While the specifics of each site vary, what you want from other users is pretty much the same. First, you want input. Then you want good input. Then you want good input quickly.
Twelve simple tips to make that happen, after the jump.
- Make lots of friends. This is just playing the odds; make lots of friends, and the more likely one of your friends is to drop by and help you out.
- Become friends with those who have few friends. More simple statistics at work here: people tend to provide input to their friends and, if you're a friend of someone who has few friends, you're more likely to get input from that person. Newly registered users are typically your best bet for taking advantage of this tip (long-time users with few friends probably aren't using the site a lot).
- Send friend requests when you need help. Let's say you've submitted some writing for correction in Italian, but don't already have a bunch of Italian friends on the site. Go and send out as many friend requests as you can to Italian speakers (some sites limit the number of friend requests you can send in a day, while on others your only limitation is how much time you care to spend). If you can, search for people who recently logged in; there's a good chance they're still on the site and will give you input right away.
- Be patient. I typically never need to wait more than a day to get input from native speakers, although often I don't even need to wait an hour. Still, I'd recommend waiting at least a day before doing anything more. (For less commonly studied languages than those that I'm learning, the average wait might be longer, so adjust expectations as necessary.)
- Send requests for help when you need help. Once you've got a bunch of friends, more than likely any number of them will be willing to help you at any time—if they know you need help! Send around a few personal messages asking for help and more than likely one of them will take care of it for you; I for one am certainly much more likely to help out when I get a specific message asking for it. But I would only do this if you've already waited a little bit; if you constantly post something and then immediately ask for help, it might get a little annoying.
- Help others. The whole social engineering aspect behind these kinds of sites is "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine", so it's not surprising that this actually works; someone you help is much more likely to help you. In fact, one of the things I like the most about Lang-8 is that you can see who's been helping you and how much they've been helping you, as seen in this list of people who have made corrections for me. You can get to your own version of that list by clicking on "History of user making corrections" on your Lang-8 homepage (which I keep right at the top of my Lang-8 homepage). Once that's open, click on "No. of corrections made for" you, and you'll then see the list of correctors in order from the most to the least corrections made. Whenever I get a few minutes to make corrections, I'll go to that page and do a few corrections for whoever seems to be getting a lead on me in the number of corrections made. Glancing at the list right now, Lang-8 user keiko is up 2-0, so I'll probably try to do a few corrections for her next.
- Give your best helpers VIP treatment. After you spend some time on these sites, it won't be long before you realize that some people's input is just downright excellent. You want to show these people all the love you can! Correcting their work should always be your number one priority, and correct it as best you can.
- Say thank you. Just like your momma taught you. Thanking people for their help means they're more likely to serve you another plateful of helpfulness.
- Keep it short. No one is looking to spend an hour correcting your writing or recording something for you, so keep it short. I know that I personally will back off of something that's too long if I don't have the time for it or if it just seems like a hassle, and I've also noticed that my own longer requests take longer to get fulfilled. So what to do when you have something long for which you need input? Break it down into bite-size pieces and post them up there piece by piece. If you've got a two-page essay you want corrected, perhaps you could post two half-page segments at one point and two more a few hours later.
- Unify your profile across sites. Try to use the same user screen name and the same profile pic on all websites like these. There's a pretty good chance that your friends on one of these sites are also members of the others, so you want to make it as easy as possible for them to find you. If you're building up good, mutually beneficial relationships on one site, there's certainly no reason not to continue them on another. I'd also recommend adding links to your accounts on all sites like these to your brief bio on your profile page on each of these sites.
- Use an attractive pic. As superficial as it may sound, you'll be able to get more friends with an attractive pic. I'm not sure exactly how much the trends found on dating sites apply on social language-learning sites, but I'm pretty sure there's a degree of overlap. If you don't believe me, hop on to any one of these sites and do a quick random sampling of users with attractive pics and then compare them to a similar sampling of users with pics of objects or no pic at all. Chances are you'll find a significant difference in the number of friends between the two groups and, as mentioned above, more friends likely means more input. If you really wanna milk this for what its worth, go ahead and use a pic that's not you. If anyone ever figures it out: "Oh, I just really like that pic..."
- Don't be skeevy. One the other hand, the problem with posting an attractive pic—especially for females—is that it could bring out the skeevies. Tiffany, a Livemocha user, had this to say:
As soon as I posted my photo on Livemocha…, I had a few men message me "please send me MSN chat ID" with no other introduction. Of course they have a long list of friends on there, all female. Doesn't sound like they are on there for learning!Yeah, don't be one of those guys. I'm pretty sure you won't be maximizing your chances of finding love or of getting language-learning input with an approach like that.