BibleTech talk: Automatically Learning Topical Content

I’ve posted the slides from my BibleTech 2013 talk. Here’s the abstract:

Continued work on the Logos Controlled Vocabulary (BibleTech 2010, “A Controlled Vocabulary for Biblical Studies”) has produced a unique collection of topic-aligned content across more than 50 different Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, and topical indexes in both English and Spanish. This presentation will describe the information we’re learning automatically from this content, including:

  • determining concept importance
  • associating concepts with Bible references
  • extracting and associating names and descriptive terms for concepts
  • relating concepts to each other

You can see the other talks at the BibleTech website. I’ve had a number of positive comments on the talk, which is always gratifying. Slowly but surely, we’re climbing up the data stack …

3/21/2013 update: I’ve used the Slidy framework for presentations for several years because i like the way it puts the whole content out on the web in HTML. However, @JohnRGentry pointed out that my slides don’t work on the iPad because moving forward and backward requires keys. There’s a newer version of Slidy which does support swiping to move through slides, though my experience with it on both Safari and Chrome on iOS hasn’t been great: it’s not easy to register a swipe, and title text sometimes gets lost. I assume these are issues with javascript support on iOS, though i’m not really sure. I’ll try to update my slides to the newest version of Slidy, which will help a little, but i’ll also look for another framework that’s more tablet friendly.

Review: Beautiful Data by Toby Segaran and Jeff Hammerbacher

Segaran (author of the highly-recommended Collective Intelligence) and Hammerbacher have collected together a diverse set of essays on data collection, visualization, processing, and analysis. What interested me most was the wide variety of application areas in which data is the “secret sauce”. The essays range from broadly philosophical to deep in the technical details: so you’re likely to find something at your level of interest (though that also means that much of the book may not hit your level).

Jeff Hammerbacher’s chapter on Information Platforms and the Rise of the Data Scientist is a good example. It discusses Facebook’s history of scaling its data storage and analysis capabilities, starting with custom scripting based on SQL, moving to data warehousing and then beyond to Hadoop and related tools. “More data, simple models” is the processing style that characterizes many such Big Data enterprises today.

Other valuable chapters for me:

  • Data Finds Data (Jeff Jonas and Lisa Sokol)
  • Natural Language Corpus Data (Peter Norvig)
  • Connecting Data (Toby Segaran)

While you’re not likely to find a solution here to specific technical problems, there’s a good chance you’ll find something either to broaden your horizons or give you some new ideas. Definitely recommended.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through O’Reilly’s Blogger Review program.)

BibleTech Talk Slides: Using the Bible Knowledgebase For Information Integration

Finally got my slides posted from BibleTech:2011 on Using the Bible Knowledgebase for Information Integration. Since i listened to good advice and went a little more toward graphics than bullet points, they’re not completely self-explanatory (but that’s why you should have come, right?).

Audio will show up too at some point, probably at

As i’ve told a few of my colleagues since: giving the talk helped convince me even more strongly that Biblical Events will be a really important database for Bible study. Looking forward to getting it all put together.

Aaron Marshall: User Adoption Strategy

It really changes things when the CEO gets on board with digital literacy. Book by Michael Sampson User Adoption Strategies.

No adoption = no value: you have to plan for adoption. Rogers Bell Curve: perceived utility and ease-of-use matter a lot, which comes back to design. Tip: establish a glossary. “It’s really hard to sit behind someone using your software and not tell them what to do”. “Ideas are cheap, but they still feel like my heart.” “Analytics is the one area I’ve neglected most.” Everything BIG started small. Progressive disclosure: give people a slow introduction to features, don’t overwhelm them up front.

Some interesting sites for augmented reality:

  • stickybits: attach comments to physical objects with barcodes.
  • temperature/sound/vibration sensors. Instrumentation of everything.
  • GE smart grid
  • Layar: find people who tweeted nearby, wikipedia articles. You can create your own.

Steven Cummings: Bringing the Power of Search to Mobile

The mobile revolutions means the goal of software now must be to reach the user wherever they are.

BibleReader 5 is their application: showed it on iPad. Originally used EverNote for note synchronization, but wasn’t a good fit. Resource Guide is a new additional to pull in everything in their library that relates to the passage you’re reading. Other library integration around lexicon entries.

Scott Magdalein: Volunteerism in Bible Technology

They have around 300 volunteers at some level of activity. Testing and UI translation are big areas of activity: also data management. Also user support: about 600 support tickets per day. They also spend a lot of effort on app store management and review (like voting down troll comments). Social media “omnipresence”: we want our users to feel like YouVersion never sleeps.

Be ready when people sign up to volunteer. Some volunteers act as management, but more it’s clear communication. For internationalization, each language has a lead who makes sure the translations are getting done, that enough people are active, and that the translations are accurate.

Managing all the volunteers used to consume 40% of his week: now they’ve broken it down.

