Anki vs. smart.fm

Published on April 19th, 2009.

Roughly speaking, both Anki and smart.fm could be described as being spaced repetition system (SRS). A more commonly used word for these applications would be “flashcard app”. These applications or online services helps you remember things by using intelligent algorithms and schedules your reviews according to your learning history. This way you can maximize the amount of items to learn with the minimum amount of effort.

There are a lot of different SRSs to choose from, but from my research it seems like most tend to choose between Anki and smart.fm (formerly iKnow!). I’ve tried countless of SRS based applications on my iPhone and online, so I would say that I have a relatively good insight in this matter.

The main application provided by smart.fm is called iKnow!. In this application you can choose if you want to study in a long-term learning mode or in a goal mode. I recommend using the long-term mode as that’s the whole point behind these systems, but if you need to cram for an exam you can go with the goal mode, just don’t forget to review the items later on. A good thing in this application for students of Japanese is that you can choose from a Full Mode, Kana Mode, Romaji Mode and Kanji Focus depending on your needs and skills. You can choose to study 5 or 10 items at a time, if you’re in the long-term mode, these items will be chosen for you in a clever fashion based on your learning history and performance.

smart.fm iKnow! application smart.fm iKnow! application smart.fm iKnow! application

With this example flashcard deck I’m using the Kanji Focus Mode. It starts by asking from Kana to Kanji, then when I’m done it continues with Kanji to Kana. The last thing you do is a spelling quiz. If you use the Full Mode instead of Kanji Focus you’ll also study the meanings instead of just reading and writing (you get the meanings in Kanji Focus as well, but not as questions). How you answer to the questions is very simple, it’s basically a yes or no question, there’s also a “maybe” option but I find that it’s better to go with “no” if you’re not sure, a maybe won’t hold on the exam.

Design-wise, there’s not much to complain about, you can choose between different themes but it would be nice to be able to upload your own backgrounds.

Now let’s take a look on what Anki has to offer. Looking at the first screenshot below you can tell that you have a few more choices to help you customize the application to your needs. It’s good to try different settings out to see what works best for you. The example screenshot shows that I have set it to 90 new cards per day, this is something I don’t recommend as you’ll be overwhelmed by the reviews, it’s just high since I had to go through them all for an exam. I’ve found that 20-30 new cards per day is a good amount for me. The main difference when it comes to the actual reviewing is that you don’t answer with a “yes” or a “no”, instead you have 4 choices, “again”, “hard”, “good” and “easy”. Which one you choose affects how long it’ll wait until it shows you that item again.

Anki screenshot Anki screenshot Anki screenshot

Of course it’s not just about the main application, other things play a big part as well. On smart.fm you get to join a community which is a really good thing, especially if you don’t have anyone to practice with or talk in/about Japanese. Because of the community you also get to study really cool decks provided by the users, with voice and images. For example, anyone can create a deck of their favorite song with the lyrics, translations and audio clips, for everyone to use. One thing you don’t get on smart.fm however is the ability to study your decks wherever you might be at the moment. Unless of course you run around with a netbook and a 3G modem. With Anki it’s quite the opposite. Anki is available for Windows, Mac OSX, Debian/Ubuntu/Fedora, iPhone, Windows Mobile and a few other handheld devices. You can put it on a USB stick and take it with you and you can also use a web based version.

Other than that I don’t find anything crucial that needs to be brought up. But here’s a list of positives and negatives.

Anki

Positive
+ Available on many devices and platforms
+ Better for long-term studying
+ Customize the way you want to study
+ Styling the application, fonts, colors, backgrounds etc.
+ Easily edit items anytime
+ Statistics

Negative
- Adding items takes more time than on smart.fm, but at least it automatically puts in the reading of Kanjis
- The iPhone application could use a design update

smart.fm

Positive
+ The community
+ Good for cramming with various modes
+ Easily share and find decks in the community
+ Adding deck items is fast and easy
+ Audio for items
+ Comes with two other applications, BrainSpeed and Dictation
+ Professionally made courses and decks for everyone to use
+ Statistics

Negative
- You can’t take it with you
- It’s an online service only, if something happens, like if the servers goes down you won’t be able to study
- Only two choices for answering, yes or no (not very good for long-term studying)

Both smart.fm and Anki have a fair share of good qualities that are important to consider. As for me, I’m using Anki for my long-term studying and sometimes an iPhone SRS application called iFlipr, when I need to cram something on the go. I only use smart.fm for the fun kind of decks, the last ones I enrolled was a deck for learning the lyrics in one of Angela Aki’s songs, and a few lines from Will Smith’s 7 Pounds.

I strongly suggest that you try out both smart.fm and Anki and then decide which one you want to use for all the different things. I think that if you’re planning on creating your own deck(s) for long-term studying, Anki is the way to go. I currently use two big decks in Anki, one focusing on Kanji and one on vocabulary, grammar and sentences. Definitely go with bigger decks in Anki, one smaller for each of the different things will just be troublesome when reviewing.

So which one do you prefer? Or maybe you find them both useful in various ways? Feel free to drop a line or two and let me know what you think!

