Smith: The Need for a Universal Bible Annotation Format

Bible Gateway gets about 6M unique visitors each month. Though 25% are from outside the US, the significant majority are English-speaking. 80-90% of this traffic is for Bible passages (not topics, etc.). Basic problem: personal Bible notes aren’t portable. The solution should be based on open-standards, simple, and device/platform/language-independent.

Some specific requirements:

  1. allow attaching content to Bible passages
  2. enable both “user” (open-ended) and “professional” (editorially-controlled) content
  3. accept text, audio, video, and future formats
  4. people need control over their own content

Proposed solution:

  1. Content format (the data you supply)
  2. Exchange format (metadata: who are you, when was your content provided)
  3. Exchange system (protocols)

Content: (X)HTML is the closest to a universal standard, allows basic formatting, supports Unicode. HTML5 introduces some useful features here. The central problem here: how to encode Bible references? We want them to be independent of source (not just Bible Gateway), and unambiguous. OSIS identifiers might provide a partial solution.

No Income Cap on Desire

Several other notable tech bloggers (all of whom actually live among this action, unlike me) have commented on the NYTimes story, “In Silicon Valley, Millionaries Who Don’t Feel Rich“.

Some notable quotes from the story:

  • “But a few million doesn’t go as far as it used to…” – Hal Steger, with a net worth (together with his wife) of $3.5M
  • … those with a few million dollars often see their accumulated wealth as puny …
  • [Gary Kremen, founder of whose estimated wealth is $10M] … logs 60- to 80-hour workweeks because, he said, he does not think he has nearly enough money to ease up. “You’re nobody here at $10 million,” Mr. Kremen said earnestly …
  • Marilyn Holland, a Menlo Park psychologist … said she regularly works with multimillionaires who wonder why they are so well compensated when others, like teachers, who contribute so much to the world, are not.
  • Mr. Hettig, the estate planning lawyer, sums it up for many: “We’re in such a rarefied environment,” he said, “people here lose perspective on what the rest of the world looks like.”

There’s always somebody above you to climb towards, or somebody below you to make you grateful for how much you have. It’s all a matter of perspective combined with values, isn’t it: what really matters?

Doc Searls and the Generosity of Morality

Catching up on some posts … Tim O’Reilly has a great post on Web 2.0 and an interchange with Doc Searls, co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto. Searls sees Web 2.0 as fundamentally deriving from morality as generosity. If you read down to the bottom, Searls has a link to an earlier post about how he learned this lesson from a Nigerian Christian minister named Sayo Ajiboye.

I love the idea that we’re finally discovering (in the networked systems domain) the beneficial outcome in our own lives of following a fundamental principle: God gives generously to all (James 1:5), so we should too.

The Humility of Jesus

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“… it is important that we know who Christ is, especialy the chief characteristic that is the root and essence of His character as our Redeemer. There can be but one answer: it is His humility. What is the Incarnation but his heavenly humility, His emptying himself and becoming man? What is His life on earth bu humility; His taking the form of a servant? And what is His atonement but humility? ‘He humbled himself and became obedient to death.’ And what is His ascension and His glory but humility exalted to the throne and crowned with glory? ‘He humbled himself … therefore God exalted Him to the highest place.’ In heaven, where He was one with the Father; in His birth, His life, and His death on earth; in His return to the right hand of the Father — it is all humility. Christ is the expression of the humility of God embodied in human nature …” (reflections on Phil.2.5-11from 076422560X)

Oh, for the humility of Jesus in myself and around me!

The Ethics of Spying

New York Times piece (free registration required) on a conference examining the ethics of spying provides some interesting insights into everyday moral reasoning (albeit in a somewhat exotic profession). Some of the issues seems like traditional wartime dilemmas: are civilian deaths justified in a Predator missile strike to kill terrorists (and if so, how many)? One participant “came up with her own ad-hoc ethical checklist” (including what her mother would say about an action). Another, a 33-year retired veteran, explicitly disavows the whole endeaver: “Depending on where you’re coming from, the whole business of espionage is unethical.” How does he sleep at night??

