さよなら Smart.fm

Smart.fm, formally know as iKnow, is going back to its original name and going behind a paywall. Quite a steep paywall as well at 1000円 or $12 a month. And in the process finally abandoning the last of the community/social aspect of their business.
They have a lot of disgruntled users. (also complaints at koohii and tofugu) But I expect them to disappear as their user base shrinks by about 95% if newspaper paywalls are anything to go by.The (ex)users may well delete their vocab lists before they go which will lead to patchy results in the community lists search feature of iKnow. I’ve had a look at the new site. It feels very much a cut down version of the free community based site. Any subscription money you have would be better spent on a couple of good textbooks.I can understand the anger of users. Smart / iKnow set itself up as a free collaborative social space, with the hint of possible future premium features. It’s to become a subscription based online srs program. (with the possibility of mobile apps, not sure how this will work but based on their prior efforts not so good would be my guess). A very different proposition. They have also taken the user compiled lists and locked the compiler out. At the very least it’s very poor etiquette on Cerego’s behalf not to credit people. From a users perspective the inability to search for a compilers work makes for a poorer experience.

They’ve squandered a lot of goodwill and are now engaged in some damage limitation. (They have since deleted their blog, not that they read many comments judging by the spam they allowed to accrue.) Despite what Cerego say a substantial amount of content on the site was user generated, according to their own statistics yesterday over 1000 items were created and 120 lists (goals) compiled, and this during the swan song. Individuals have added thousands of words, sentences and translations, and hundreds of lists. Quality aside, just going by the index generated on custom lists I would guess there are circa 674,000 custom goals compared to under 100 of Cerego’s official goals.
I’m tempted to delete the lists I made but it’d be a bit churlish perhaps. I more or less knew I was providing free labour for Cerego, but saw it as part of the give and take of a sharing community. I certainly won’t be making any transition to the paid site.

Smart was good for a while. Eventually though, I became fed up with how laborious it was to create lists and how difficult it was to extract your content from the site. When I got an iPod touch I no longer wanted to study online and moved to using a flashcard application. I think that’s where the majority of iKnow / Smart’s users will go. I reckon under $30 would buy a desktop app of equal power or about $6 on an iPod.
I understand their need to charge fees. It can’t be cheap to run a site like that and as yet there wasn’t much evidence of a revenue stream from the site itself although they have raised $23million plus in funding to date. I wonder if the investors will be seeking a return. That’s about 160,000 user years of subscriptions. Unfortunately for Cerego the dominant pricing on the Internet is free. The pricing of apps on the Apple App Store is under $5 (as a one off payment) They are facing an uphill battle. I would have thought a freemium model would have worked better. Although maybe they hope the core market in japan is less likely to complain and more likely to pay. I’m not so sure. The Japanese I’ve met expect top quality service and products.

If you want an alternative to smart.fm online try wordchamp.com. It may not be as graphically stylish but it has some more features. It’s free but also has a premium rate at a very reasonable $10 a year. Or there’s quizlet. On the iPod I recommend flashcards deluxe ($4) Or for a dedicated (but less customisable) program with multiple tests and games and high quality material to study including audio by native speakers and example sentences I highly recommend Japanese Sensei ($16)
Actually I recommend an iPod over any online system or desktop system mainly because it’s so portable; you can find many spare moments to go through your flashcards.
Anki seems very popular. It’s free for pc and mac but relatively expensive on the iPod (mainly the developers idea is for the iPhone app to subsidise the work on the free desktop app). I don’t really like it. It requires a lot of initial effort to learn the program and it always seemed windows clunky in it’s interface and documentation.

(This is a cross-post from my microblog, I wonder what that does to my google juice)

01. February 2011 by ロバート
Categories: 01 news • 新聞 | Tags: , , | 3 comments

Comments (3)

  1. Thanks for a good post with many interesting links that I’m exploring right now (including your own site). I’ll definitely find my alternative to Smart.fm/Iknow among them. I hate to see Smart.fm go, cause I loved the site. Paying for Iknow is not an alternative, mainly out of principle and in solidarity with those users who contributed by creating their own courses.

  2. Thanks for your comment.
    It’s a shame about Smart. Their original ethos was all about the collaboration and using social mediums to learn. They’ve thrown that all away with the new site.
    This quote from Conor O’Brien I found today summed it up for me

    We push our lives into the internet, expecting the web to function as a permanent and ever-expanding collective memory, only to discover the web exists only as a series of present moments, every one erasing the last. If your only photo album is Facebook, ask yourself: since when did a gratis web service ever demonstrate giving a flying fuck about holding onto the past?

    seen on –> http://adactio.com/journal/4336/
    original –> http://bygonebureau.com/2011/01/17/link-rot/

  3. Yeah, that was well put. That’s why I pay for my online (backup) photo album.

    I agree about Smart. I mean, I would happily have paid for *that* service, just not the Iknow one. Killing the social aspect is killing yourself.