SuperMemo is fundamentally broken

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I purchased SuperMemo 16 two weeks ago now, and these have been the most frustrating two weeks of my entire life! It utterly FAILS to meet my needs. This is deeply, personally very frustrating to me because I NEED better learning software. I NEED the capabilities that SuperMemo attempts to provide, but your software is a total catastrophe of broken user interface, missing features, and utterly abysmal documentation. On top of all of this is a consistent tone throughout your website and documentation that is belittling and condescending towards your users, and fails to own up to the inadequacies of your software.

The problem is not with your customers. The problem is with your software!

Let me explain where I am coming from: I am a university student, in my 5th year of studies, yet am only halfway through my Mechanical Engineering degree. One of the largest issues is that I have struggled tremendously to find effective and efficient learning techniques. This summer I decided to try and learn German, and my attempts have really brought home the inadequacies of my study and learning skills and tools. I have spent months searching out ways to learn more effectively. When I learned about the benefits of spaced repetition, I was elated! Finally, here was a tool that could help me cease forgetting what I was learning in my classes. And naturally, SuperMemo was referenced all over as the most advanced spaced repetition system available. I was very interested in what I read. It sounds like, in theory, SuperMemo is exactly the tool I need to finally be successful in my language and university studies.

The incremental reading tools in particular are of interest to me: Anki and other flashcard software simply does not provide these same tools. They are far more inflexible in how you can formulate your cards, and provide no tools for processing notes and texts to create cards. The idea of being able to incrementally process my class notes and textbooks and rapidly generate cards to help me remember all the information is so appealing. It is exactly what I NEED to finally be successful in school!

I purchased your software in high hopes. I am an extremely computer-savvy person, I am not afraid of learning new and different ways of doing things on a computer. I have taught myself to use vim and emacs, both pieces of software with very unusual but very powerful models of user interaction. I am convinced of the value of your incremental learning methods and ideas. I think the way SuperMemo allows you to break down large bodies of text into smaller and smaller pieces for memorization is powerful, and spaced repetition reviews are tremendously valuable in helping remember things. I have no doubt that SuperMemo has the best algorithms in the world.

SuperMemo has utterly failed to meet a single expectation I had of it.

Your software is a catastrophe of archaic design, actively hostile user experience, is lacking a shocking number of basic modern features, ignores all user interface conventions and innovations of the past TWENTY YEARS, and to add insult to injury your website and documentation carries an unprofessional and condescending tone towards users who struggle with your software. All over, in articles and documentation, there is a tone of surprise that more people do not use your software. People don’t use your software because your software is broken and fails to meet their needs!'

What I need from SuperMemo

I need SuperMemo to facilitate the process of taking large quantities of information, distilling it down and prioritizing what needs to be memorized, and formulating reviews to allow me to maintain that information in long-term memory. You know, that revolutionary “Incremental Learning” process SuperMemo brags about so much?

Your own website outlines the Incremental Learning process as follows:

  1. "Importing knowledge from various electronic and non-electronic sources (e.g. articles on the web, YouTube videos, music files, pictures from your camera, e-mails, scanned paper notes, etc.)"
  2. "Prioritizing knowledge for incremental processing (e.g. high priority for physics, low priority for movie trivia, etc.).|
  3. "Gradually converting the learning materials into lasting knowledge in your memory. This conversion may also produce an easily searchable and well-annotated computer media archive that does not even need to be part of the learning process."
  4. "Expanding creatively upon the acquired knowledge (e.g. in the process of incremental writing, problem solving, etc.)"

Another critical point I wish to make is the need to ruthlessly annihilate all overhead associated with using your software, and allow me to make efficient use of my time:

  • Time spent trying to puzzle out how to make your software do what I want is time I am not learning.
  • Time spent submitting questions to your wiki or trying to read your abysmal documentation is time when I am not learning.
  • Time spent trying to remember where a particular button or feature is located in your confusing user interface is time I am not learning!!!

Importing issues

I am speechless as to how your software can be so direly lacking in its ability to import learning materials from elsewhere! How am I supposed to make use of the learning tools of SuperMemo if I can’t get the learning material into the software in the first place????

Importing web pages doesn’t work

See: Web page import does not work

No native PDF support

Have you even looked at a calendar recently? This is the year 2015. PDF is one of the most common file formats for exchanging long text documents containing exactly the sort of material best suited to Incremental Reading!!!! Journal articles, academic texts, ebooks, everything can be had in PDF format. IT IS INEXCUSABLE NOT TO PROVIDE NATIVE SUPPORT FOR PDF FILES!!! Manually copying and pasting content into SuperMemo is a hassle and a waste of my time, precious time I would rather spend, you know, LEARNING THE MATERIAL IN THE PDF FILE!

Email is useless

In theory, this is a fantastic feature. I would love to be able to setup workflows with services like IFTTT to email material directly into SuperMemo. But SuperMemo can only read .eml files, a file format no modern desktop email client uses anymore! It is silly to have to manually export emails, then import them into SuperMemo.

These days, who even uses a desktop email client anyway? Nearly everyone uses a web client. It would be far more useful if SuperMemo was able to integrate with my email account via IMAP, so I could apply filters to automatically send content into SuperMemo from other programs and devices, without having to do anything.

The way email works now though, it is useless to me.

Cloud synchronization

The reality of the modern world is that we use cloud services to hold our data. I need SuperMemo to be able to integrate into these services, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and note-taking services like OneNote and Evernote. I need the capability to seamlessly import materials from these services directly into SuperMemo for processing and memorization.

Integration with note-taking apps Evernote and OneNote would be particularly valuable. These applications are extremely good at importing and annotating information. I need my class notes and learning materials that I collect and gather with Evernote and OneNote to be available to me within SuperMemo!

The inability to readily import learning materials is a profound flaw in SuperMemo, and makes it nearly impossible to use it for Incremental Learning!

User Interface issues

Read: User Interface issues with SuperMemo 16‎‎

Concluding thoughts

I have failed or withdrawn from so many university courses because I did not have the tools and learning skills I needed. Just try to imagine the sheer amount of frustration and discouragement I have suffered because of that. It has been a long, discouraging, and excruciating experience. In theory, your software and the learning techniques it is intended to facilitate should be exactly what I so desperately need.

The past two weeks of trying to use your software have been severely, deeply, gut-wrenchingly frustrating to me. I have never been so let down by a piece of software in my entire life. To say I am dissatisfied would be amongst the greatest understatements of all time.

Quick Comments

  • we keep emphasizing that SuperMemo has multiple limitation. If you follow its ways. You might like it (after a longer time). If you try to go against is capabilities (e.g. use incremental reading with PDF, synchronize with other apps, etc.), you will sure hate it.
  • See: Time I waste on learning SuperMemo is time I am not learning
  • you can import mail with Email: Paste in Commander (support for EML comes from the fact that this is the format used in free mail client software that comes with Windows)
  • you can solve 95% of your JavaScript issues when importing from Internet Explorer if you select the text to import (rather than import whole pages warts and all)(e.g. adverting spots cause a great deal of issues)