Britt Dennison, lead software developer at Zondervan.

Bible Software Review: By way of an introduction, please give us any personal information you'd like to share with our readers...

Britt Dennison: Zondervan is a publishing pioneer in technology. In 1988 Mark Hunt and a few others saw then what we know now; publishing must be a part of the technology revolution. John Kohlenberger saw this even in the 70s. He saw that the written word was a result of data and his team developed a database of content that we still use today. As Microsoft operating systems have grown so have our products. Though we have kept up with technology we have also proceeded with caution, making sure that we did not develop products just because the technology allowed us to do it; the user's needs always comes first.

BSR: When did your company start, and why did you feel the need to set this project off?

BD: Zondervan has been in the software business for 15 years; trusted name in a turbulent business. We do all types of software products. This speaks to our dedication to the reader/user of the content. We occasionally publish in Adobe Acrobat�s PDF, we do Macromedia Director based projects and we have even utilized the Windows Help system to publish some content. Our goal in software is to determine the best way to maximize the content for the reader/user. We just don't buy into the cookie cutter approach to content software development.

Pradis is the sibling in a long line of Bible Study and Reference software that started out as NIVpc in 1989. It evolved into BibleSource, NIV Bible Software, Zondervan Reference Software and now Pradis. The first release of Pradis was in the fall of 2002 as Pradis 5.0. It represented a return to listening to our customer and includes the latest interface design and functionality that reflected their requests. Since then we continue to refine the new system (with the trademark content specific enhancements; more on that later) and the latest version is 5.1.

BSR: What is your current role in the company?

BD: I lead the Software area in Zondervan New Media, which encompasses audio, video and software. I lead a talented and passionate group with different strengths that make all of our products better.

BSR: When you look back, what would you identify as being the single greatest feat in the history of Bible software?

BD: I'll break the rule a bit and mention two. In the late 80's a Macintosh developer named Roy Brown developed a product called the "Perfect Word". This was ground breaking technology serving a small but growing Macintosh market. It did things then that nobody else did in any platform. Roy continues to develop ground breaking software that contains data that is carefully developed for Accordance software for Macintosh.

The second seems self serving a bit but the reality is that the NIVpc developed by Mark Hunt at Zondervan. It linked Greek to the NIV in ways that no one else could have imagined. It also did linked scrolling of the NIV with the Greek which again was something no one else did at the time.

BSR: What segment of Bible software users do you consider to be your main target?

BD: Software inherently has broad appeal. People buy MS Word even though they will never use fields or do a mail merge to send the family Christmas newsletter. They use it because it is familiar and they know that IF they need something powerful it can do it. We appeal to the same software user. If all they ever want to do is copy text from their favorite commentary. They can do that. But our users know that if they want the best content in the industry and trustworthy information they can easily find it, understand it and apply it to their need.

Our focus is on the person who studies their Bible. Our software provides the full spectrum of reliable content and features that allow people to fulfill every aspect of Bible Study. It gives word study expertise to anyone; you don't have to know the ancient languages to use it. It provides access to commentaries that give background, and even-handed evangelical guidance through the scriptures. We also work with OakTree Software to provide excellent tools for Macintosh users.

BSR: In your opinion, what are the three most salient features of your application?

BD: We are blessed with a vast array reference works and information about the Bible. Accessing that information quickly is one aspect of Bible study software. But that problem was solved with the early Bible Study software products. Our goal is to make it easy for the user to see the relationships of all tools in ways that are simply not possible in print form. Here are the top three ways we do this for our user.

Cross Reference relationships (Related Topics) - Pradis dynamically relates any dictionary, subject guide, topical Bible or Encyclopedia to any word or phrase in any other book. We call this feature "Related Topics". Here is a couple of ways to use it. If you are studying Mark 5, and you want to know more about Gerasenes, just use your mouse to right click on the word. There are many options in this context menu, Related Topics is at the bottom of the list. A submenu appears listing all the articles in the books currently accessible by Pradis, on your system that have articles on Gerasenes. On my system it brings up �The NIV Naves Topical Bible� and the �New International Dictionary on Biblical Archeology� article names. If I click on Naves for example, it opens Naves to that article. If I already have it open, it simply moves it to that location. I learn that Gerasenes is part of the "Decapolis". But what is it? The exciting thing about Related Topics is that it works on any book you have in Pradis. If I right-click on "Decapolis" in Naves, Related Topics shows 5 different reference works with articles on the Decapolis. This even works on phrases (son of man, day of the lord, etc are very helpful). You can quickly see the power you have by only right-clicking on a word, but English is just one side of the story. If I right-click on the word "tombs" in Mark 5:2, Related Topics brings up the article in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology on the Greek word from the NIV. Pradis knows the Greek word that the NIV was translated from. Pradis gives the power to look up Greek and Hebrew words without understanding a single Greek or Hebrew letter.

