Anki Vs Supermemo

A ‘Topic’ with ‘Cloze Deletion’ in Supermemo is like a ‘Note’ in Anki. The words highlighted in orange have been turned into individual flash cards. SuperMemo has these advantages over Anki: Better scheduling algorithm (SM-17 is 31.4% faster than SM-2 that Anki uses, according to a simulation between SM-17 and SM-2). It means that each repetition is scheduled better so you, in general, have to spend less time remembering the same amount of information in SuperMemo than Anki. Yes, Anki has a new plugging for it too, but it’s not the same, believe me. While Anki offers to us the Incremental Reading feature as a new incorporation still in process of development, SuperMemo’s last version is especially focused on it. The only feature which I consider better implemented in Anki is the ‘picture clozing’ function. That's probably why I'll keep using Anki as my main program, but I'll also tinker with SuperMemo for a while to see what happens. As ZapBeep mentioned, it'd be nice if someone -maybe an experimental psychologist- could carry out a research study comparing the effects of using Anki vs. SuperMemo on the amount or quality of learned. Both Anki and SuperMemo are based on spaced repetition, hence the name Spaced Repetition Software (SRS). Spaced Repetition is the very core of both software. Although they are both the same in nature, the effectiveness and efficiency of the algorithm however, is different. It’s been 3 months since I’ve written that piece.

This text is a part of a series of articles about SuperMemo, a pioneer of spaced repetition software since 1987

New angel of incremental reading

18 years since the birth of incremental reading, I know only a handful of people with expert-level knowledge of the incremental learning procedure. This is far too few to be optimistic about a prompt explosion of the technology. Let me then spell it loud:

Incremental reading is the best known way to practically augment human intelligence

Few people believe the above radical claim beyond our close circle of experts. We cross-fertilize intellectually. Very often, it is hard to say who came up first with a new idea for a new solution. Was it George Zonnios who invented incremental writing? I believe we 'invented' it independently. This is then an extremely heart-warming moment to discover a new independent mind following similar trajectory of discovery. This mind belongs to Michael Nielsen. He is a quantum physicist from San Francisco (see Wikipedia), however, he is probably better known for his writing about neural networks and artificial intelligence.

Independent discovery

Michael Nielsen has an established reputation in my mind. I have been increading his booklet on neural networks for quite a while now. He got a great grasp of the big picture in artificial intelligence. He can also be meticulously analytical, and self-analytical.

It was a nice surprise when my Inbox received a recommendation of an article by Nielsen, in which he seems to be re-discovering incremental reading on a compressed timescale.

Nielsen dished out the best analysis of a clash of the human brain with misconceptions about and the limits of spaced repetition and incremental reading. Nielsen does not use SuperMemo, he uses Anki, which does not serve bona fide incremental reading (see minimum definition of incremental reading). Nielsen just figured out his own techniques for doing incremental reading in Anki. His approach can be seen as an accelerated discovery process. Nielsen has independently invented incremental reading in short 2-3 years.

He describes in detail the mental barriers to employing spaced repetition. From being a reluctant tester of the idea, he quickly turned into a consummate and prolific user. In the process, he quickly advanced to discovering many stepping stones that laid the foundation for incremental reading.

Those who never tried incremental reading are naturally skeptical about the procedure (see: Harm of incremental reading). Those who advocate incremental reading might easily be dismissed as followers of 'Wozniak religion' who have been infected by a mind virus based on a misconceived learning philosophy of a single man with a possible brain damage.

However, nobody should ever dismiss an independent discovery by a brilliant mind! Nielsen admits to having read some of my texts, however, he has never used SuperMemo. He came up with his ideas while using Anki.

In his short article, he quintessentially explains the difference between linear learning that we know from coercive schooling, and coherent learning based on creative exploration. He explains the emergence of knowledge, the power of the knowledge valuation network, and the value of interruption in reading. He does not use any of that fancy terminology. To him these are just simple common sense steps that should be employed in learning.

