Geeks on a Plane and BarCamp Shanghai

June 16th, 2009 | Posted by Toffler in event - (9 Comments)

This past week has been a really interesting for the startup scene in Shanghai.  The big catalyst was the Geeks on a Plane tour organized by Dave McClure of the FoundersFund and George Godula of Web2Asia.  This trip brought a number of entrepreneurs, bloggers, and venture capitalists from the US and Europe to Tokyo, Beijing, and Shanghai to learn about the tech scene in Asia.  The Geeks on a Plane tour also led into two other events:  TEDx Shanghai and BarCamp Shanghai.

Barcamp Shanghai was on Sunday, and about 120 people attended this un-conference for presentations and networking.  We even got a chance to do a short presentation about how we think connecting people over the internet is leading to major changes in language learning.  Many thanks to the organizers, which includes one of our team members (Toffler).  We had a great time and met a lot of interesting people.

On Monday, the Geeks tour was present at TEDx Shanghai, where there was a full day of presentations (you can catch the videos here).  We managed to meet a few of the Geeks after the presentations and also at the Geeks and Glamour after party.  Here are just a few of the people we wanted to give a mention to:

goapDave McClure
Mark Hendrickson
Benjamin Joffe
Dan Martell
Dug Song
Adriana Gasciogne
Larry Chiang
Marcus Nelson

Overall it was a really exciting time to be in Shanghai and in the technology space.  Hopefully, it won’t be another year before we see an event like this again!

The italki team


One important aspect of learning a language is getting connected into a community of students and teachers.  That’s why we revised our Groups function on italki.  We wanted to make it easier to have discussions about every aspect of learning a language.  

What we’ve done is create official italki Groups for every languageEach language now has five official groups called:

  • Learning the language
  • Teachers and Schools
  • Tests and Exams
  • Culture and Society
  • Travel, Living Abroad and Study Abroad

We made this change in order to consolidate discussions in each language.  All of the previous user-created groups still exist, and you can still create your own group.  As with before, each group is basically a forum where members of the group can create a topic and start a discussions with other group members. 

We also wanted to highlight a few interesting ways you could use groups.

Many teachers have asked us how they can reach students who are interested in paid tutoring sessions.  Teachers can now post information about themselves in the Teachers and Schools Group (example: Teachers and Schools for learning English).  We think this could be a great place for teachers to market to students, and for students to learn more about a teacher’s background and teaching style.

Another interesting use of groups could be for sharing test knowledge (example: Tests and Exams for learning English.   Now if you are taking a language test such as the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foriegn Language), the HSK (the main test for Chinese proficiency), or the AP Spanish test (US College Board’s test of Spanish competency) — you should be able to find discussions about how to prepare for them in the Tests and Exams group for that language.  


In general, we just wanted to make it easier for the italki community to connect and communicate with each other.  If you have any questions about how to use groups or want to send us any feedback on the site changes, please click on our feedback link or send us an email (feedback at italki dot com). Your opinions really help us understand where we need to improve the site. And keep reading our blog – we’ll be letting you know about our future updates here.


language-marketplaceIt’s been two months since we launched the open beta of our Language Marketplace (announcement), and we wanted to say we’ve been very pleased so far. The Language Marketplace is where students can pay for online lessons and teachers can get paid to teach a foreign language. In this short time, we’ve already had over 2500 teachers register to teach 70 languages online! Of the teachers, over 20% are professionals, meaning we have over 500 experienced language teachers ready to teach you on italki.

Through looking at our marketplace, we’ve also learned a lot about paying students. It’s not a surprise that English is the most popular language to study. Over 50% of the sessions taught have been for learning English. Given that most non-native speakers have a general desire to learn English, we think this is a sign of how much unmet demand there is for English language teachers. Interestingly, learning Chinese Mandarin is the second most popular choice, followed by learning Spanish. As Chinese Mandarin grows in importance, we believe more and more people will look online to find a teacher. In many areas around the world, Chinese teachers may not be available, and online teaching rates seem very reasonable.

We’ve also found that many students are using the Free Trial feature to find the right teacher for them. This is a great way for students to test out a couple of teachers and find the one that has the most compatible learning style. It’s also a good opportunity for teachers to get a better understanding of how the system works, and a student’s particular needs and ability level.

Overall, we think the growth in the number of students purchasing italki credits and bookings sessions with language teachers is a sign that people are getting more comfortable with the idea of learning online. This should be good news for all the internet startups in this space (Edufire, WizIQ, ForteMall, Sclipo, and Moontoast) who have a similar vision that education will eventually come from many sources.

Keep telling us what you think about the site and our Language Marketplace. And keep following the blog — we’ll keep you updated as we put up new features. The italki team


Our product team has been working on a number of improvements on the website. Our latest improvement has been to reorganize the personal homepage.

As soon as you login, you can see the new blackboard and layout. First, it’s easier to comment and ask questions on the new blackboard. In addition, now you will be able to see your blackboard posts combined with questions that you have asked. You can also reply in a thread, so your replies can stay linked together.

We’ve also added a side column that has updates from your italki friends. We hope this will make learning a language more social. Now you can see what your italki friends are doing. We hope you’ll spend a little time to answer questions from your friends, or help them with an language issue they are facing.


We’ve also made a change to timezones recently. Many of you may have noticed that you have been asked to reselect your timezone. This is important as many students are scheduling lessons on italki, and issues like daylight savings make it crucial to synchronize clocks.

As always, please keep the feedback coming through our feedback link or through email (feedback at italki dot com). Your opinions really help us work on where we can improve the site. And keep checking out our blog. We have many more updates coming up soon, and we’ll always let you know about them here.

The italki team


Have you ever traveled to a country and wished that you had some local friends to help show you around and deal with the language? We’re experimenting with this idea for the China Travel 2.0 tour.

China Travel 2.0 is bringing a number of travel editors for a two-week trip through China in early June. Their trip will look at the changes China is undergoing and how technology plays a role in that, with a specific emphasis on technology’s affect on travel. When traveling internationally knowing another language is incredibly useful,  so when we were asked to help them learn Chinese, we were ready and willing!

While Shanghai and Beijing are relatively foreigner friendly, a little bit of travel Chinese can go a long way for enhancing the experience. Imagine not being able to express thanks (xiexie, 谢谢) or say that you don’t want to purchase that tourist trinket (don’t want, buyao, 不要). Specifically, italki is helping the travelers find Chinese teachers through our Language Marketplace. We’re also helping the travelers find friends in each of the cities they are visiting, so they can get a local perspective on the best things to experience.

When the tour returns to Shanghai, we’ll get our chance to meet the travelers: Craig, Linda, Donna, Julie, Janelle, Marina, and the team at Trip Films. We’ll be curious to hear all about their experience in China, and we hope they learn some Chinese along the way!