There have been a lot of questions about the current referral system at Memverse. We have been remiss in explaining both the motivation behind it and the recent changes we have made.
First, we'd like to explain the context. As many of you have no doubt experienced, memorizing the Bible is hard. It requires sustained discipline over a long period of time and the benefits tend to accrue slowly. Consequently, attrition is very high. Well over 90% of people who sign up are no longer active a few months later. We have spent a lot of time trying to make the site more intuitive and easier to use and we will continue to do so. The reality, though, is that "life's worries, riches and pleasures" frequently intrude and users disappear. The valleys in my own consistency chart could be annotated with life events like new babies, moving house, and sometimes just sheer laziness.
When we started Memverse we spent a lot of money advertising the site to attract new users. It cost roughly $10 for each new user. It soon became clear that it would be prohibitively expensive to continue advertising since we had committed to the site remaining both free to use and largely free of advertising (apart from a token ad slot on the blog). Part of the problem was that it was very difficult to target advertising to people who are likely to use Memverse over an extended period of time.
This was the genesis of the referral system: who better than our existing users would know whom to tell about Memverse. We coupled the referral system to the level progression since any such system requires some element of 'reward'. The usual method is to offer a subscription discount, but since we don't charge users, that wasn't possible.
Four months ago, in response to the dissatisfaction that many had expressed, we changed the way referrals are counted. Whereas before no credit was given for inactive referrals, we now give 50% credit. 25% credit was also given for 'referrals of referrals'. We never got round to announcing these changes which unfortunately perpetuated the perception that we were unresponsive on this issue. Sorry about that.
Second, we can assure you that the referral system is essential to Memverse's ongoing existence. Users referred by existing users are far more likely to persist in memorizing. Our hope was that people would be creative in finding ways to spread the word. That was indeed frequently the case and it has been great to see the influx of new users from mini campaigns on social websites and blogs. Advocate marketing can be powerful but we have learned that it is not for everyone.
So what is the path forward? Over time we will likely continue to make the referral system less of an obstacle to level progression as we observe the effects of the change earlier this year. We might also add a page which will allow users to make a financial donation and skip over the referral quests. To be honest, though, we would prefer to work on features that benefit all users.
Finally, growing the number of users is not merely for our own vanity. There are many features (live quizzes is one example) that are only possible at a certain scale. Thanks to all of you who have helped spread the word. Thanks also for all the praise and encouragement -- it more than cancels out the occasional disparaging comments. We have come a long way on a shoestring budget but we still have a lot to do.