One of the hardest things to explain about incremental reading is the value of a switchover. Nielsen puts it in a simple and convincing sentence, from which I will gladly learn a new term: completionism:

I typically spend 10 to 60 minutes Ankifying a paper, with the duration depending on my judgment of the value I'm getting from the paper. However, if I'm learning a great deal, and finding it interesting, I keep reading and Ankifying. Really good resources are worth investing time in. But most papers don't fit this pattern, and you quickly saturate. If you feel you could easily find something more rewarding to read, switch over. It's worth deliberately practicing such switches, to avoid building a counter-productive habit of completionism in your reading. It's nearly always possible to read deeper into a paper, but that doesn't mean you can't easily be getting more value elsewhere. It's a failure mode to spend too long reading unimportant papers

Nielsen builds up knowledge like a jigsaw puzzle. He is not slowed or deterred by the fact that his readings usually involve complex topics such as the understanding of how neural networks could defeat a human champion in Go (for contrast see: Harm of incremental reading):

I began with the AlphaGo paper. I began reading it quickly, almost skimming. I wasn't looking for a comprehensive understanding. Rather, I was doing two things. One, I was trying to simply identify the most important ideas in the paper. What were the names of the key techniques I'd need to learn about? Second, there was a kind of hoovering process, looking for basic facts that I could understand easily, and that would obviously benefit me. Things like basic terminology, the rules of Go, and so on

Instead of linear reading typical of well-drilled school pupils, Nielsen goes for structural analysis typical of natural exploratory learning that occurs in incremental reading.

Explaining incremental reading

I was told that Nielsen's description is far clearer and convincing than my own best texts. My writing suffers from the curse of knowledge. If you want to learn something new fast, don't take an expert with decades of experience. Take a smart novice who has just gone through the pains of discovery. With his detailed analysis, Nielsen woke me up to the fact that there are many seemingly obvious things I take for granted that a new user may struggle with. I should not wonder why the adoption of incremental reading is slow. With each passing year, the gap is growing between my understanding of incremental reading and the experience and perceptions of new users. This is bad for my effort in promoting efficient learning. However, in my own learning endeavors, I also take the effort to learn about novice brain. Nielsen lays a beautiful bridge for me to walk back the steps of discovery.

Creative association

Today, nobody knows more about incremental reading than myself. It is nice to be the king of the world. However, in a few years, this can change. It will then also be nice to see the takeover by the young generation. Until now, I found only one spot where Nielsen shows as still being new to the field. He wrote:

One moment Anki is asking me a question about the temperature chicken should be cooked to. The next: a question about the JavaScript API. Is this mixing doing me any real good? I'm not sure. I have not, as yet, found any reason to use JavaScript to control the cooking of a chicken. But I don't think this mixing does any harm, and hope it is creatively stimulating, and helps me apply my knowledge in unusual contexts

Those words mean that Nielsen is still to experience the power of unexpected creative association. This may come as epiphany. See the creativity bullet in Advantages of incremental reading. This slow realization is natural. It takes time to build up the collection, to give it a rich semantic structure, and to prioritize individual areas of knowledge.

The power of creative association in SuperMemo keeps increasing over time with the size of the collection, quality of its semantic structure, and the stratification of priorities

Nielsen rules

The Main Reason You Should Switch from Anki to SuperMemo ...

Nielsen came up with a nice set of his own rules for efficient learning:

  • Nielsen rule: Don't share decks makes sense. Sharing may inhibit his exploration of personal spaces that inevitably dovetails with one's world knowledge. Abstracting knowledge from the personal undermines its attractiveness in terms of its valuations and the ultimate reward in learning
  • Create your own decks is important. Knowledge is a jigsaw puzzle and needs to be personalized. It is great when students share medical collections. However, these are artifacts of the mad speed of learning students are forced to submit to at college. Slow and meticulous approach of incremental reading brings far better long-term outcomes. Instead of cramming, students can meticulously weave a long-term structure of knowledge. Today, I support only one ready-made collection: Advanced English. The collection has been in development for 30 years, and seems to form a pretty universal and mnemonic set of English vocabulary for people in a hurry. However, learning English with incremental reading may still be more fun and more efficient in the long term. Perhaps the set of native sounds tips the scale to the advantage of Advanced English in terms of cost-and-benefit
  • Use multiple variants of the “same” question is a different way of emphasizing the power of Knowledge Darwinism
  • One rule I disagree with. For the sake of coherence, Nielsen tries never to memorize a single orphaned cloze on a subject. Instead, he tries to always have some skeletal semantic network available in memory. This is good for memory and comprehension, but, at the very least, it doubles the cost of memorization. This can be an artifact of the way Anki works. In SuperMemo, incremental reading automatically builds a knowledge tree. This means that generating singular clozes is a benefit for learning costs. Each time a cloze becomes semantically orphaned, it is ready to be re-anchored from its context in the knowledge tree. I believe that learning rules should not impose constraints on the freedom of learning (except for rules that are derived directly from the limits of memory itself)
Anki Vs Supermemo

