A fancier GUI won’t make Supermemo universal because is aviral.
I have always though about Dr. Wozniak reluctancy to improve the interface. By the share amount of knowledge shared in the official web anyone would think this must a be a very smart guy, in fact the whole idea of creating this product was to make him self smarter (selfish as it sounds), but how doesn’t he understand a better GUI would make this product more universal. Seems like reluctancy doesn’t come from an attitude that I call “teachers paradigm” (a teacher can’t see the students point of view unless he becomes one mentally) but is based on the concepts of memetics.
When Supermemo’s creator was interview and asked the following question in 2001:
He explained not only the reasons for the though justified a not greater expansion of the concept of learning trough SRS systems, but also the answer for not investing more effort on a better GUI.
Wozniak: When setting up SuperMemo World, we thought SuperMemo was a product that would spread like wildfire. This came from little understanding of the differences in psychological profile of people that make up the studying population. It was an erroneous extrapolation from our own perception of SuperMemo to the entire population.
… Inherently, SuperMemo is not viral. In memetic science, there is a research field some mathamaticians call “social percolation theory”. It describes networks of individuals, their communication means, the spread of information in such networks, and the variables that affect it. Let me use some concepts of that theory to explain my point. SuperMemo does not have the Whoa factor that makes an Internet browser spread. It is therefore inherently aviral, i.e. it does not percolate. It’s smoothness factor is low.
I heard many voices that if SuperMemo were simpler or if it had a better user interface or if it was translated to Polish or French, or if it came with a plain language documentation its ability to percolate would change. Simplicity will not take away SuperMemo’s inherent problem with smoothness. Nobody can sit to SuperMemo and feel the enlightenment or joy of playing with the browser. That is the key! Several variables in a social percolation model stand against SuperMemo.
Many top-IQ people and great programmers were given the idea of SuperMemo to their free hands to capitalize on the previous experience. They tried to develop a better wrapper for the idea. A better “viral capsule”. In other words “better SuperMemo”. I intentionally stay away from similar efforts to make sure I do not pollute their creativity with my own preconceived molds. (Italics mine)Those smart people could never come up with widely viral product they hoped for. This is not their fault, the fault is inherent in the concept.
Our brain does not have a reward-punishment system for measuring memory or forgetting. Ignorance is rather painless, and knowledge SuperMemo helps you keep in your brain is always taken for granted. Knowledge “feels” as if it was to stay in your brain anyway. It is the “feeling” that matters. It is very hard to build impressive and massive bodies of knowledge because persistence and will power stand on the way for a majority of people. Only when you learn a huge body of material you develop the skills, the awareness, and the deep understanding of what SuperMemo does to your life. Only a very small proportion of people really “feel” SuperMemo and its power. But this “feel” and awareness often takes years. That disqualifies SuperMemo as a viral product. Not only it is not smooth. Its velocity is deplorable. It does not ride on the first experience and instant gratification, it rides on hard-earned wisdom. Those weaknesses are inescapable and will always be there. Naturally, there were cases where a small niche of users was quickly saturated, where SuperMemo conquered a whole class in a school or university, but these cases were always based on individual leadership. Where one or very few very smart people got infected with the idea and were able to make others follow. However, those niches collapse as soon as leaders are gone! SuperMemo keeps on spreading among people for who knowledge is the matter of survival or who simply love learning.
Source: The Decade of SuperMemo:, Interview with people who brought SuperMemo to life. M. Morawska. Summer 2001 (updated Fall 2002). http://www.supermemo.com/articles/interview.htm [Accessed:2009-07-04].
So ok, I love my supermemo, I would also love a better GUI, I do love style, but wouldn’t stand losing the actual power for simplicity or better GUI. in fact I want even more power, but after reading this article at least I know my expectations of a better GUI or simplicity won’t come from the this man, maybe is even better for some. But I would like that many more would enjoy the pleasure of learning efficiently and that’s what supermemo means knowing how much you learn for the invested time or learning how much you don’t.