Why Anki is not well-known

Quite some Anki fans wonder why Anki is not well-known. Using Anki changed the life of more people than I can count, and they wonder why there are not more people using it; or at least why it is not well-known. I'll try to answer to the best of my ability. I should not however that, it's a question on a negative, so I can only offers educated guesses. "Educated" because I've been active in Anki ecosystem since 2017, but "guess" because it's pretty hard to answer a question on a negative and this is hardly a question for a software developer.

  1. How does people learn about Anki today

Let's start by considering how people learn about Anki today. I only have anecdotal evidence as we have not even tried to ask users to fill a form, nor have we tracked user provenance (not like we could, with the play store).

## Word of mouth

Most of people I know personally who uses Anki have heard about it by me. This is clearly not a scalable method. Generally speaking, word of mouth scales slowly. It probably scales since AnkiDroid has millions of monthly users; however it took almost a decade to reach the first million.

## Student groups

I know that medical school students suggest freshman to use Anki, and help them onboard. This still requires works from a group of dedicated users to propagate their use, even if it's more institutionalized. Shout-out to Pen Med students for their Y.M.C.A. parody with A.N.K.I..

## Being mentioned in some medias

Some people learns about Anki because it is mentioned in some media they consume. Recently, I've heard someone mentioning Anki is mentioned in the four-hours work-week. With 4 millions views, I suspect that being mentioned by PewDiePie[1] leds to some new users. This is clearly scalable, as long as we can convince creators to mention us. Ideally for free, as the goal is to have their personal experience as users.

## Content dedicated to us

I learned about Anki first through Gwern's post about spaced repetition[2]. This is still the case of many people I know today, but that's probably due to me frequenting the Less-Wrong community. In 2020 we got tens of thousands of download in a week-end thanks to Web5NGay, a famous Vietnamese youtuber, video dedicated to our software. The main limit is that this only works if the author of the content has a following. So, once again, we would need to find famous people that uses us and want to communicate about it.

## Conclusion for today's methods

As can be seen, today methods hardly scale. A user learn about us not when they need us, but if they find by chance somebody mentioning us. Which by itself may answer why we are not well-known.

  1. Potential solutions

Let's now consider what are the usual solutions to ensure a software gets widely used.

## Virality

Anki is essentially an individual practice. You use Anki generally alone on your computer or smartphone, and unless someone is looking over your shoulder, there is no difference between using Anki and using any other app. Worse, opposed to many other app, we have no achievement you can post on steam or wherever they are shared. Some people share pictures of their stats, but the statistics page is only meaningful when you already know what Anki is and they are shared in Anki-user groups. Anki is absolutely not following any virality best-practice. As a personal note, I'm happy about it; I know Anki is addictive for some people; up to having people reviewing while driving; I absolutely don't want to make it more addictive than it naturally is.

As a comparison, on DuoLingo you can add friends and see their progress and see in which tier of learner you are. While I don't feel like I've ever been influenced by that, I assume if they keep this feature, they have data indicating that it is great. I do not know however whether it's great for learning, but clearly, I've seen friends sharing Duolingo information because of it, which is great for virality.

## Institution

One could imagine that institution would recommend the use of Anki. Anki increases students grades and result in competition. The evidence is mostly anecdotical (but repeated over years and countries). There are a few actual research done in Medical School Education, but, honestly, I don't find them extremely convincing. You obviously can't do a double-blind study, give a placebo Anki, or force students to use an app during a year. So, even if those studies concluded that Anki user gets better grade on average than non-Anki user, you can't exclude that it only means that motivated students gets better grade on average. In particular, that means that we can't even know whether Anki improve everyone result, or if it improves only the result of some category of people who have a specific way of learning. Hence, while Anki may or may not be for everyone, I believe evidences are sufficient for institutions to recommend Anki to their students.

The trouble is that it would be hard to sell Anki to any institutions. Anki suppose that you self-evaluate honestly. As soon as institution tries to get any data about the student practice, they can be suspected to want to use it to evaluate and sort students, and the students can't give honest answer anymore. It seems hard to convince an institution to officially suggest using Anki while requiring them to trust their students and have no feedback from the app at all. Most learning apps offer a lot of statistics on their students progress, and it's going to be a very hard sell to explain that NOT providing any stats to justify their choice is the best choice.

### Content

Assuming Anki is officially suggested to students, the next question is, what should students review. It's usually better to learn by creating notes and reviewing notes that are relevant to your way of learning, your way of record data. However, this would require a huge investment from the students while they still don't know whether Anki is right for them. So institution should probably provide pre-made decks relevant to their lectures. This means that their professors (or other employee, or student groups) needs to know how to create cards, which, I'll plainly admit, is not easy (as it requires knowing HTML and understanding what a template system is). Plus, it immediately leads to a ton of complex copyright issues. For example, in medical school, you can't expect professors to take pictures themselves of every diseases and body part and whatever things medical school students needs to see. However, they can't use sources from textbooks, since they are copyrighted.

## PR and Ad.

If we want people to use Anki, we must reach out to people who may be interested. Probably students first. We must ensure that they know about Anki. However, reaching out to people has a cost. If we go through institutions, we need dedicated salesman; which is hard to do when most of the apps are free. If we want to reach through advertisement, we need not only to create the ad, but to pay for it to be published. Those are serious costs. And we just don't have the money for it. AnkiDroid full accounting is on open collective; and as it can be seen, it's not even 2000$ a month[3]. You can't buy serious advertisement for this amount. I have only public information about of AnkiMobile on iOS, hence I can only speculate from informations on the apple store: 158 rating, N°2 in Education. I am extremely happy that Anki's author can live from this revenue and pay for the servers. However, it seems safe to guess that AnkiTeckts Plt (the company) is not in a much better position than us. Worse, if they get more users, that means more server costs.


[1] honestly not a name I ever expected to write in my blog

[2] I regret that it's extremely outdated regarding Anki.

[3] I can add to that Google Summer of Code that went to 6 mentees, and Google Open Source bounties that a few contributor received.

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