Duolingo – an example of a “platform revolution” in Education.

     The disruptive power of collaboration through orchestration


Two months ago I started refreshing my German using an app called Duolingo. Since then I’ve become a big supporter and clearly I’m not the only one :  after only 4 years, 120 million people across the world use the free Duolingo app to learn a new language doing about 6.5 billion exercises every month.


Why has Duolingo become the largest language education platform in the world ?

At the first level I could talk to you about the obvious drivers for it’s success which made me totally hooked :

  • it’s ease of use anytime/anywhere/any device (cloud and smartphone centric),
  • it’s intelligence to detect the things I really struggled with using big data, and of course
  • it’s engagement ability through gamification that kept me using Duolingo every single day since two months (talking about creating adoption of a product) !

And yet this does not explain the real disruptive nature of Duolingo. Some  App’s I use  are successful for the same reasons but are not so disruptive. Why ?

Duolingo – an example of a platform revolution in Education.


A word we tend to see a lot when we read about digital disruption is the “the power of a platform strategy.” The authors that first coined that word even wrote a book about it.  “The platform revolution” is  a comprehensive recap of what makes a platform so disruptive often referring to the same examples Uber and Airbnb.



Summarized, a platform strategy creates and orchestrates an ecosystem of individuals that are both contributor, producer and user of the content of the platform.

Two notions are key :

  • While users enjoy the value of consuming content  they enrich the content and thus create value at the same time for other users.
  • We speak of a network effect as the more people are in the ecosystem the more value is created for the ecosystem.


The now famous paper napkin drawing by the Uber founder simply illustrated that vicious circle dynamic (linking more taxi drivers with more demand).

But rather than illustrating the platform again with Uber, let’s focus on Duoligo


Duolingo, unseen scaleability enabled by users co-creating the language platform

That vicious circle dynamic is what makes Duoligo so amazing as it’s proper user community is actually using the platform but at the same time building the content to make a full language course, TOGETHER. This way in just a couple of years it has been able to create 66 different language courses across 23 languages; with 22 additional courses in development. This way it is very likely that Duologo will one day come out with a West Flemish (my personal dialect) language course !

Duologo insipired by CAPTCHA

you have to see that  TED VIDEO


Before launching Duolingo, it’s founder Luis von Ahn had already demonstrated the power of massive-scale online collaboration : he invented reCAPTCHA, which is the text you type in to show the website you are human. You may not have realized it  but you were actually helping to decipher / read the letters of a scanned ancient book. At a ratio of 100million words a day this is the equivalent of 2.5 million books a year !

In the same video, van Ahn explains how Duolingo uses the same platform capabilities to create massive scale online collaboration.


As a digital optimist I hope this post will not only make you understand the dynamics of  disruptive digital collaboration but will also demonstrate that there is still a bright future for solving unsolvable problems marrying a digital platform with the scale of human collaboration.

B L O C K C H A I N ? !!!

blockchain 1

“Blockhain will dwarf the internet. It will enable structural disruption in every single one of the business we are working in”   Elon Musk


Underpinning this bold statement surely this new technology must be quite sophisticated. Nothing of that.

What does it do ?

Blockchain’s simple premise is that it is able to track (time stamp) and thus authenticate digitally all products of value (including “humans” by the way).

How does Blockhain work ?

Blockchain is born out of the encryption protocol used for the popular or rather unpopular Bitcoin encrypted payment currency. Bitcoin is a virtual payment new currency that started to live online 5 years ago. Bitcoin took a turn for the worst due to high speculation and fraud but the encryption protocol on which it is based seems here to stay.

The premise of the encryption protocol is very simple – if you find a way to time stamp a digital transaction simultaneously on thousands of different data basis spread all over the world, it becomes de facto impossible to erase that ONE time stamp. You would have to hack simultaneously in thousands of databases which is impossible. That simple process allows to build a digital universal ledger where every historic log of an event is authenticated. It is therefore impossible to be tempered with.

Blockchain major threat for the global Banking industry ?

blockchain 2

Today only 25% of the world population is able to make a transaction online. The banking/financial infrastructure today is technology built in the 5O’s . This current infrastructure is not future proof because it is :

  • Costly for micro payments : micro payments today are not taking off because of the cost model per transaction that is too high. In many parts of the world however, where people make $5 a day, micro-payments are the bulk of the payments.
  • Costly  for global payments  : to do international payments, banks need to use a complex net of bank inter connections and charge very high fixed costs
  • Not agile enough to innovate with as the legacy banking IT is too complex and totally closed. Because blockchain is an open source platform it will enable an exponential growth of services that will sit on top of the blockchain protocol

Future applications of blockchain ?

