Microsoft Buys Video-Discussion Platform Flipgrid

Digital Learning

Microsoft Buys Video-Discussion Platform Flipgrid

By Jeffrey R. Young     Jun 18, 2018

Microsoft Buys Video-Discussion Platform Flipgrid
Charles Miller, co-founder of Flipgrid and an associate professor at the U. of Minnesota

A video-discussion platform originally started by a University of Minnesota professor to keep in touch with students for a course he was teaching has been purchased by tech giant Microsoft.

The tool, called Flipgrid, is based on a simple idea—that people on a team (or in a class) might want to share short videos within their group but not with the whole internet. You’d think that could be done with YouTube or Vimeo but, at least today, those platforms don’t make it easy to share a video with a small group of users while keeping everyone else out. So that’s basically all Flipgrid does. And it has grown quickly in K-12 and higher education—its leaders say it has 20 million users and has been used in more than 50,000 classrooms.

Microsoft announced the acquisition today, though officials would not disclose the price or other details of the sale. Flipgrid had raised more than $17 million in venture funding since the company was founded in 2014.

Flipgrid offers a limited version of its tools for free, and also has sold a more feature-rich version to teachers for $65 per year. (An entire school could also purchase it for $1,000 per year.) Company officials say that as of today, the full version of the service will now be free to all educators, schools, districts and colleges, and that those who bought a subscription will get a prorated refund.

Flipgrid started when Charles Miller, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota and former co-director of its Learning Technologies Media Lab, was traveling abroad for a research project and wanted to continue class discussions with the 12 graduate students in a course he was teaching. So he set up an early version of his threaded video chat system and asked the students to send in video responses to questions, and he replied in kind from a distance. Other professors on campus began using the tool, and soon he decided to create a spin-off company to make the software more robust.

With the purchase by Microsoft, Flipgrid founders say they can take the scale of the company to a new level. While Microsoft mentioned its Office 365 Education service in a news release about Flipgrid, Miller said in an email interview that Flipgrid will remain a stand-alone service and not be part of Office 365.

“In joining Microsoft, Flipgrid will retain its distinct brand, culture, and team focused on amplifying the voices of all students,” said the news release.

Many see the move by Microsoft as part of its effort to better compete with Google’s education software for schools and its popular Chromebooks.

Eran Megiddo, corporate vice president of education at Microsoft, said in an interview that Flipgrid will continue to be integrated equally well with Microsoft hardware as with competitors such as Chromebooks and iPads.

When asked what the business model for Flipgrid will be now that it no longer has a paid version, Megiddo says the strategy will be to provide a service to educators and students to win long-term customers, in the same way it makes Office 365’s education version free.

“If we live up to our mission of helping them learn and helping them succeed at school, we believe we will have lifelong fans and customers,” he said.

For many professors, the killer app of Flipgrid was to replace online discussion forums with video comments by students. And many teachers use the tool to ask students to give answers in video messages rather than writing out an essay. Instructors said that this helped better bring out the voices of students.

Flipgrid leaders call their tool a “social learning platform,” and that its mission is “to empower educators as they help students define their voices, share their voices and respect the diverse voices of others.”

Editor's Note: This article has been updated with additional comments from a Microsoft vice president.

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

More from EdSurge

Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up