Criteria for Evaluating Bible Software – I
I have noticed that not all Bible software reviewers make public the criteria they follow when they examine a program. For example, among those who do not give any specific details (at least that I am aware of) are Ken Ristau, Mark Vitalis Hoffman, and Tyler Williams. On the other hand, others like Jerry Foster, John W. Gillis and Doug Atkinson write more or less extensively on the evaluation methods used in their reviews.
The last three I’ve just mentioned disclose some of the reasons they got involved in reviewing Bible software in the first place, the limitations of writing about this topic and a few of the difficulties they have encountered.
Jerry Foster says in his blog, “I have been a fan of Bible software for many years. The right software can enhance your study, improve your teaching, and give you access to a library that would cost more than most of us could afford if we had to purchase the printed equivalents.” He makes clear that he is out to “provide information and opinion on which ones I thought were the best,” and finishes with this bold assertion: “I’ve learned you always make someone angry when you do software reviews.” Then, on his website he is very straightforward as to whom he writes the reviews for.
First, I have a specific user in mind when I write my reviews: Me. A lay person who is interested in Bible software for personal study and teaching, yet does not have extra time or money. That’s not to say that a full-time pastor or seminary student wouldn’t benefit from these reviews, or wouldn’t agree with my conclusions, only that I did not have them in mind when I tested each product.
For instance, I did not test a product’s Greek and Hebrew tools. All of the products reviewed provide basic Greek and Hebrew texts and word lookups. Some of them offer much deeper Greek and Hebrew studies, but I did not explore those options.
It also means I didn’t test every feature of each product. I just wanted to give a solid overview of basic functionality and usefulness, concentrating on the features that are useful and interesting to me.
Second, I did my best to provide accurate reviews; but in the end these are just my opinions. If you enjoy one of the packages that I rated low, then more power to you. Use what you like and be proud of it. I welcome dialog and disagreement, provided the discourse is civil. A location for comments on these reviews is provided at this blog entry.
John W. Gillis makes some good comments (under the Overview tab):
I find it [Bible software] fascinating, primarily because of how helpful it is to me in my feeble efforts to understand the Word of God.
I’m attempting here to provide an overview of the current state of affairs for these products. I’ve been using and evaluating this kind of software long enough to have something constructive to say about the genre in general, as well as about the specific merits and challenges of the particular packages I use. But I do not pretend to have a comprehensive knowledge of all – or even most – of the programs available.
Doug Atkinson cautions his readers thus: “Please note that any survey such as this one is only a snapshot in time. The day I post a version and a description could be the day a new update comes out. The best suggestion is to check with the author’s website for latest version information”. And again, later on,
Evaluating so many programs has not been an easy process! As the programs have evolved (sorry to use that word in a Christian document!), the feature sets have improved and things I never thought about are now possible with Bible Study programs.
It has not been possible to spend as much time with each program as I would have liked. Sometimes an interface that seems quirky may become quite comfortable after getting used to it. Especially when jumping from one program to the next, the difference in interfaces can sometimes throw quite a curveball. Instead of getting into the deep details of each program, I have tried to hit on the major features and functions of the programs.
These testimonies sound very familiar. There seems to be a pattern, although every single experience is different in its own way. As for me, if you want to know how I got into writing reviews, you can check out my own blog entry on Why I Still Write Bible Software Reviews and if you do, I’m sure you will not want to miss this forum thread on What Makes for a Good Review? I really think it makes for some interesting reading.
Naturally, I also have my own criteria for evaluating Bible software, and I’m going to make it public for all to see, but that will be the subject of another post.
Update (September 14): Mark Vitalis interacts with my post and offers his own set of criteria. That is a welcome addition. I should also say that I have on file some guidelines used by Ken Ristau, but those are just a few private notes he sent me some time ago, and I don’t think he ever got round to posting them.
At the end of the day, we all follow some kind of method. My whole point is that the more explicit we are about it, the easier it will be for readers to understand where we come from and what we are trying to do with our reviews. Many might still disagree with us, but at least there will be some clearly laid-out principles we can all refer to.