Blockchain will bring the V of Value in the WWW. Anything of value that needs authentication and tracking over time can be a candidate to tracked via blockchain. Providing the 70% of the world with a digital passport. Organising digital elections. Official record keeping of all your public files including housing property.

Some resources to consult

Check out this Retail wired talk of Brock Pierce which I found very comprehensive and with a lot of insights.

Khan Accademy about Bitcoin


Digital doom beach reading

Discover some “What If” scenario’s in digital doom

I’m a digital optimist. So once in a while it’s good to force yourself to think about  “what if” doom scenario’s to bring back some balance.

We regularly get exposed to incidences of hacking, identity theft and even nation sponsored cyber attacks as revealed by Snowden.

Talking to colleagues & customers however I don’t see a sense of urgency and especially an understanding of how big of a threat this could become.

With summer vacation ahead of us, some possible beach reading around that topic.

The Circle


I personally enjoyed reading the novel The Circle, from a known digital pessimist David Eggers.



Eggers demonises with his story a cliché world where one company called the Circle has become so dominant that it manages all public and private information.

I find the story over dramatic but it does project  you into some “what if ” scenario’s that don’t look that far fetched after all. The story starts from a simple optimistic premise of  technology being able to start a second age of Enlightenment because knowledge becomes so easy to access to all. The story however evolves to a world of all seeing and all knowing, a world where all information is knowledge and nobody can own it. It is nicely coined “info-communism”

I will not spoil the storyline which starts off quite slow but builds up after that. Don’t be surprised to end the book with some  reflections on democracy and religion.




If you really want to get a double expresso on digital doom , I can recommend reading Dark Territory, the secret history of Cyber War by Fred Kaplan.


This is NOT a novel. Kaplan is one of America’s leading writers on National Security. The book is based on input from more than 100 diverse participants involved in Cyber security.

I think it is very refreshing to put the Snowdon leaks and the recent revelation of the PRISM program into a historic view of  espionage that was dominated by Americans. Clearly, that supremacy is gone : digitalisation has broken the GEO balance of power. The world of exponential technology is de facto also available now for any cyber attacker with access to the internet.

The part that was most revealing to me is how vulnerable our basic physical infrastructure of electricity, telecommunication, water en food supply is not to talk about our financial infrastructure. In a world of Internet of Things (IOT), a world of 50billion connected device, everything becomes hackable. No need anymore to drop big bombs – just focus on just a couple of key nods of our infrastructure and a whole nation / economy goes into meltdown…. Like any historic review sometimes a bit detailed and lengthy but a story difficult to grab your head around except with these type of books.

Enjoy !





Crowdsourcing exam questions …. not such a stupid idea after all !

crowd sourcingA couple of months ago I made a small speech at the Brussels European Crowdsourcing event. My focus was the increasing importance of  Mobile Broadband Connectivity in general and the Internet of things (IOT) in particular will have as accelerator for crowdsourcing.

Little did I know that I would be talking crowdsourcing all  evening in be it a totally different context…

….my 16 years old daughter Tatiana was up in arms with a Fysics test she had to … not prepare for… but actually help design the questions of the test herself.

Specifically,  recapping the task : the class was devided in eight groups of 3 students. Each group had to deliver five test questions out of a Fysics 5 chapters. The teacher will then pick at randum 10 questions from the total of 40 questions.

Making test questions it turned out is much harder than learning answers.
Moreover, as to be expected, these digital kids shared ahead of time all the questions AND answers they each had developed … so defeating the purpose of a test right ? Well not so much as now everybody was studying 40 questions !
So croudsourcing the questions provided a dedactical collaboration rarely achieved before – the dedactical power was in the journey, the engagement between students more than in the finality of the test.

To conclude, schools often focus on the “infrastructure” part of digitalization.  I don’t enough hear schools reinvent their primary mission which is to educate as best as they can. The Kan accademy with their ‘flipping the class room” is one of the good examples, the MOOC as well. The crowdsourcing of testing is now way up there for me as another example 😉


Talk about efficient GreenField-IT !


Farmers have been early adopters of GpS and Satalite pictures to do “precision agriculture”.  Farmers’ future depends on it to help them be more effective, efficient and more ecological.

Enterprise Mobility is bringing farmer’s capabilities to a totally new level. Farming per definition is an outdoor industry that has not benefitted from a  lot of IT infrastructure.  New so called “GreenField IT” (greenfield because there was no IT before) is allowing farmers to leapfrog them into a digital future.

GreenField IT is made possible through spectacular evolutions on Smart devices, Internet of things, big data, cloud, crowdsourcing.

Drone’s however turn out to be a critical piece of the puzzle to bring even more GreenField IT to farmers.

Drone’s can indeed capture relevant information from the ground in real time. This is also called “contextual” information that can become a vital input to the farming process (e.g .if pest detected requires adapted spray). Drones can bring that “contextual” granularity down to a “plant by plant” level.

