Over the past couple of weeks Jason Calacanis was dropping quite a few hints in which direction his company might evolve in the near future and that Mahalo 4 would be a pivot, being launched on the DLD conference today.
For about two hours the new Mahalo is online and it looks pretty neat. To me it’s a mixture of EHow meets Khan Academy meets SquareSpace.
I did not yet have the time to take a look at all the different pages, however I watched some videos on educational topics like biology and maths as well as cooking to get a first overview.
The tagline “Learn Anything” becomes pretty clear when taking a look at the new front page. You have topics ranging from Beauty & Lifestyle over Health to Education mixed with more leisurely topics like Celebrities and Hobbies & Games.
The home page is an infinite scroll, no clicking to go to the second, third and so forth site. On the left hand, you will see a small marker that shows you the date when the content was created.
The topic pages themselves are feature rich and contain three tabs. They offer three key elements of asynchronous online learning: content, questions and video. In the main tab, you will get a text part which describes the topic, one or more embedded videos on the topic, a step by step section reviewing the video and a Q&A part. Then there are of course related pages and videos to drill deeper down in a subject.
The second and third tab are for related images and videos from sources like Bing, Flickr, YouTube etc.
There is also a community feature that users can turn on called “Live Answers”. As the name suggests, you can post a question live and receive answers from the community, basically an IM chat with embedding options for videos and pictures.
Talking about embedding features. Every section of a Mahalo page can now be embedded anywhere on the web. The content will then be automatically updated on the blog or website it is embedded in as soon as it is updated on Mahalo.
Creating a page is now similar to services like SquareSpace, Weebly or Yola. It’s a drag and drop interface, and looks very easy and intuitive to use on the video.
The business model itself did not change from Mahalo version 3 to version 4 and is based on ad revenue. I have to say that the two ad spaces in the right side bar and not really distracting as the page design in itself is very clean and there are no ads in the learning section, just the usual overlay in the YouTube video.
According to the launch video the plan is to create learning pages on anything covering formal and informal education and therefore scaling the site on an infinite number of pages. That ,of course, means that Mahalo has to create a ton of videos to at least cover the most searched topics.
With Jason Calacanis’ background of running Webblogs Inc. and ThisWeekIn.com, Mahalo 4 has the potential to become bigger than sites like EHow are today. I like the fact that Mahalo is creating branded and valuable video content for its pages along with the texts and step by step descriptions.
Is this a thread for startups like Udemy, Sclipo or Nixty which offer similar learning structures for pay? I presume, it will get more difficult for them to rank in Google and other search engines as Mahalo is very aggressive and experienced in the use of SEO as this organic search traffic is basically driving the revenue of the company. Therefore, I predict that courses in the same space coming from those other startups might get outranked by the ones Mahalo produces.
But on the other hand Mahalo may become one of the best allies for them as the portal could easily link to the paid and more in depth courses of those platforms. Revenue share might be a common ground here and there are already pages on coupon codes for Kaplan test prep available on Mahalo today, therefore selling Udemy or Sclipo courses could be an option.
One of the big concerns about Mahalo has always been the quality of some pages which were clearly built to drive traffic in order to convert it to page views or clicks which then as a consequence create ad revenue. I have no doubt on the quality of the topic pages that are created by the Mahalo team which now grew from 105 to over 200 for the relaunch. I strongly believe, it will still be one of the most trickiest tasks for Mahalo to keep the pages to a certain standard. We’ll see how that will work out.
All in all, Mahalo 4 is off to a good start in the education 2.0 space. The approach is definitely more leisurely than other players in the field and is likely to attract a younger audience. Mahalo wants to provide its users with what they are looking for immediately, maybe a bit a “fast food” approach to education, not targeting learners who want to drill in depth into a topic. Probably the bigger share of the market.
Update: There is an interesting 30 minute interview with Jason Calacanis where he share some more details on the new Mahalo. At the moment Mahalo is producing 900 videos per week. With the hiring of 100 more video editors Calacanis is aiming to grow this number to 3000 to 5000 a week, becoming the world’s biggest video learning platform or in other words the Google of learning.