Like half the planet, I am currently absorbed in Duolingo, a really rather splendid mobile app that makes learning languages easy and fun. For the record, I am currently 47% fluent in French, in case any potential employers looking for mediocre linguists are reading this.

Now the app itself is a pleasure to use. It also demonsrates a superb understanding of how mobile can change our lives and how 'mobile moments' offer us new ways to think about the nature of our interactions. By making full use of mobile's capabilities Duolingo enables the learner to flex their muscles in every area of language learning - writing, comprehending, listening and speaking. It also successfully applies a few principles of gamification to help keep learners motivated.

Why Time Matters When It Comes To Push Notifications

Even better, by re-thinking the learning experience for mobile, content is split into fast-to-complete modules that typically take two to five minutes to complete. That's based on an understanding that we often use our smartphones to 'kill time' or use up otherwise dead time in our day. Games companies learned this lesson - that mobile is about easy-to-consume chunks of content - some time ago. Everyone else is catching up.

Push Timing, And Optimized Options

But there's a catch. Good language learning requires regular practice. And that's where push notifications come in. There's no better way to prompt the user to get back in the app and keep progressing, although Duolingo do also use emails: their mobile to desktop integration is also a nice piece of well managed multi-channel experience.

Unfortunately, I receive a push notification telling me that it is “practice time” every day at 2pm or soon after. And that's a problem because at 2pm I am sitting in an open plan office and unlikely to start reciting French into my phone microphone. That's why I've never yet practiced at 2pm, and why sending me a notification at that time makes no sense. I can't respond immediately, and it's stretching credibility to believe I will diligently make a note to remind myself to open Duolingo later. On that basis, it feels like 2pm appears to be a set time that everyone gets their reminder, no matter when they typically use the app.

The alternative is really quite obvious. I tend to open Duolingo at around 8 or 9 in the evening. For me, that's the right time to put in a little practice. And of course, I do sometimes forget. So in my case, the optimal time to send that push notification is perhaps 9pm. Of course each person is different, but it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility to deliver indivdually optimized push notifications when it comes to timing. Then everyone would get their reminder precisely when it is most likely to lead to click and engagement.

If Duolingo did that, I can guarantee that they would see engagement rates rise - and my French might improve a little as well. Ca serait parfait!