In have listed below two video’s that I believe  best capture the impressive evolution in the “intelligence and agility of Drones. To watch the Tedtalks please click on below banners.

robot video 1

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I hope this example will  trigger the question with you of “what contextual information can fundemmentally enrich my business model”.  For sure,  somebody else is doing it right now…

3D BIO Printing – Ecological Design Clothing

Wow – check out this TED video  – it is  not science fiction !

3D printing we’ve heard will enable fundemental change in the design and manufacturing of our goods in the future. The on-demand printing will Nexifoster unseen personalization. It will accelerate innovation by empowering Do It Yourself inventors to des-intermediate investors, manufactures and distributers. 3D printing will also reduce our ecological footprint : less stress on our Mobility (less logistics resources needed) and ii) reduced product consumption as we will just produce what we need to consume.

 Neri Oxman  brings however  a new dimension to 3D printing. On TED she demonstrates how 3D printing is enabling a new field of Ecological Design : i.e. a design rupsmethod that can interact with the biological world. We can now  rethink our current set of known printable materials but as well the functionality that we can expect from printed clothing (cfr. breathable pants) . Also, the example of the interaction of the biological world of caterpillars and technology is fascinating. Really worth watching !



The digital “HellVen” dilemma.

…or the case to make the UBER platform of digital education  








A  couple of months ago Jerimiah Owyang (@jowyang)  talked about how disruptive the impact of future digital innovation will be creating a new dilemma he called “HellVen” : i.e. a word combination  of  “Hell” and “Heaven”.

I struggle myself with this dilemma. On one hand how can you not be a technology optimist knowing all the good that digitalization still can offer for both our future economical and societal development.  On the other hand, the expected digitally enabled innovation is of that scale that it truly will indeed have the ability to disrupt  labor markets.

“The second machine age” I read later perfectly captures the HellVen dilemma  without actually referring to it.
   (MIT Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee) The book starts recalling how the industrial revolution and in particular the introduction of the steam Continue reading

Mobile Apps Will Transform All Business Processes – Is Your Company Ready?

Enterprise Mobility at the hart of your business strategy ?

image001DANIEL BURRUS is considered one of the World’s Leading Futurists on Global Trends and Innovation, a top LinkedIn Global INfluencer, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books including The New York Times best seller Flash ForesightFollow Daniel on Twitter andLinkedInwww.burrus.com

I have gladly posted a recent posting of Daniel best capturing the disruptive trends.

Over the last 12 months I’ve surveyed over 700 companies, asking them if they have developed any mobile apps internally to help them with such things as supply chain management, logistics, purchasing, maintenance, service, or sales support. At this point, only 4% said “yes,” which is very low considering how many smart phones and tablets are in use by businesses of all sizes today. Continue reading

Our new electronics revolution made of the top of your pencil

How “Graphene” will leap frog Mobility

Graphene is one the worlds best kept secrets. Especially as it is nothing short of becoming the most important enabler for a revolution in electronics but more particularly in mobility.

To summarise graphene has the capacity to turn consumer electronics into a world of flexible, paper thin, super light, unbreakable devices. “You could theoretically roll up your iPhone and stick it behind your ear like a pencil,” stated Professor James Tour, of Rice University. But beyond traditional electronic devices we know today it will enable many new fields of innovation just like “plastics” did in the 50ties.

No surprise that Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester who discovered graphene won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene”.[4] 

What is Graphene  ? Continue reading

What if your business model would be disrupted by a NETWORK effect !

…. and not a network of people but an intelligent network of things….

Many of us have or will get into first contact with the Internet of Things (IOT) through gadgets like Fitbit sports/ health bracelets. Yet all of us should think about how the Internet of Things will most likely radically change the industry we work in by fundamentally  affecting our business model.

I have posted below two articles that I think capture best the rapid evolution of digitalisation. Companies often see a digital transformation primarily behind an efficiency / cost driver. Digitalisation however can also introduce major innovation when one is ready to fundamentally rethink the business model.

Products as a service

Mike Kuniavsky recently posted network a good recap of how many of our industries will change due to digitalisation (read – From Selling Products to Managing Service) . I totally adhere to his view that the physical world slowly but surely erodes to become more digital, creating as he nicely says  “shadows in the cloud”.

By doing so it is allowing products to move away from being box moving / one shot sales to being sold “as a service”. This obviously brings along a totally new customer relationship.

There is however another advantage of the move to digitalisation. As more and more products will become digital we will start thinking more and more of products acting like elements of an (IT) network. Over time, the more diverse elements join the network the more intelligent the network will become and thus in turn the more intelligent the products can become. Continue reading