Learning about friends

A very interesting dilemma mentioned in Nielsen's article is whether learning about friends is a form of faking interest in their lives. Is it a way to conform with a social rule? While working on Problem of schooling, I faced this problem on a mega-scale, and I have the answer. We should learn about friends, and the only simple and universal rule is that all learning must be genuine. It must be based on a genuine need or interest. It also needs to be prioritized honestly. Otherwise, it will likely interfere with other areas of learning.

When talking to hundreds of kids for my interviews (e.g. Why kids hate school?), I had to use my memory extensively. I did not walk around with a piece of paper to make notes like a good journalist. Instead, I had conversations, made notes post factum, and committed them to memory with incremental reading. My interviews were spaced in time, intermittent, and included many follow ups. This is why I had to have my memory ready to keep the big picture of a child's life. I was learning about friends, however, I did not do it to please them. This came from a genuine need to understand their lives, and paint an honest picture of their torment with schooling.

Emotional anchors

Nielsen speaks of 'emotional commitment' that enhances memories. He probably overemphasizes the power, and value of emotion in learning. In reality, it is his knowledge valuation network that may anchor in some important goals tinted with emotion. Otherwise, his learning seems to be coolly rational. This can be seen when he speaks of 'taking it slow' when learning about friends. In SuperMemo, learning about friends may indeed be an expression of a degree of social anxiety. Knowledge of friends makes it easy to connect with friends.

Nielsen's brain or a child's brain or any undisturbed brain, knows best what the payoff of individual pieces of information is. I wish educators could have this understanding and never let kids get trapped in the hell of interference (see: Crystallization of knowledge).

If SuperMemo is so great …

We have faced this question since the birth of SuperMemo (1987): if it is so great, why is it not popular? (see: No force in the world would make me use SuperMemo). Today, we no longer bother. We have seen an exponential explosion in the adoption of our technology. However, Nielsen's comparison still rings a warm note:

Two economists are walking along when one of them spots a $20 bill. They say: “Look! There's $20 on the ground!” The other replies: “Impossible! If it were really there, someone would have picked it up already”

Great minds think alike

Anki Vs Supermemo

In the wake of Nielsen's article, I am tempted to insist immodestly that Great minds think alike!

This must be the best text and the best analysis relevant to spaced repetition procedure ever! (Gwern's text is best in terms of literature survey).

Caveat: SuperMemo vs. Anki

I should alert everyone that doing incremental reading in Anki today (July 9, 2018) is not much different than doing it in pre-incremental SuperMemo 9 two decades ago (1998). It is a bit like doing spaced repetition in MS Word, or writing a novel in a Notepad. Possible but cumbersome

Incremental writing

Nielsen seems to be on a path to independent invention of incremental writing. He clearly senses the need:

I haven't yet figured out is how to integrate Anki with note taking for my creative projects

In this case, he is conceptually limited by Anki, which has been designed primarily as a spaced repetition application. Had Nielsen had a chance to play with topics in incremental reading, had he had a chance to work on a semantic structure of his texts with the knowledge tree, even this little creative bottleneck would probably fall cracked by his inventive mind

Overload

When suffering from repetition overload, Nielsen proposes a concept of Mercy that was originally suggested by Andrzej Horodenski in 1992. There is a superior solution implemented in SuperMemo in 2006: the priority queue. It frees all users from the terror of outstanding repetitions. Nielsen himself admits to a 7 month break sparked by overload. With overload tools based on the priority queue, learning can become truly free

Reference

This reference is used to explain SuperMemo, a pioneer of spaced repetition software since 1987

Quoted excerpts come from the following reference:

#Title: Augmenting Long-term Memory

#Author(s): Michael Nielsen (Y Combinator Research)

#Date: July 2018

#Link: http://augmentingcognition.com/ltm.html

#Backlink: Why is incremental reading not popular?