They use HighRise HQ for managing volunteers (37 signals). [also Google Groups, Wave, BaseCamp, Skype conversations]

  • Where do they come from? Somebody volunteered, we said yes and posted about it, and now we get 10-15 signups a day! All over the world (but English is required).
  • How much do they work? Minimum is 5 hours, all the way up to essentially full-time. Use MyGengo for managing volunteers.
  • Why did you start recruiting volunteers? We’re part of a church, so it was natural.
  • Do you vett them before they get involved? Yes, similar to our hiring process for staff.
  • How do you handle legalities? Hard problem: we choose wisely who we allow on the team. They sign an agreement that code they write for YouVersion belongs to YouVersion, and that they won’t steal their thunder. [comment: in our non-profit, we can’t even have interns because of legalities.]
  • What about quality of work? Quality is a result of passion, not skill. We have a culture of excellence and don’t accept mediocre work.
  • How do you keep them engaged in projects? Need to not see them as “free label”: let them work on what they’re passionate about and make sure they’re working on things that are meaningful.
  • What don’t you let them do? Volunteers don’t create the vision.

Scott is @scottmagdalein on Twitter.

Aaron Linne: the Road to

Core goals:

  • create an environment for studying the Bible
  • maintain feature set of
  • raise awareness of the HCSB
  • sampling strategy for HCSB study notes

Bad timing: started with Silverlight, then moved to HTML 4 (with a little flash). “We get more compliments over how we presented our Strong’s data … ” Development from features to community and awareness. Using for URL shortening. Windows Phone 7 is more valuable because of its connection to Xbox (in response to a tweet from @BobPritchett). My Notes tab is coming soon.


  • Feedback mechanisms? “we consider our feedback link our most important feature”
  • Other feedback channels?

Aaron is @linne on Twitter.

Rob Jex: Visualization of the New Testament

They’re creating a library of videos projects to provide visual representations of the Bible story: 55 stories from Matthew. Created a Jerusalem set in the desert outside Salt Lake City. They expect to cast in the hundreds. High production values!

They’ve combining the videos with personal testimonies in services: one initial result was very highly ranked on YouTube. Also making videos of picture books:

BibleTech 2011

I had to miss the first day because of another commitment, but today i’m here at BibleTech:2011 and looking forward to a great day of talks. Hopefully mine will be one of them: here’s my abstract.

Using the Bible Knowledgebase for Information Integration

In 2009 I reported on the Bible Knowledgebase (BK), a machine-readable collection of semantically-organized data about people, places, and things in the Bible. This talk will describe how the BK now functions as an essential information resource for Logos, tying together information across the software. In addition, I’ll discuss the continued work on the data over the last two years, including:

  • building a database of Biblical Events
  • adding unnamed entities to the database
  • coordinating information about these entities with the Logos Controlled Vocabulary

I’ll also present prototypes for visualizing BK data to enhance discovery and exploration in the Biblical text.

I’ll be live-blogging a few talks during the day to give a quick-take on the subject for those who can’t be here. You can also follow on Twitter via #BibleTech.

Taking the Twitter Plunge

I know, i know … all the Cool Kids(tm) were using Twitter way back in, like, 2008, so i’m very late to the table (and therefore not very cool). But at long last, i’ve decided to take the Twitter plunge and try it out.

Why did i hold out so long? I’ve long been convinced that attention is one of my most precious possessions: it’s one of the few things that’s uniquely under my control. I’m already highly prone to distraction, so it’s not like i need any help in that department. I’ve been afraid Twitter might prove endlessly distracting without providing enough value in return. The danger of continuous partial attention is being perpetually shallow (and there’s plenty of science to suggest that multitasking is just a myth: our brains don’t work that way).

So what pushed me over the brink? Well, @TimOReilly did. I went to the Strata conference last month (still hoping to blog a summary at some point), and they were giving away his book on Twitter (#TwitterBook, @TwitrBook: he was co-author with Sarah Milstein). It’s a very practical, easy read, and they made a convincing case that Twitter is really a new communications medium with a lot of advantages: those don’t come along too often. They also described a three-week Twitter test-drive:

  • follow a few promising accounts and check into Twitter at least once daily for 5-10 minutes
  • check trending topics every couple of days
  • spend 30 minutes one day running a few searches

After three weeks, you’ve only spent a couple of hours, but you’ve given it a fair try. So i figured that’s a reasonable experiment (and that’s basically the approach i plan to take).

Other motivations:

  • I enjoyed blogging, and still hope to get back to doing that more consistently. But there are too many things for which i want just a quick capture-and-spray, even if i don’t have the time for my usual full, clever write-up. Twitter makes that possible by forcing the length constraint: say it in 160 characters, or don’t say it  at all.
  • One of our sons-in-law has started  a new business called Social Synergists which helps companies with their social media marketing  (hi Jordan!). I want to have a better feel for Twitter culture so i understand his challenges, and you have to be on the inside to get that. (I’d encourage you to follow and like them on Twitter and Facebook)

I still view this as an experiment: i may decide it’s just not worth the effort, and i don’t expect to go hog-wild (particularly since, in another display of non-coolness, i don’t have a web-enabled phone, so i can’t easily tweet-out-and-about).

So if you’re a Twitternaut, feel free to follow me (@SeanBoisen), and suggest the people you think are most worth following: with @TimOReilly’s tutelage, i’ll try to make it worth your attention.