Features versus Content

Published: February 15th, 2004

There’s no doubt that Bible software has become increasingly complex, with lots of “bells and whistles” that many users are likely to underuse, or misuse (or both!). This problem is here to stay, I’m afraid. And there is a very simple reason for it: either most people just don’t read the user manuals or, even worse than that, very often there is no manual to read! And I don’t mean a nice online help (that should be taken for granted), but the traditional, old-fashioned, printed manual with step-by-step instructions and lots
of screenshots. When I review software package I always value very highly the availability of a printed guide. To be able to print the help files or documents yourself is not quite the same, but it’s better than nothing. Anyway, let’s not get sidetracked!

At the heart of any Bible program there is always a more or less sophisticated electronic Bible concordance. This concordance may look and feel better, nicer or faster, but at the end of the day it’s a concordance after all! So, the point is that a concordance won’t be of much use unless we have an appropriate set of databases to concord. And here is where the quality of the contents comes into play. Companies
spend quite a bit of their resources developing neat graphical user interfaces and “wow” features (and rightly so, I hasten to add). But the key to usefulness and accuracy lies in what happens behind the scenes. To get a machine-readable text (MRT) is a relatively easy task. To tag a text is a very involved and time-consuming one.

John J. Hughes, in his milestone work Bits, Bytes & Biblical Studies (Zondervan, 1987, p. 496), defines tagging like this:

Tagging is the process of attaching descriptive codes to words. Those codes, or tags, may consist of any information - textual, morphological, syntactical, or semantic - that is to be associeated with a particular word or form.

Therefore, tags typically include anything from Strong’s or Goodrick-Kohlenberger’s numbers (in English texts), to full morphological and grammatical details (in Greek and Hebrew texts). The more information that is tagged to a given database or corpus, the
better. But more coded information also means more grunt work, and a greater chance for errors to creep in. Tagging is a very costly job, but it’s an essential part of developing good software packages.

Does this mean we have to underplay the functionality of a Bible program? Not at all! But features and sheer search power will be rendered meaningless unless we can rely on good, coded databases ready to be searched at different levels (as many levels as the number of descriptive codes available).

In sum, I believe we have a debt of gratitude with the people who are working so hard, often without proper financing or recognition, in order to develop those tagged texts that make our lives so much easier.

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 15th, 2004 at 3:11 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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