Retrieved from 'https://supermemo.guru/index.php?title=Michael_Nielsen_re-discovers_incremental_reading_with_Anki&oldid=19879'

Updated version

As you probably have read this, you should know that I’ve an active SM user and an inactive Anki user. This is MY comparison and it’s without question, biased. You should know that in most cases, I think SM is superior than Anki. Everything is drawn from my 5 years of Anki experience and 8 months of SuperMemo use.

Major Criteria:

  1. Incorporation of Learning Sciences
  2. Learning Tools (Incremental Reading)
  3. Platform Support

Secondary Criteria:

  1. Subsidiary Support
  2. User Interface/User Friendliness
  3. Community Support

Quick Terminology Recap

SRS = Spaced Repetition Software

SM = SuperMemo from super-memo.com; NOT the courses, mobile app, application from supermemo.com. They are different.

Items in SuperMemo = Cards in Anki; IR = Incremental Reading

From Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques, it is clear that spaced repetition, retrieval practice, interleaved practice are the three big guns for effective and efficient learning. The question is, which SRS has more and a better implementation of these three learning strategies?

Side note: I didn’t include elaborative interrogation and self-explanation even though they have the same utility (moderate) as interleaved practice, is because they are more dependent on the learner, rather than the SRS. You can do elaborative interrogation and self-explanation with or without SRS.

A. Spaced Repetition Algorithms

Please see Which Algorithm is Better? SuperMemo’s or Anki’s? to read my two cents about the algorithms between Anki and SM.

Both Anki and SuperMemo are based on spaced repetition, hence the name Spaced Repetition Software (SRS). Spaced Repetition is the very core of both software. Although they are both the same in nature, the effectiveness and efficiency of the algorithm however, is different.

It’s been 3 months since I’ve written that piece. Nothing has changed. I believe the algorithm in SM-17 is superior than the old one implemented/modified in Anki.

If you have modified any of the Anki’s parameters, any comparison from SuperMemo’s site is not quite applicable. Why? First, changing any parameter in the Anki setting means another modified version of Anki’s modified SM-2. Maybe your modified SM-2 is better or worse than SM-2. I don’t know. Second, the algorithm from Anki’s modified SM-2 is a class of its own. It’s not the same as SM-2. Judging its effectiveness and efficiency against SM-17 based on SM-2 is not applicable.

B. Retrieval Practice

In terms of retrieval practice, there’s nothing to compare in this aspect. Retrieval Practice really is about how you formulate your cards/items to maximize the retrieval practice, rather than the nature of the software. You can do passive re-reading in Anki just as you could in SM. You can use SRS just for spaced re-reading, without any retrieval practice.

Anki Vs Supermemo

C. Interleaved Practice

You may read The Significance of Incremental Reading in SuperMemo: Part II for what I mean by macro- and micro-interleaving.

From Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques, we know that interleaved practice is a better learning technique than massed practice. The discriminative-contrast hypothesis explains:

Interleaved practice helps students discriminate between the different kinds of problems so that they will be more likely to use the correct solution method for each one.

I’m aware that the common definition of “Interleaved practice” means mixing different topics under the SAME subject, not interleaving different subjects together.

Type 1: Micro-interleaving: Interleaving different topics under the same subject:

Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus. They are all Maths.

Type 2: Macro-interleaving: Interleaving different subjects together:

Physiology, Maths, Spanish, History

In Anki, it’s harder to do Type 2. If you want to interleave between different decks, there are two options that I’m aware of:

  1. Filtered Deck
  2. One Giant Deck with a Tagging System

Massed Practice of a Deck but Interleaved Practice of the Deck’s Content

When I was using Anki, I used to organize my decks with sub-decks.

For example,

In Anki, the default behavior is massed practice of decks (you finish one deck then move on to another) but interleaved practice of a particular deck’s content (mixing cards within a deck). For example, when I review the top deck of my Biology deck (with its subdecks), Anki would go through the subdecks alphabetically: When I’m done with Chapter 1, Anki would go to Biology Chapter 2 and so on. This is interleaved practice within chapters (the sub-decks), but massed practice across chapters (they are all Biology)

Interleaving Within Chapters

All the cards in Chapter 1 are mixed, presented according to their retrieval strength and storage strength calculated by the algorithm.

