Wikipedia has proven to be a revolutionary development in online information systems, through features like user-produced content, the breadth of the subjects it addresses, the ability to rapidly update articles, and too many others to list. But one benefit that’s perhaps more subtle is the way that Wikipedia provides a standard set of targets for hyperlinked text.

I use this all the time for my blog posts: as in this recent example, rather than digressing to explain terms like Python and XPath, i just link these terms to their associated Wikipedia articles. Those who know what those terms mean don’t need to follow the links: those who don’t can go find out, if they choose to, or just plow ahead if they don’t want to bother. This hypertext writing style has become much more common in the last decade (thanks in part to the popularity of blogs), and has even spawned new approaches to written communication, like wikis and hypertext fiction.

Once you’ve begun writing (and reading!) hypertext like this, you don’t want to go back: it’s so much more useful to readers to have the additional resources integrated directly into the text. This leads naturally to hyperlinking other kinds of text: for example, i don’t ever write a Bible reference like Luke 11:2-4 without a hyperlink to the verse itself, usually in the English Standard Version (and if you write Bible references like this, you should go look at the bibleref page to see the right way to create these links!).

That’s all background to a realization i had this morning. I was chatting with Dr. Peter Flint, who directs the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University, about my work on the Bible Knowledgebase. Dr. Flint gave an excellent talk in the Logos Lecture series last night about his work on the scrolls, and he visited the office today to talk about other things we’re doing. He was reflecting on how, as a professor, he often provides Wikipedia links for his students as additional on-line resources, and wondered whether the Bible Knowledgebase might someday function that way.

In fact, you can use Libronix that way now, with a little knowledge about keylinks and resources. Here are some sample links (which naturally require that you have Libronix installed locally):

  • Biblical People data for Simon Peter (as opposed to Simon from Luke 2:25). Since these Biblical People pages are disambiguated, and include links to Bible passages and related family members, they’re useful “hubs” for starting a study on an individual.
    • Link targets as text: libronixdls://report|name=ReportBiblicalPeople|page=ID%3APeter-1 and libronixdls://report|name=ReportBiblicalPeople|page=ID%3ASimeon2-1
  • Look up the English term “grace” in your default English dictionary (check your settings under Tools > Options > Keylink, for Data Type = English: by default, it’s probably the Merriam-Webster dictionary).
    • Link text: libronixdls://keylink|ref=[en]English:Grace
  • Look up the English term “grace” in the New Bible Dictionary.
    • Link text: libronixdls://keylink|ref=[en]English:Grace|res=LLS:NBD
  • and of course you can link to Bible passages, like this Libronix link to Luke 2:25 in the NIV.
    • Link text: libronixdls://keylink|ref=[en]bible:Luke.2.25|res=LLS:NIV

If you’re publishing your own content (like a blog, web page, or wiki) and your readers might be Libronix users, this can make it very easy for them to get to the data you have in mind, enriching the value of your content, and making your readers happier at the same time! You can put Libronix links in MS Word documents as well. See this page on the Logos blog for more information about hyperlinks to Libronix, and about using a double-link style to combine web links with Libronix links. (note: I use “libronixdls://” instead of simply “libronixdls:” because otherwise WordPress mangles the reference: your mileage may vary, but in general either should work.)

(Disclaimer: there’s significant controversy in the academic community about the appropriate role of secondary sources like Wikipedia. While i’m not trying to open that worm-filled can, there’s no question that, as background resources, Wikipedia and other on-line content has changed the nature of information and education.)


Update (12/7/2007): Phil Gons of Logos has taken this idea further and spelled out lots of cool things you can do with it on the Logos blog.