The NYTimes points out how one of the speaker’s comments weren’t approved for public release, “gutting” her paper. Security from one angle always looks like censorship from another, especially when you’re a major media outlet. Does it all matter? “My feeling is that every problem with the intelligence in the run-up to the war was an ethical question,” said a 24-year veteran analyst.

More on End of the Spear and Cultural Transformation

Following up my post about End of the Spear, i found this incredible 1998 Christianity Today article by Nate Steve Saint about a group of American college students who visited the Waodani and learned first-hand about both cultural differences and personal transformation. A teaser:

As the students unloaded their bags at the campsite, I could see the rapport between them and their guides—they were enjoying the camaraderie. So much so, in fact, that as we settled around a campfire that evening, a student asked me who the “savage Huaorani” were that they had read about before leaving the United States.

Sitting on logs under a star-studded sky and with a jungle of insects singing in the background, I explained that the very people they had been traveling, eating, sleeping, and hunting with were, in fact, these savages. (read the rest)

This story provides a clear response to those who think that missionaries somehow impose a foreign and unwelcome way of life on unwitting victims.

Faceted Browsing for Scripture

I’ve been reading some material at work on faceted browsing, a different paradigm for searching large information collections. Rather than trying to find just the right keywords to retrieve just the right documents, . You can see a nice demo of this at, where they show browing a collection of information about wines (“resources” in their parlance) via facets like type of wine, region of origin, and price (using a slider interface).

Faceted browsing has some significant advantages:

  • The continual exposure of the next level of detail helps you understand the nature of the data more than the sodastraw view of keyword retrieval. I don’t need to figure out what subcategories of wine types are, or how they’re named: i can see them and select them directly
  • Adding information about how many resources fit in particular facets reduces blind alleys
  • Even an enormous collection can quickly be reduced to just the items of interest through the intersection of several facets

I posted previously about a prototype browser for New Testament Names using Longwell from the Simile Project, a nice faceted browser that runs off RDF.

So now i’m thinking more about the Composite Gospel and what facets would enhance search. Once i finish NTN (alas, still a work in progress, and too slow progress at that), person and location names are two obvious facets that will then be easy to add. There are some obvious top-level categories as well:

  • historical periods in the life of Jesus (birth, ministry of John the Baptist, Holy Week, his Passion, etc.)
  • parables, other teachings
  • a collection of imperatives, that is, commands that Jesus gave, whether general or specific (another yet unfinished project). Once i’ve got an initial catalog, i’d like to organize these in an ontology: imperatives about prayer, about our relationships with others, about our attitidues, etc.

This really comes back to a deep and fundamental issue: why do we read Scripture? The basic factual tasks are to understand the history of God’s interaction with people and his revelation in Jesus (as well as the history of the early church). But beyond this, it’s really about change: learning a different cognitive framework or worldview, adopting new attitudes, and changing the way we behave. How do we structure this information in a way to make it easier and more transparent for disciples to grasp and internalize, resulting in their own transformation, and subsequent teaching and training of others? That’s a cognitive and learning challenge behind the task of making disciples in the 21st century.

Scripture and the Psychology of Learning

Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. The Scriptures train God’s servants to do all kinds of good deeds. (2 Tim 3:16-17, CEV)

I’d really like to know more the interaction between the content of Scripture, and the psychology of learning, to understand more deeply how Scripture supports our growth in character and spiritual discipline. Just off the top of my head, i can see the following roles for Biblical instruction:

  • We learn facts we didn’t know before, and taught basic principles about spiritual life
  • We’re directed to specific thoughts and deeds, and warned against sinful living.
  • We’re given motivation and encouragement to do what’s right
  • We see examples of how to (and how not to) live out godly principles, in the lives of the characters described there
  • We’re invited to worship God through psalms and poems

and no doubt others. Surely somebody has put together some clear ideas about this? Let me know what you think.