Massed Practice Across Chapters

You go through your review chapters by chapters. You don’t get to review a card from Chapter 3 after reviewing a card from Chapter 1. You have to finish Chapter 1 before moving on.

What is the Problem?

When I review this way, I know that I’m in Biology Chapter 1 and that primes me to recall materials related to Chapter 1. This undermines the power of your retrieval practice. Recall is made easier by priming. All the cards are related, so it’s likely one card will help you recall the answer for the next card. Your working memory from a card you review 2 minutes ago will help this next card. This type of massed practice will help you fly through your review like a rapid-fire fashion, but it doesn’t help with long-term retention and your performance during exam.

Back in high school, my Biology teacher would dish out sorted practice questions. These are sets of practice questions with all similar topics grouped together. So set A is all related to photosynthesis, set B digestive system, set C central nervous system. When I was doing these practice paper sets, I could easily and immediately see the similarities and difference between Q1 and Q2 and so on.

But all those previous questions and solutions were actually hurting my ability to come up with the solutions on my own. These insight was only made possible when questions were presented in such close succession. Being shown “the way” by the previous 10 similar questions, I couldn’t generate the solutions on my own. This is like having a guide to help you walk through the forest vs. having to walk through it on your own.

The value of doing Q1 is high, but the value after Q1 drops exponentially. Why? With such massed practice, answers almost automatically pop into consciousness. I might be exaggerating but I hope you get the idea.

PS: This is one example of well-intentioned teachers helping students during practice but actually hurting their exam performance.

So if you have an Anki deck/sub-deck “Biology: CH 22”, the questions and solutions are presented too closely that underlines the interleaving effect.

From The causes and consequences of reminding.

The goal of understanding is the construction of an integrated representation that combines an input with prior knowledge.

With this deck, you are most likely retrieving relevant information you just saw a few minutes ago, rather than knowledge from long-term memory.

Although longer intervals decrease the probability of reminding, they increase the mnemonic potency of reminding. That is, because more laborious retrieval enhances memory more than easy retrieval, difficult reminding enhances memory more for the reminded (i.e., retrieved) event than does easy reminding.

Thus, the product of reminding can reveal a trade-off between likely and potent retrieval: if the reminding cue is too late, little reminding occurs and consequently little benefit accrues; if reminding is too soon, reminding occurs but the benefits are minimal.

Supermemo 18 Vs Anki

1. Filtered Deck

I tried to fix this massed practice problem with a custom deck. It turned out it was quite complicated:

  1. Doing a custom deck will affect the behavior of the algorithm (see Anki manual). The algorithm setting in the filter deck will affect the respective home decks’ algorithm. I never figured out how the relay of cards from home deck to custom deck works
  2. Concerned with the behavior of filter deck: What if I forgot to clear the filter deck after done?
  3. I had a hard time providing a string that was catered to my need

These were all the concerns I had when trying to use a filter deck. I think there was a bug with the relaying of cards from custom deck that it’s now fixed in 2.1? Regardless, I was always paranoid of messing up the algorithm, so I was reluctant and never got to use the filter deck function.

Update:

In 2.1 the new scheduler solves this problem: “When a deck has children, reviews are taken from all children decks at once, instead of showing each deck’s review cards one by one.” see here.

In 2.0, these can be fixed with add-ons:

  1. You can use the add-ons Filter Safety for the reset problem.
  2. You can use the add-ons Advanced Previewer or Remove “study ahead” penalty (and sort by earliness) × for the learn ahead problem.
  3. You can use the the add-on sched_filter_dailydue which ‘Adds the search term “is:today” to the filtered deck creation dialog which includes the following cards all cards due for today, according to each deck’s review limit and all new cards “due for today”, according to each deck’s new card limit’.

The Main Reason You Should Switch From Anki To SuperMemo ...

2. One Giant Deck with a Tagging System

I resorted to using tags to organize my decks and cards.