  • http://thenihon-suki.blogspot.com/ Mary

    My first experience with an SRS was through iknow and I really liked what it had to offer. I do use Anik a lot more though as I am ofter moving about and can look at it on my itouch.

    Even thought both systems have their ups and downs, I use them both when I can. I find that I use Anki more for kanji while I use iknow for more vocab related studying.

    I really enjoy both programs and think using both is just fine! Nice post about both!!

  • http://thenihon-suki.blogspot.com/ Mary

    My first experience with an SRS was through iknow and I really liked what it had to offer. I do use Anik a lot more though as I am ofter moving about and can look at it on my itouch.

    Even thought both systems have their ups and downs, I use them both when I can. I find that I use Anki more for kanji while I use iknow for more vocab related studying.

    I really enjoy both programs and think using both is just fine! Nice post about both!!

    • http://www.yonasu.com yonasu

      Yeah, using both is good as long as you use them for different things. smart.fm is really good for vocab as it has audio and the dictation application. But just like you, I often study on the go so it makes more sense for me to use Anki for all the major stuff.

    • http://www.yonasu.com yonasu

      Yeah, using both is good as long as you use them for different things. smart.fm is really good for vocab as it has audio and the dictation application. But just like you, I often study on the go so it makes more sense for me to use Anki for all the major stuff.

  • http://thenihon-suki.blogspot.com/ Mary

    My first experience with an SRS was through iknow and I really liked what it had to offer. I do use Anik a lot more though as I am ofter moving about and can look at it on my itouch.

    Even thought both systems have their ups and downs, I use them both when I can. I find that I use Anki more for kanji while I use iknow for more vocab related studying.

    I really enjoy both programs and think using both is just fine! Nice post about both!!

    • http://www.yonasu.com yonasu

      Yeah, using both is good as long as you use them for different things. smart.fm is really good for vocab as it has audio and the dictation application. But just like you, I often study on the go so it makes more sense for me to use Anki for all the major stuff.

  • http://www.jamaipanese.com Jamaipanese

    never used anki but been really warming back up to Smart.fm since the rebranding although I haven’t been studying much recently.

  • http://www.jamaipanese.com Jamaipanese

    never used anki but been really warming back up to Smart.fm since the rebranding although I haven’t been studying much recently.

  • http://www.jamaipanese.com Jamaipanese

    never used anki but been really warming back up to Smart.fm since the rebranding although I haven’t been studying much recently.

  • http://www.dumbotaku.com Dumb Otaku

    Actually I have been breaking down the iKnow app in my head and it really is an SRS application because it does the space recognition just in a different way.

    It does figure out the 1 – 5 options but it automates it.

    Notice in anki or others you can say I don’t understand and it will show it until you do get it then it spaces it out.

    Same thing with iKnow if you don’t get it it comes back to it depending on the 5 or 10 you are working on now.

    Also notice the percentages you have done based on the number of mistakes of that word. It will then take the percentages and show those sooner, but mixes in a healthy does of 100% based on when they do really need to show up.

    You can then pay attention to the order it does the words in the 5 or 10 set you are working in the lowest % you have done is usually first building up to the max. usually.

    They have implemented the srs time delay just took the how to choose away because if you are like me you get it wrong most of the time anyway they just figured out a better way to do it.

    Sorry, I am fascinated by applications since I am a developer so I like to break things down as I use them to figure out how they did it.

    I do like your review and agree with most of it but it seemed like you missed a whole chunk of how iKnow app works.

  • http://www.dumbotaku.com Dumb Otaku

    Actually I have been breaking down the iKnow app in my head and it really is an SRS application because it does the space recognition just in a different way.

    It does figure out the 1 – 5 options but it automates it.

    Notice in anki or others you can say I don’t understand and it will show it until you do get it then it spaces it out.

    Same thing with iKnow if you don’t get it it comes back to it depending on the 5 or 10 you are working on now.

    Also notice the percentages you have done based on the number of mistakes of that word. It will then take the percentages and show those sooner, but mixes in a healthy does of 100% based on when they do really need to show up.

    You can then pay attention to the order it does the words in the 5 or 10 set you are working in the lowest % you have done is usually first building up to the max. usually.

    They have implemented the srs time delay just took the how to choose away because if you are like me you get it wrong most of the time anyway they just figured out a better way to do it.

    Sorry, I am fascinated by applications since I am a developer so I like to break things down as I use them to figure out how they did it.

    I do like your review and agree with most of it but it seemed like you missed a whole chunk of how iKnow app works.

  • http://www.dumbotaku.com Dumb Otaku

    Actually I have been breaking down the iKnow app in my head and it really is an SRS application because it does the space recognition just in a different way.

    It does figure out the 1 – 5 options but it automates it.

    Notice in anki or others you can say I don’t understand and it will show it until you do get it then it spaces it out.

    Same thing with iKnow if you don’t get it it comes back to it depending on the 5 or 10 you are working on now.

    Also notice the percentages you have done based on the number of mistakes of that word. It will then take the percentages and show those sooner, but mixes in a healthy does of 100% based on when they do really need to show up.

