Without really intending to, i wound up taking the summer off from blogging. But Wired‘s got me thinking with their article entitled “The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple is Just Fine.” Their basic point, illustrated with examples like inexpensive video cameras, the MP3 format, and the military’s Predator unmanned aircraft, is that Good Enough Tech often triumphs in the marketplace against clearly superior technology, because it capitalizes on the predominant value of several kinds of accessibility:
- ease of use
- continuous (ubiquitous) availability
- low price
For those of us working on what i’d claim is the Cadillac of Bible software (dating myself with that standard of reference!), namely Logos, this raises the obvious question: what’s “good enough” when it comes to Bible software?
One answer, of course, is how many people are currently voting with their wallets and (even more importantly) with their attention: that is, no software at all. Many Christians simply don’t read their Bibles, and of those that do, many use the old dead trees format, perhaps the shining example of “cheap and simple”.
But clearly technology has gone well beyond paper in offering accessibility to Bible readers: so where’s the sweet spot? Let’s organize the discussion around several levels of capability, with increasing sophistication:
- Free Bible texts available on the web (Bible Gateway, bible.logos.com, and many many others)
- Free software, typically including multiple Bible versions, search, perhaps some additional titles: e-Sword, the Sword project,
- “Entry level” packages for a modest fee: iLumina, PC Study Bible, QuickVerse, along with mobile software from vendors like Olive Tree and Laridian.
- Software for professional-grade study of original languages, commentaries, theology, etc.: here i’m thinking of Bible Works and Accordance.
- The library approach to Bible Study taken by Logos (my employer, so i’m not neutral on this point) offers packages at a range of levels and prices, so it both covers the spectrum above. But (to my mind) it’s in a class by itself because of the breadth and depth of its offerings.
(Just so you know, i took most of these from this survey of Bible software programs, rather than my own experience: i haven’t used all these packages.)
How do these systems stack up against Wired’s criteria for accessibility? Well, clearly free-on-the-web is the winner, as long as all you require is reading a Bible text. The cost is zero, it’s easy to find a passage (if you know the reference) with a search box, and it’s as available as the Internet. If you need genuine ubiquity (like on your smartphone) you can still get free software to meet that need, though with the added “cost” of installing and maintaining them. The entry level packages offer more functionality (other books, parallel translations, perhaps additional study helps), though they don’t really change the basic criteria. So you might wonder whether they’ll eventually get eclipsed by their “good enough” free counterparts.
The professional-grade software packages offer much more sophistication and many more resources than the free/modest cost packages, but those capabilities come with a significant price tag. Users with professional requirements really can’t get the same capabilities with a Good Enough alternative today, but such users represent only a portion of the larger market. The longer-term question is how the market for professional grade software will develop over time, given the continual pressure from free alternatives, and other general resources like Google Books and Amazon’s Kindle.