This way, I could put everything into the same deck to interleave across subjects. But:

  1. I always forgot to tag a bunch of cards before moving them to the main deck, and they were forever lost in the main deck. There were times when I wanted to locate all the cards from a chapter, say, Biology Chapter 22, and it turned out I forgot to tag them. I had to look through the main deck (with thousands of cards) and select them one by one, which was extremely time-consuming not sometimes just impossible.
  2. Hard to organize. When I wanted to later add some more cards to Biology Chapter 22, I had to remember to tag them with the correct tag.

My point is, the default behavior of Anki doesn’t support macro-interleaving. The supposed use is micro-interleaving, not macro-interleaving.

Update:

  1. For tags the add-on Hierarchical Tags is recommended. Tag entry is much easier with the add-on hierarchical tags subtag_completer so that you get suggestions for tags even if the string you entered doesn’t match the beginning of a used tag.

Interleaved Practice of Decks and Decks’ Content

On the other hand, in SuperMemo, the default behavior is macro-interleaving: interleaved practice of all subjects and their content.

In SM, you’re pretty much FORCED to do the macro-interleaving rather than micro-interleaving. The default setting will interleave everything you have in SM.

Anki is micro-interleaving while SuperMemo is macro-interleaving:

> Anki: Throwing fruits, such as apples, oranges, watermelons into the blender.

> SuperMemo: Throwing fruits, vegetables, potatoes, eggs, honey into the blender.

Yes, you can tweak the setting to do subset learning/review, but it’s not encouraged. Heck, the function to only learn new items from a subset is even removed from a later iteration of SM so that you can’t just interleave across a subject.

I believe macro-interleaving is equally, if not more, beneficial than micro-interleaving. Macro-interleaved practice means that there is more spacing between content from the same subject. The lag effect tells us there is an advantage of spacing with longer lags over shorter lags.

In Anki, you are reviewing in a massed practice fashion: Finish the Maths deck, then Spanish deck, then Physiology deck. Although the content of your Maths deck is interleaved, e.g., mixing triangles, circles, quadrilaterals, you are still doing Maths. Everything is still about Maths. You are staying in the Maths-ville. A village is analogous to a prepackaged schema in working memory.

Meaning of prepackaged schema? From The causes and consequences of reminding.

When you face a situation that you’ve faced many times before, you’ll access a schema that already contains the relevant prior knowledge, inferences, and slots for understanding that particular situation.

Anki Vs. SuperMemo The Way Of The Ronin

You may think of the prepackaged schema as that cluster of neurons to solve all the Math questions in that deck. When you’re doing Maths in a Math deck in Anki, you don’t have to RE-ACCESS and RELOAD that prepackaged schema because it’s already in your working memory.

Micro-interleaving (Massed practice of all triangles –> all circles –> all quadrilaterals) is staying in the Maths-ville.

Macro-interleaving (Interleaving all subjects) is walking back and forth between Maths-ville, Physiology-ville and Spanish-ville.

Are your exercising your ability to retrieve the answers in micro-interleaving? Yes, but not as much as you would with macro-interleaving.

For Mathematics, it is harder to blindly regurgitate the answers when all the solids are mixed; it’s even harder when all the solids are interleaved among other subjects. Without a clear (or at least enough) understanding between the relationships of different solids, the distinctive features of different solids, there is no way you can retrieve the correct solutions for different solids. “I’ve just seen a question similar to this. Maybe that solution should be applicable?” is not quite possible when the similar questions are spaced so far apart across subjects.

On the other hand, in SuperMemo, since it interleaves everything (Maths, Spanish, Physiology), you stay in the Maths-ville for a question, then jump to Spanish-ville for a vocabulary item, then Physiology-ville for an anatomy question.

The “jumping back and forth between different subjects” is paramount. You want to RE-ACCESS and RELOAD a particular piece of information as much as possible. Doing so is a form of desirable difficulty. Desirable difficulty is all about finding encoding or retrieval activities that will make studied materials accessible after a delay. The act of “finding the correct route from Spanish-ville to Maths-ville” is significant. You have to reload all relevant materials from long-term memory to working memory. If you stay in Maths-ville, all those relevant materials are easy to find, if not readily available, in the working memory.

Mini Conclusion

Learning under conditions that force you to retrieve from long-term memory is superior. Macro-interleaved practice in SuperMemo provides stronger encoding and retrieval activities than micro-interleaved in Anki.

