Incremental Reading: Reading the Same Article Two Years Later

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

The article mentioned is The Tail End. If you haven’t I highly recommend reading it; it does put things into perspective.


As you can see, I dismissed it on Jun 22, 2018. Then today (Apr 21, 2020), almost 2 years later, SuperMemo showed me an extract from this article. I went back to its source to read it again. (This is another reason I strongly disagree deleting any source articles, regardless of what the official doc says).

It’s been almost 2 years since I first read it. With life experience and the time passed, I have different perspectives and insights from re-reading the same article. Even without any new insights it’s good to contemplate on the topic.

My main purpose isn’t to discuss the article’s content, but to illuminate on SuperMemo’s Incremental Reading. This Incremental Reading thing is just pure magic.

Automatic Long-term Scheduling

There’s no way I’d re-read this same article without any deliberate scheduling system such as SuperMemo’s. Mostly I’d just read it once and then never encounter it again.

Without SuperMemo, it’s highly unlikely that, say, after 2 years, while having dinner, suddenly think of this article. Maybe I would get triggered randomly, like a friend mentioning it (what are the odds?), but great articles should not be read only once and hoping you’ll get triggered out of the blue so that you can think about it again. Great literature works are like an endless fountain: it just keeps on giving. This is sort of like any great insight: after a certain life event you vowed, for example, “I’ll spend more time with my family” or “be kinder to others”, but then you forget about it. Isn’t it nice to be reminded of it, maybe not every day, but at least periodically (like a few times in a decade)? Think about how many great insights you’ve forgotten. You can’t because it’s by definition, you’ve forgotten and they’re forever lost. My point is, I don’t choose to suddenly remember a random article: thoughts and memory just surface themselves. So it’s very valuable having an external system that enforces scheduled re-readings to get the most out of them.

With SuperMemo I no longer need to “bookmark” articles or websites, promising I’ll get back to it one day but deep down knowing I never will. I used to have an almost endless Pocket reading list. Before that, I had hundreds of “bookmarked” websites in Firefox. I have a folder called “IMPORTANT”, then another folder called “ONLY THIS MATTERS” out of hundreds of bookmarked sites that I never got around reading till this day. (I’ll get back to them I swear.)

On the other hand, in SuperMemo, you don’t have to “get back to them”; they “come to you”. I explained this in Why SuperMemo Trashes Any Note-taking System (Including OneNote and Evernote) but the following is another way to look at Incremental Reading:

Incremental Reading is Like a News Feed

One similar example is your Facebook’s News Feed: you are presented with a personalized feed; you scroll through it to read the content. If a particular feed doesn’t interest you you just scroll pass it; if something catches your attention you may do something with it like Like, Comment or click the link. SuperMemo’s Outstanding Queue is that personalized feed: it contains all of your Topics (articles and extracts) and Items (flashcards) for the day, filtered by your priority and review history. Essentially, it’s about active interaction: like a conveyor belt, your pending learning/reading material (articles and flashcards) just come to you.


SuperMemo also acts as an active knowledge management system. If it’s in SuperMemo you’re guarantee to read it, maybe weeks, months or years later. If it’s important you’ll read more than once or even create flashcards out of it; if it’s not you won’t waste time and may delete it right away. This differs from OneNote or Evernote in that they don’t have an Outstanding Queue, i.e., they don’t present you with your learning material; you have to go find it (Search functionality doesn’t help: you have to remember you have it in the first place).

If I were using Evernote, after reading The Tail End, I may add that graph, maybe along with some comments to a folder called “Great Online Articles”. But that’s it. The problem is I’ll have to manually go through that folder to look for material worthy of re-reading. If I have hundreds of such articles it’s unlikely I’ll read it again. It sits in that folder, along with other articles, forever collecting digital dust (just like those bookmarked links in Firefox). But with SuperMemo such “never seeing the light” will never happen.


This is currently the best video on getting started with Incremental Reading: Starting with SM Going through the IR Manual.

All hail SuperMemo and Incremental Reading.