Cross-Language relationships - Related Topics offers a peek into how Pradis relates Greek and Hebrew to the NIV. But it goes much deeper. If I have UBS4 Greek and BHS Hebrew linked to the NIV, the visual feedback from a search can be very help. If I execute an English search on the word "love", Pradis highlights all the places "love" occurs in the NIV AND the Hebrew AND the Greek. I can step through the search results and see the relationships. That is the beginning of word study; it gives you all the Greek and Hebrew words translated "love", but you would have to walk through them all to get the overview you will need. Pradis goes further, by providing a means to analyze your search by running a Search Analysis. This gives you a concise look at all the original language words translated "love" in the NIV. Enter the G/K number (G/K = Goodrich/Kohlenberger) in the search dialog for any of the Greek or Hebrew words listed in the Search Analysis and do the search, run the Analysis and the hard part of your word study is complete; you now know every Greek or Hebrew word to translated "love" in the NIV AND you know every way the Hebrew or Greek word is translated. Here are some other tables that provide instant feed back on cross language relationships. These can be found on the Open Book menu, in the "Special Tables" category and you can get more detail on a couple of these in question number 9 further below:

  • NIV to BHS/UBS4 translation (NIV word order)
  • BHS to NIV Translation (Hebrew BHS word order)
  • UBS4 to NIV Translation (Greek UBS4 word order)
  • NIV to Goodrich/Kohlenberger number definition (definitions from NIV Exhaustive Concordance in NIV order)
  • BHS to Goodrich/Kohlenberger number definition (definitions from NIV Exhaustive Concordance in Hebrew BHS word order)
  • UBS4 to Goodrich/Kohlenberger number definition (definitions from NIV Exhaustive Concordance in Greek UBS4 word order)

Linking relationships - As I mention below, Pradis takes a different approach to Linking (or synchronizing i.e. book, chapter and verse in the Bible) Bibles and Commentaries. See my comments on this feature and the benefits in question number 8 below.

BSR: If you had to recommend the use of Bible software to someone who has never been exposed to it before, how would you go about it?

BD: At this point in the market, the people who haven't heard or thought of the possibility of Bible study using technology are those who are set in there ways; however they think that they could gain some benefits from doing Bible study with their computer. I normally ask what they want to do or how they study the Bible now. Their answer is wide ranging and my direction is customized to their individual needs; I even tell some people that they won't benefit from or use software. I like to see software take people to a new level of understanding and access to Biblical content but only if they are ready to shift the way they do things from print to computer. I'll often show them how they can benefit from understanding the relationship between the English translation, Greek and Hebrew (which most of us only dream of understanding), and cross referencing dictionaries and commentaries on their selected passage for full featured Bible study. Our software provides this in exciting ways that when I show people its elegance, they love it.

BSR: Why do you think people should consider using your software?

BD: Bible Study and reference software market is like any mature market, there are a wide variety of products available. What set the companies (and their software) apart are not how many books or features they offer. Content quality and optimization for the medium is king and the fine details of software implementation is queen.

Zondervan works hard to focus on the content, the book and how people use it in print. Then we look for ways to make it better in our software. So for example, the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology is organized by English word in print. There are indexes that allow you to look up the Greek word and then go to the article. Electronically we allow the user to sort the entire 3 volumes by English, Greek or according to the table of contents of the printed work. We also make it easy to look up the Greek word from the context of the Greek New Testament (or the NIV!), by simply right-clicking on the word. These subtle optimizations make the content better on the computer than it can ever be in print. That is our goal with everything we do. So many other software products still treat every book as a book and that doesn't serve the user at all. At Zondervan, content is king.

Our software design has many subtle features that set it apart. Here is just one example. Linking or synchronizing commentary with a Bible is a common feature. The problem is that when you move the commentary or any Bible, the entire group of titles moves and it becomes confusing; you can quickly lose your place. We introduced the concept of a "driver" book. That means that one book is always the leader and the others follow, for example, if you decide to move the commentary to another reference (perhaps following a hypertext link), you don't lose your place in the Bible. If you want the Bible to follow the commentary, just clicking on the link group number makes the commentary the driver. People want software to help them but not to surprise them and not get in the way. Many times the software designers lose sight of the user; we know that software design is queen.