    You can then pay attention to the order it does the words in the 5 or 10 set you are working in the lowest % you have done is usually first building up to the max. usually.

    They have implemented the srs time delay just took the how to choose away because if you are like me you get it wrong most of the time anyway they just figured out a better way to do it.

    Sorry, I am fascinated by applications since I am a developer so I like to break things down as I use them to figure out how they did it.

    I do like your review and agree with most of it but it seemed like you missed a whole chunk of how iKnow app works.

  • Franzeska

    Very interesting. I’ve been wondering whether I should check out Anki (I use smart.fm already). I agree with the comment above that smart.fm automates a lot of the decisionmaking about how well you know an item and when it should show up next. As far as I can tell, what the ‘maybe’ function does is give you a lower overall score for that lesson (so that instead of going from 75% to 100% like you would with an item you know well, you go from 75% to 80%).

  • Franzeska

    Very interesting. I’ve been wondering whether I should check out Anki (I use smart.fm already). I agree with the comment above that smart.fm automates a lot of the decisionmaking about how well you know an item and when it should show up next. As far as I can tell, what the ‘maybe’ function does is give you a lower overall score for that lesson (so that instead of going from 75% to 100% like you would with an item you know well, you go from 75% to 80%).

  • Franzeska

    Very interesting. I’ve been wondering whether I should check out Anki (I use smart.fm already). I agree with the comment above that smart.fm automates a lot of the decisionmaking about how well you know an item and when it should show up next. As far as I can tell, what the ‘maybe’ function does is give you a lower overall score for that lesson (so that instead of going from 75% to 100% like you would with an item you know well, you go from 75% to 80%).

  • CrayFish

    I also like the way iKnow will give you the options of yes and no instead of choosing between 0 and 5. I also like the BrainSpeed application so that you can really know something really fast. I wish they had college courses or university courses on the most effective ways to use this technology.

  • CrayFish

    I also like the way iKnow will give you the options of yes and no instead of choosing between 0 and 5. I also like the BrainSpeed application so that you can really know something really fast. I wish they had college courses or university courses on the most effective ways to use this technology.

  • Katie

    So since this post was published, iKnow is now smart.fm, and there’s an iPhone app for it.

    I was a long time user of SuperMemo and then Mnemosyne. I thought about switching to Anki, but I’ve read that if you miss a day or two there, the content snowballs on you, which is what was burning me out with the other two. I like that you can bite off content in smart.fm in manageable chunks.

  • Katie

    So since this post was published, iKnow is now smart.fm, and there’s an iPhone app for it.

    I was a long time user of SuperMemo and then Mnemosyne. I thought about switching to Anki, but I’ve read that if you miss a day or two there, the content snowballs on you, which is what was burning me out with the other two. I like that you can bite off content in smart.fm in manageable chunks.

  • http://www.randomkrazy.blogspot.com Nick

    I wish I could use one and have the postives of each without the negatives. I wonder if this is possible.

    For example I’d like to use anki’s algorithm for memory but I like that smart.fm has a program to remember stuff. it also has audio and I like the display/interface more than anki”s. I wish they teamed up or if there was a way to mix them without using both.

  • http://www.randomkrazy.blogspot.com Nick

    I wish I could use one and have the postives of each without the negatives. I wonder if this is possible.

    For example I’d like to use anki’s algorithm for memory but I like that smart.fm has a program to remember stuff. it also has audio and I like the display/interface more than anki”s. I wish they teamed up or if there was a way to mix them without using both.

    • Steve

      Nick, I think this might address a lot of your problems:

      http://wiki.github.com/ridisculous/anki-iknow-importer/

      Works brilliantly, at least it has so far for the Norwegian content I’ve imported. This way you can get all the smart.fm content imported directly into anki, no fiddly copying and pasting required and even downloads the audio. :)

      I tend just to use smart.fm as a resource to import content into Anki now.

    • Steve

      Nick, I think this might address a lot of your problems:

      http://wiki.github.com/ridisculous/anki-iknow-importer/

      Works brilliantly, at least it has so far for the Norwegian content I’ve imported. This way you can get all the smart.fm content imported directly into anki, no fiddly copying and pasting required and even downloads the audio. :)

      I tend just to use smart.fm as a resource to import content into Anki now.

  • http://www.randomkrazy.blogspot.com Nick

    I wish I could use one and have the postives of each without the negatives. I wonder if this is possible.

    For example I’d like to use anki’s algorithm for memory but I like that smart.fm has a program to remember stuff. it also has audio and I like the display/interface more than anki”s. I wish they teamed up or if there was a way to mix them without using both.

    • Steve

      Nick, I think this might address a lot of your problems:

      http://wiki.github.com/ridisculous/anki-iknow-importer/

      Works brilliantly, at least it has so far for the Norwegian content I’ve imported. This way you can get all the smart.fm content imported directly into anki, no fiddly copying and pasting required and even downloads the audio. :)

      I tend just to use smart.fm as a resource to import content into Anki now.