So, it crossed my mind that you might be interested in having a monthly round-up of what’s going on with SSi as a company/project. If you think that’s a good idea, sing out in the comments, so I can see if there’s enough interest to make the commitment…
[Ahem - disclaimer - this occurred to me as a good thing to do starting on the first of, er, November. But it seems as though that ship has sailed…;-)]
Where we are now
Iestyn and I had a full day together in Machynlleth last week - the first chance we’ve had to do a proper heads-together strategy session for many long months (coupled with the chance to help Helen with a bit of the mountain of work she’s doing to turn all the feedback about SSi into something that we can actually understand/make use of!).
Currently available material
Welsh: Course 1, 2, 3, Level 1, 2.
Spanish: Level 1, 2, tourist.
Manx: Level 1, 2 (new approach - 10 sessions per level).
Cornish: Level 1 (on the new approach)
Dutch: Tourist course, start of Level 1
Welsh: Level 3, plus listening exercises for Level 2 (hoping to start publishing the northern version before Christmas).
Spanish: Level 3 (probably starting late January, or February).
Asturian: at least Level 1 and 2 (on the new 10 sessions per level approach) once I’ve got the English recorded
Manx: Level 3 and 4 (10 sessions per level)
We’ve got between £5k and £6k a month coming in, about 90% of which is from Welsh subscriptions, plus some non-advertising-driven Spanish sales.
With this, we’re managing to maintain 2 reasonable full-time salaries, a bunch of associated software/hosting costs, and a small amount of part-time work.
We’re still trying to get to the point where we have enough extra cashflow to be able to pay all our staff (and ideally a little more generously!) and to invest more in new courses.
The course creation tool (which we call the SSiBorg) is doing extremely well - it’s been a mountain of work for Ifan, with some brilliant input on the recording side of things from Jeff, and it’s now successfully creating content - the Manx material (with a huge amount of work from Adrian), the Asturian material coming very soon (with huge thanks to Xose) and the L3 Welsh we’ll be starting to publish in the near future.
It still has a bunch of non-fatal problems to solve to make it possible for us to use it to open-source more courses, but we’re pushing on with that, and I’m confident that we’ll solve the key bits.
We’re currently getting quite a lot of interest in the next iteration of our work on intensive learning - the 5 day super-immersion approach. We’re running the first test at the end of January, and are then hoping to roll it out into a more regular option. We currently think that this might turn out to be an important element of increasing income to the point where we can fund a significant increase in course production.
We’re also working with some very interesting people involved in accelerated learning in Cambridge, which is at the moment looking mostly in the direction of English courses. We don’t have anything set in concrete at the moment, but we’re going to be building some stuff together and working out the sharing details later. I think this might turn out to be important for us because there’s plenty of room to scale those projects.
And Ifan has been doing some great work on automating the process of building accompanying videos for our lessons - this is a step away from our advice about not looking at the words at all, and we will still be recommending that for the best results, learners use the audio files rather than the videos, but there’s clearly a lot of demand here, and the opportunity to reach new learners by publishing on YouTube.
We’ve had some encouraging results testing advertising for my book about learning Welsh (as part of an attempt to break even on advertising that brings in new learners for Welsh) and we’ve got some new tests to run on Spanish advertising over the next couple of months. We’ve had a lot of bloody noses in this particular field, but we’re not giving up on it entirely, because if we ever do get it working, it could help us go a lot faster.
We’re hoping to be ready for a new round of beta-testing the SSiBorg early in the new year - possible courses for that round currently include Sami, Serbian, French, and Italian. We won’t go for more than 5 new courses, since each of them will throw up new bits of work for Ifan with the SSiBorg, so we need to make sure we avoid overwhelm until we have a larger team working on the code.
The longer term
Iestyn and I talked about our long-term goals in Machynlleth, and while they’re still largely the same as they were, Iestyn suggested some extra detail for them - maybe you could share them in here, @iestynap?
We hope that we’re going in the right direction to be able to build a successful learning structure for every language in the world - the course creation tool (which we call the SSiBorg) is the first step for this, and is going to get broken and fixed plenty as we work towards our first 100 languages - and then at some point we’re going to be trying to build word games for apps that will trigger the kind of input that the SSiBorg needs to build courses.
We think that the model is looking pretty promising if we can get past the current challenge of increasing our income to the point where we can invest more in new courses (which will help prove and fine-tune the SSiBorg) and in employing more people - at which point, we think we’ll also be able to do a lot more to help promote learning Welsh, and providing more ways for Welsh speakers to connect.
This is mostly off-the-top-of-my-head stuff - if I’ve skipped anything that you’d particularly like to know about, let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to add to it…