In short then, Zondervan has the stability, depth and the attention to our customer like a publisher. We have the experience in software development to meet those needs with innovation unlike any other software company. We think this combination makes our products the software of choice.

BSR: What is the primary use you make of your own software?

BD: I use our software primarily for translation work. I am not a Greek scholar by any means (and I have never ventured a try at Hebrew) but I enjoy the languages and the richness they bring to my Bible study. In Pradis there are two levels of defaults that the user can set. There is the Template, and there is the Session. The Template sets up the way all of the panes and tabs are oriented, what books are open, color in the books. The Session keeps the same information as the template and more, it saves all of the search history, window history, current position in all of your books and more. I have a template that I have created that is my Translation template, it contains NASB, NIV, UBS4, TNIV in one pane, New International Dictionary of NT Theology in another pane and my language helps in a third pane; Analytical to Greek New Testament, Morphology of Biblical Greek and UBS4 to Gookdrick/Kohlenberger Number Definition. I will also often bring up the BHS/UBS4 Translation Window (yes it is cheating but it is helpful). I use the template as a starting place and then save sessions as I go. I tie notes, which is in my case a MS Word document to the text I am translating and I am off and running. Some of the key tools in the Pradis arsenal aren't available anyplace else. Let me walk through these briefly.

  • The BHS/UBS4 Translation � This powerful tool aligns the Hebrew and Greek text at the word level.
  • UBS4 Definitions- This table provides the Exhaustive Concordance definition (which is accurate and concise).
  • Search Analysis - I mentioned this feature above so I won't go into here other than to say use this often.
  • Cross Language search on Greek or Hebrew- Directly search for all of the Hebrew or Greek words translated into your search term in the NIV. For example, open BHS Hebrew, select search dialog, change the "Language Form" to English and enter "hope". This will find all Hebrew words translated "hope" even if it translates into a phrase containing "hope" (e.g. "watch in hope")
  • Cross Language Lookup (using Related Topics in right click menu) - I mentioned this above. This is so handy.

Apart from translation and deeper study, I also use it for reading my Bible and casual reference to great quick reference tools like the NIV Study Bible and NIV Student Bible (great content that is easy reading and very helpful). I can format the Bible text for easy reading (removing verse numbers and footnotes) and just read the text unobstructed by the artificial boundaries.

BSR: Is there any feature lacking in Bible software in general that you would love to see implemented soon?

BD: Yes, there are features lacking in all Bible study and reference software, and for the most part we have overcome the technical difficulties. So, I'll let you be surprised in a couple of years.

BSR: Are there any specific plans to port the software to other platforms? (Mac, Linux, PDA...)

BD: We are working with key people in the industry to bring products to market in other platforms right now. So, for example we are working with Laridian on our NIV Study Bible for Palm and Pocket PC.

BSR: Besides English, is or will your software be available in other languages in the foreseeable future?

BD: We have discussed the Spanish version of our product but there is nothing planned at this time.

BSR: From your perspective, what should Bible software be heading for in the years to come?

BD: There truly is "nothing new under the sun" when we talk about software features. However, there are a couple of very general issues to watch for.

For a long time, software companies bundled large numbers of texts (books) with their software. Even Zondervan is doing this. As we review this strategy and software industry, we don't see this as being what the consumer really wants or understands. It also does not serve the authors. I think changes will take place in this area in the near future. The details of those changes will be driven by what people want and use.

We occasionally hear from consumers that they want all their books in a single format. Which format is not always important to the user, they just want to be able to use all their titles in one program. I doubt that this will ever happen. As a publisher we have no plans to do Zondervan material or Zondervan author's works to be published in any other software (okay there are currently a couple of exceptions but few), it simply does not serve our authors or their hard work. Other publisher's will soon see that giving the control of how the content is used to a software company (over which they have no control), is not in their author's best interest. So if anything happens, I think more publishers will begin to publish in their own electronic form. The user wins. The more formats there are, the more innovation and growth in the medium. If there is only one format and the vendor controls the format, growth stagnates.

BSR: Would you like to add or share anything not covered in the previous questions?

BD: No.

BSR: Thank you so much for your time!

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