On February 20, 2019, many Memrise users received an email from Memrise’s CEO Ed Cooke, informing us about important changes to the service: The community-created courses would be removed from the Memrise website and app, and moved to a sister website called “Decks” in mid-March.
The forum announcement was immediately filled with angry users, mostly Memrise Pro customers. Many of us (including myself) are paying for the pro subscription to have offline access to the community courses in the app. By removing the community courses, Memrise is removing the reason why many people even pay for the subscription.
Memrise promised a follow-up and published a blog post on February 21st. This blog post made it clear that Memrise would hold on to their decision and was not interested in discussing it.
The decision in more detail: how Memrise treats its customers
It’s understandable that companies sometimes have to change things. They have to make money or they might not be able to provide their service anymore. But the way this whole thing was handled by Memrise is really disgusting.
The reason for the removal
The most disgusting part is how they justify their decision in their blog:
Since focusing on our own language courses, we’ve grown twenty times over, and a very small proportion of learning on our mobile apps now happens on community-made courses.
And later in the post:
As some of you have commented, we did come to this decision after a careful analysis of how and where community-created content is being learned, which is overwhelmingly online.
In November or December 2017, Memrise removed the ability to search for community courses in the app. There were a few topics about this in their forum, but no Memrise employee replied to them and there was also no announcement. They just silently removed the search ability.
It was still possible to search for community courses on the web and after joining them there, they also appeared in the app. But not every app user knew about this. And new app users wouldn’t even know that community courses exist. Of course fewer users use community courses in the app if they are hidden and harder to access. This means Memrise created this situation (=fewer people using community courses on the app) themselves and now they’re using it to justify the complete removal from the app.
The bad communication
There was one Memrise employee in the forum announcement who answered some questions but most of them were already answered somewhere else. Many other people had many other questions but most of this was ignored. After publishing the blog post, there were almost no more answers given in the announcement. This just makes it more clear that Memrise is not interested in discussing this with its users and won’t change their decision.
The main problem with Decks
Memrise immediately announced that Decks will get a mobile-friendly website. But they would not develop an app for it. This means there will be no offline mode for community courses anymore. But many people need this offline mode because they use the app in places without internet (or instable internet) or because their data plan is very limited. Many people have expressed their concerns in the announcement about the lack of an app, but Memrise keeps saying “but we will develop a mobile-friendly website!”
How about refunds?
Everyone who only uses community courses and only uses the app has no more reason to pay for the pro membership anymore. Did Memrise offer refunds in such cases? No, they decided to stay silent and keep collecting money even though they will remove a substantial part of their service. Even worse, they waited with the announcement until the people who signed up with a discounted offer during Christmas/New Years would have their accounts for more than 30 days so they couldn’t just use the 30 days money back garantuee.
Many people sent their refund request to the customer support, but what I got back so far was just a template message saying they need time looking into my case and that they will get back to me after March 18th. This is very unsatisfying, but I’m still hoping to get back the rest of my money for my annual subscription (which continues another 7 months after they remove the courses!).
The future of Decks
Honestly, I don’t have any hopes for Decks. Memrise made it pretty clear that they don’t have enough interest and resources to improve Decks.
There will be no app for Decks. They said in their initial announcement that there would be no app. And even after many people expressed their concerns they didn’t say that they would think about it. No, they just keep saying how great the mobile-friendly site will be.
There will be no offline mode for Decks. Obviously, since there is no app, there also won’t be an offline mode. And even if they do make an app, I doubt there will be an offline feature. Why? 1) They said Decks will be free to use and it doesn’t make sense to offer a free offline mode for Decks while people have to pay for it for Memrise. 2) They still have really bad problems with downloading community courses in the app even now. For most of the courses I try to download I get error messages. They would have to put a high amount of work into it, but they don’t have the resources for it.
They don’t have a high priority to advertise Decks. When someone asked if Memrise will publicize Decks on the website and app, the Memrise employee said:
We’re discussing this kind of linking between Memrise and Decks at the moment. For the launch it won’t be there since we’re focused on making sure Decks works well, but we know that community courses fill a gap for more advanced users that Memrise doesn’t. There will be a simple linking between Memrise and Decks at launch (in the footer and about page).
Who ever looks at the footer or the about page? I doubt there will be any more linking or advertisement in the future. It looks to me like they want to just focus on their new Memrise product, making people aware of Decks doesn’t seem to fit into this.
They want to focus on the new, casual learners. It’s obvious with the removal of the community courses from their main product, just leaving very low level official courses, which are also heavily geared towards touristy situations. I guess in the end you can make much more money off people who are new to languages or only want to learn a bit for the next trip, even though there are already tons of apps for this type of learner. More advanced learners? They’re not that important because there are fewer of them, which also means less money. I don’t think Decks will see many improvements after the initial launch, especially because it’s a free service that doesn’t bring them any money (unless they plaster it with ads).
They just do what they want. Memrise removed the search ability for community courses on the app without even saying anything and they are now removing these courses completely from the app without any discussion. I really wouldn’t be surprised if they shut down the Decks service in a few months or years without much of a prior warning. Reason: Not many users are using Decks… Hmm I wonder why, oh wait, it’s because it doesn’t have an app and they’re not promoting it within the Memrise website and app.
What I’m going to do in the future
I loved Memrise, it was perfect for my learning. But I have no use for their own courses and I need an app with offline mode. So I decided to leave Memrise. And obviously this also means that I’m cancelling my pro subscription.
I already experimented a bit with Anki and while it’s quite different to what I’m used to with Memrise, I also see a lot of good things about it. For example I really like how customizable it is. And I can use the “note” field for additional information or mems.
I might also try other apps but honestly, I don’t want to pay subscription fees for another app anymore, hoping that they will provide the service I paid for. So I will probably just stick with Anki since it’s free for Android.
For anyone who wants to switch from Memrise to Anki, there exists an Anki add-on that let’s you transfer your courses into Anki, including pictures, audio and mems. Apparently it even transfers your progress from Memrise. It didn’t really work for me but others have successfully done it.
Since I had troubles transferring the courses with the add-on and don’t want to waste my energy fixing it, I decided to start over on Anki. In the future I plan to make my own decks anyway, so I guess it’s a good time to switch now.
Update March 15, 2019:
Memrise announced a decks mobile app. Until this is released, community courses won’t be removed from the normal Memrise app. An offline mode will be available for the Decks up if you’re subscribed to Memrise. I guess the high number of complaints but especially the many people canceling their pro membership made them reconsider.
Will this change anything for me? Not much. Some people are really happy about this development and I’m happy for them. But personally, I’ve just had enough of this. In the last 1-2 years I’ve had enough moments with big companies doing whatever they want and I’m so, so tired of it. The new design that Memrise plans to roll out to everyone in the future is also something I don’t like.
Now that they will have a mobile app with offline mode I can’t ask for a refund anymore (they probably got a lot of emails asking for a refund). So my plan will be to continue reviewing my Japanese courses (N5 vocab/kanji, N4 vocab/kanji, N3 vocab, Genki II) over the next 7 months until my subscription is over. I will definitely not renew my subscription.
I won’t start any new courses on Memrise though. And I won’t review my other language courses there anymore but move them to Anki. While Anki is different, I got used to it and there are many things I like more about the program compared to Memrise. After the 7 months are over I will delete my Memrise/Decks app and do everything on Anki only. I feel I have more freedom there and less stress with decisions that affect my learning like removing features or making new distracting designs.