“It’s an unfair comparison. Incremental Reading is a feature of SuperMemo, then it’s obvious that Anki wouldn’t have it.”

First, there is an Incremental Reading addon for Anki. Though I’ve never tried it (yet) so I can’t vouch for its validity. I included IR as a criterion because it is a very important feature in reading and learning, as I explained it in here and here. Besides, IR is an application of spaced repetition so I hope it’s not too out of line to include this as a criterion.

No Cross-platform Support in SuperMemo

SM is only available in Windows. You have to use it on a Windows machine (laptop/desktop). So, no reps on your phone while waiting in line or just to kill time.

Rich Cross-platform Support in Anki

Anki supports pretty much all the platform there is. Heck, it even has support for Windows phone. Desktop Anki is great: It has add-ons for extra functionality; Ankimobile is beautifully crafted by Damien, the creator of Anki; the Ankidroid is managed by another team of Anki users and it provides more than enough functionalities to do your reps on mobile.

Synchronization

In Anki, the most brilliant thing is, you can sync your account across all your devices and platforms. So when you’re done making flashcards on the desktop, you can hit sync immediately, leave home and review your newly crafted cards during commuting.

On the other hand, SuperMemo doesn’t have any synchronization feature. If you want to use SM across Windows devices, you have to back up your collection, zip it, put it in a USB or cloud, then re-import the whole collection to another device. This can get very annoying as your collection grows. Even if you had a Surface Go, who would want to spend 5 minutes every time exporting and importing collection through a USB just to do your reps for 20 minutes during commute?

Mini conclusion

Anki wins all the way in terms of platform support. No support for Mac in SuperMemo and this alone drive away a lot of potential users. It is a deal breaker for a lot of people. Of course, if I were only allowed to a MacBook, I would install a virtual machine to install Windows just to use SM, but I doubt anyone without being this die-hard about SM would do this.

By subsidiary support I mean extensions, addons.

Due to the open-source nature of Anki, there are a wide range of addons you can use to add extra funtionalities to Anki. For example, Night Mode for doing your reps late at night; AwesomeTTS so that you can add TTS inside Anki; The possibilities are limitless. There are over 500 addons for Anki; new and exciting addons are constantly coming out. If you can code in Python, you can even make your own addons to suit your specific needs. Heck, the source code of Anki in on Github. If you can, you can modify your Anki any way you want.

On the other hand, SuperMemo is proprietary. There is no addon support. You can’t change a thing in SuperMemo. For example, I get used to immediately jumping to the next card after grading in Anki. In SuperMemo, after rating, you have to press spacebar to move on. Fortunately, I built a simple AutoHotKey script to do this.

To begin with, I don’t think the UI design should be a major criterion, hence it falls under the secondary criteria. Is it really important enough so that you will abandon one over the other because of the UI?

“Users complain that SuperMemo has a steep learning curve. They are right. SuperMemo has been optimized to make a life of a pro easy.”

The user interface is almost universally recognized as “ugly”. Some people care but I don’t. Ultimately, what’s important is “how efficient and effective this software can help me learn”, not how nice the UI is. I know the UI throws a lot of people off. I do wish I could eliminate some extra buttons like the email and help button. But they are too minor. Besides, it’s easy to mistake the lack of features with elegance or simplicity.

Anki, on the other hand, is more alinged with principles of user interface design. At least when I first used Anki, I didn’t have to Google how to add mp3, but I had to when I switched to SM.

The community support is proportional to the number of users. I think for every 500 Anki users, there is only 1 SM user. So if everyone is willing to ask your question, you would have 500 replies for Anki and only 1 for SuperMemo.

The r/Anki is very welcoming; there are a lot of active members discussing various topics related to Anki and learning in general. The official support fourm is equally welcoming and active.

SuperMemo Google Group is mostly dead; Fortunately, this Discord channel is the most active platform I’ve visited. By the way, I’ve started r/super_memo. There is also a r/supermemo. They are managed by two different groups of SuperMemo users. Feel free to ask any question there.

My reasons for switching from Anki to SuperMemo are the aspects in which I think SM is superior than Anki: Superior algorithm, more interleaved practice and Incremental Reading. I hope the critiera I picked could reflect the major differences between Anki and SuperMemo.

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