and whether some of the more traditional players follow with their own applications.
(Thanks to the anon person for pointing out a major erroneous assumption in the earlier draft).