I would briefly comment that Rosetta Stone has a terrible reputation among language lovers (see sample review about why most people can't learn like they did as a child), and some language lovers claim that people who used Rosetta Stone to learn a new language usually can't say more than a few words in the target language. Also alleged is that Rosetta Stone is at least rumored to originally be a Spanish course with heavy copying and pasting, and for native English speakers it works best for Romance and northern Europe's Germanic languages, perhaps because English is a mix of Romance and Germanic languages. (I would offer a half-dissenting caveat that for all the faults in the accent evaluator, the 1-2% who least need the help can profitably use Rosetta Stone to learn an accent.)

Now to the main question: Darwin's theory of evolution as originally formulated was an adaptation of an economic theory, or so I understand. In the proto-Darwinian theory of evolution, organisms survive differentially according to their fitness to the environment. The original economic version was that the marketplace would favor goods and services that worked, weeding out those that didn't.

So how can something so bad as Rosetta Stone be the gold standard, partly challenged by DuoLingo? It gives an impression of learning, perhaps, but serious critiques are readily available on the web. It also uses a pedagogy based on features of a small child's brain that are taken out well before adulthood. Related questions could be asked of Microsoft's success with MS-DOS and Internet Explorer, but I know enough of my bias not to make that my main question.

However, it seems that there are vastly inferior products on the market which are preferred to ones that are much better. At least in the pre-Darwinian economic version, I'd be interested in knowing how.

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    $\begingroup$ Why wouldn't it survive and prosper? What rules do you think are in play to prevent is succeeding? And why this fascination with Rosetta Stone and DuoLingo - there are a million successful crap products out there? $\endgroup$ – 410 gone Nov 10 '18 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ You make a lot of claims which seem anecdotal. Perhaps some people love a product while other dislike it, as is the case with most things? I would love to read about Darwin being influenced by market theory though, if you have some references for that, please edit them in as links! $\endgroup$ – Giskard Nov 10 '18 at 18:14

I'm not very familiar with the history of the Rosetta Stone method, but as for your remark that "there are vastly inferior products on the market which are preferred to ones that are much better", here's some food for thought:

  • It could be due to some type of lock-in effect (1, 2). This could be deliberate on the part of the vendors by spreading misinformation about other products or making access to them difficult, or simply because there is inefficient flow of information about other products, i.e. people see others using a product, assume it is good and barely any one goes looking for alternatives. In your case, it could be that only language lovers have enough expertise to know that the method is inefficient while it's the first thing average people find when looking for language learning methods and they assume it's the first thing they found because it's good and they don't search any further. For another example of this you could look into the history of the Qwerty keyboard. The layout dates back to the days of typewriting and engineering constraints they had back then. Nowadays there are layouts that would be much more efficient, but Qwerty remains mainstream.

  • Sometimes good and products survive in a marketplace not because they add any positive value to it but because they are intrinsically good at surviving. I came across this idea while studying Richard Dawkins' selfish gene idea so while it's not exactly pre-Darwinian, you could look into it.

  • Finally, it seems to me that your argument makes the error of forgetting that we're always in the middle of things. So even if we admit that, as you put it, "the marketplace would favor goods and services that worked, weeding out those that didn't", this is still a process that takes time. Who is to say that we're not exactly in the middle of such a process with Rosetta Stone and that it won't be weeded out in a few decades?

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