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Interview with Lingup.com

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Introduction:
Lingup.com is a unique online community that enables you to find language learning partners from around the world. You can use a variety of communication tools such as voice chat or text messaging to interact with native speakers. In addition to communicating online you can also meet your Lingup friends face to face in a language get-together near your place.
Let's talk to David Robert, language enthusiast and co-founder of Lingup.

Torsten:
David, on Lingup.com there are two people listed as founders, you and Cyril Robert. I take it the two of you are brothers?

David:
Yes, Cyril and I are brothers. We both have different backgrounds and skills: Cyril on software architecture and computer security, me on project management and online marketing strategies. Being brothers and having complementary skills really helped us make Lingup a successful project.

Torsten:
According to the About page on your website your brother lives in Canada and you are based in France. When and why did you move to Europe?

David:
Actually, I lived in Canada for about three years (I studied then worked in Montreal), and moved back to Europe a year and half ago. Cyril took the exact opposite path by leaving Europe for Canada about a year and a half ago for studying computer science and biology.

Torsten:
Where in Canada did you grow up and how many languages did you learn as children?

David:
Cyril and I were born in France, so we both have French as native language. During our childhood we had the chance to travel a lot in Europe and North America, so we could early get in touch with different cultures and languages. Also at school we also studied German, English, and a little bit of Spanish.

Torsten:
When and how did you come up with the idea of Lingup?

David:
Before I moved back to Europe, Cyril and I were in Canada at the same time for a few months; this is when we had the idea of Lingup. Canada has two official languages, English and French, and the Canadian society, especially in Montreal, is a mix of people from different countries, cultures and languages. Knowing each others culture and language is therefore a daily necessity for many native or newly Canadians, foreign students and immigrants.
A lot of these people go to language schools, and most of them have in common the need to meet native speakers, one of the best ways to really know and understand other cultures and languages. This is how we had the idea of an online community where people could teach and learn different languages and cultures directly from native speakers, something like a «peer-to-peer» platform for language learners.
The idea was also to build a community that could be complementary to language classes, something more recreational where everyone could practice where and when they want, with the people they choose.

Torsten:
Lingup is a very good name for a language learner community because it contains the ling as in lingua and it sounds a bit like link up — connect. Is this what you had in mind when you created your brand?

David:
Exactly! We needed a short, easy to remember, meaningful and universal name. Mixing the Latin word «Lingua» with the idea of linking people resulted in the concept of «Lingup».

Torsten:
One of the striking features of Lingup.com is its layout — a well balanced combination of colours, professionally designed graphics paired with clearly structured contents and easy navigation. Who is responsible for all this?

David:
We had the chance to work with a group of very talented designers named «Formidable» (www.frmdbl.com) that created the visual identity, the graphic charter and all the different illustrations you can see on the site. We worked really hard with them on the usability of the site in order to make everything easily understandable and accessible for everyone. Moreover, we also try to respect the web standards and the w3 content accessibility guidelines as far as possible.

Torsten:
You also provide a number of features I have never seen on any website before. For example, your system allows me to move my photo into the correct position after I have loaded it up to your server. How did you manage to implement such a function?

David:
Every feature on Lingup was created with usability in mind. You can use any characters of any language everywhere on the site (mail, chat, forums, etc.). This feature enables for example a Chinese person to exchange languages with a Russian person without worrying about displaying the Chinese and Russian characters on the same page. At the early beginning of the project, Lingup also functioned as a «web lab» where we could implement and test different concepts and features we were working on before we even had the idea of a language community. The «photo editor» is one of these features.

Torsten:
You officially launched Lingup.com in December of 2004, 6 months after you won the first prize of the French competition «Défi Jeunes». How do these two events relate to each other?

David:
A first very basic version of Lingup was launched in February 2004 to see if people were enthusiasts about the concept of an online language exchange community. We had just our friends and friends of friends as members but the feedback was very encouraging, so we decided to try to make it a professional service for language learners.
Like every project we needed funds to build the new Lingup, so we entered the «Défi Jeunes» competition (or «Youth Challenge») from the French Ministry of Youth and Sports, a program which aim is to help young people realize their projects. During the following months we really worked hard on our candidacy and we tried to find partners to help us build the project.
In June 2004, we had the chance to win the first prize of the competition and thanks to our partners, Mayetic (www.mayeticvillage.net, a company leader in collaborative workspaces solutions) and Formidable, we built the new version of Lingup and launched it in December 2004.

Torsten:
Only a few months after the Lingup start your community already consists of hundreds of users. How did you promote your site?

David:
Currently most of our members come from keywords advertising. We have a «friend of friend» networking feature on Lingup that also helps advertise our community, but we are really counting on the quality of Lingup and the satisfaction of our members to spread the word.

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