- Sunsetting Karandoula
Today, 13th February 2022, a year after I launched the initial beta version of Karandoula, It has come out of beta and launched officially on both ios and android devices via their official respective stores.
For those unaware, Karandoula is an elearning app built for Guinean secondary school students that is meant to be used as a supplementary study tool. Its goal was to facilitate access to educational resources via a curated library of free and internally-created resources, organised by class and subjects. It is a side-project which I worked on sparingly during weekends and sometimes in the evenings during weekdays. Please see this post for a detailed explanation of why I built it.
While development of the app progressed as intended, I must admit however, that the project fell short of the goals I had for it and has stalled considerably. I have thus decided to come out of beta, launch officially, then go on hiatus. I consider this venture/side-project to be a failure as it failed to reach the point, where I was proud enough of it to pro-actively recommend it to students. In this blog post, I reflect on a few questions; the “Whats”, the “What ifs”, and the “Whys”.
What went well?
The development of the app progressed to completion as intended. I was able to implement most of the features I had scoped for the initial version of the app. From download features for videos, to Quizzes, to analytics and more. It wasn’t a smooth ride per say and I ran into a ton of silly bugs. An example of those bugs that drove me nuts on occasion was; MySQL table data import wizard, failing when provided with a UTF-8 encoded file with BOM (https://bugs.mysql.com/bug.php?id=95415). In this particular case (as is often), the error provided is obscure, and debugging in order to pinpoint that the issue is being caused by an input file encoded with BOM can be a pain. But these are to be expected in software projects, and with every obstacle I ran into, my knowledge and experience grew. It was also incredibly fun to come up with creative solutions whenever I ran into technical limitations or problems for which solving wasn’t immediately apparent/obvious. One such problem was figuring out how to implement download for videos hosted on youtube, when the service offered no download solutions/api. The beauty about programming is that there is usually always a way. When the door is closed, you can use the window, and if that is also closed, there might be a way in through the chimney.
What didn’t go so well?
I massively underestimated the amount of time and effort that will go into curating and creating content, and as a result, fell short of reaching the bar of what I would consider a good product. Its fantastic that a beautiful product has been built, but at the end of the day, what matters most in this particular case is the content. My initial plan was to organise freely available resources on the internet, but this meant that I’d need to first spend a significant amount of time, first understanding the materials for the class I wanted to curate for, then select and redact the content I thought was best for it. This meant that I needed a lot of time if I was going to do this myself, which quite frankly, I didn’t have. Between my full-time job at a Big 4 firm, and other learning commitments (required professional exams as part of my contract, as well as other courses I personally wanted to take to grow), I barely had enough time to spend on development of the app. To address this issue, I begun hiring volunteer content curators and this quickly became expensive. Karandoula is a passion project for which I do not intend making money off of, so I had no intention/way of making back the hundreds of pounds I was investing in it. Additionally, finding the right people in guinea; teachers/students with mastery of a subject and who also knew how to use a computer to document this wasn’t an easy task in and of itself. Over time however, I got better at recruiting and began to develop an intuition of what to look for. Of the few people I ended up hiring, I setup work in an asynchronous manner and tried my best to get out of their way so they could operate freely. I regularly checked on them and ensured everything was progressing as intended. I tried my best to anticipate potential issues that would come up and overall there were fewer bumps and issues that came up.
Why I consider this a failure on my end
Karandoula in its current state, despite having a lot of content curated already for highschool, is still not a product I can wholeheartedly recommend. This, despite a year of passive content development is why I consider it a failure.
Perhaps, one of the reason I failed to reach my quality bar was because I tried to solve multiple things at once when I didn’t have the required resources to do so. With the app, I tried to:
- Offer a summary of all materials from all of middle and highschool,
- Offer question banks per subject of each class,
- Provide tracking features so student could monitor their progress to date, and
- Offer preparation for national exams.
The above four could be separate products of their own and maybe if I had split them so, it would have been more attainable. It could thus be said that this failure was due to my lack of adequate planning.
Why I believe Karandoula is still worth it
While I consider Karandoula in its current state to be a failure, it is not a fatal failure as I learned a ton from it and didn’t spend a fortune building the product I currently have. I still believe in Karandoula and my conviction that I am building the right product that addresses a crucial problem for guineans is stronger than ever. And no matter how long it takes, I am going to see it through. Education is the corner stone of sustainable development anywhere today and I believe this is the best shot/plan I have as of yet, at significantly contributing to the development of my origin country Guinea.
For now however, I am officialising “Hiatus” on Karandoula to focus on other more lucrative projects and accumulate resources as a result. Once, I have accumulated enough of these resources to spare, I intend to invest some of these in Karandoula in the future to attain my mission of making educational resources accessible to Guineans.
What would I do if I gain more resources?
The below are the list of things I would do if I had more resources to invest in karandoula today:
- Hire content curators to finish the curation job they started: I am still in touch with some of the fantastic teachers I had hired to curate some of the content currently within the app. Curation was paused because the estimated fee needed to complete everything wasn’t trivial.
- Refine the question bank and build an original video content library of teachers answering past exam papers: As a recent student who’ve just completed exams for the ACA qualification, the resource I found most useful during my studies were the question banks and answers. Having to actively try to answer questions that could come up in exams and later reviewing the answers were invaluable. I thus intend to provide this same possibility for guinean students in national exam classes.
- Explore ways to collaborate with schools and other major institutions (ex: Orange Telecommunication company): The goal of the partnerships with schools would be to increase awareness of the app as well as provide them with an additional tool they can equip their students with. As for partnerships with other major institutions such as the telecommunications company, Orange Guinée, this is in order to negotiate more affordable data packages so students using the app pay less for the internet used to access karandoula resources. Orange already offers education data bundles that are less expensive than their normal bundles and adding Karandoula servers/resources to the education data bundle would go a long way.
- Finally, hire a team of ambassadors and promoters to spread awareness of the solution/app.
Once I accumulate this amount to spare, it’ll be go time again. 😎
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