Holy Week Visualization

If you’re thinking through the events of Holy Week, let me know what you think about this visualization that i created last year (but apparently failed to tie into the SemanticBible navigation, so you might not easily find it otherwise).  Here’s my previous Blogos post on this. I’m really interested in presentations like this that enable browsing by content rather than having to know the reference in advance.

To recap some of the features:

  • Colored blocks are grouped together by pericope so the presentation is organized by the events, rather than the order of texts themselves. The size of the block indicates how many words are associated with the pericope, and the colors indicate which Gospel provided the material. This helps you immediately see things like the fact that all four Gospels provide quite a bit of detail about the triumphal entry, though only Luke includes Jesus’ sorrow over Jerusalem.
  • The blocks are grouped by day, through the chronology is uncertain in several places, so this is an approximation at best.
  • Clicking on the pericope title takes you to the Composite Gospel page (though apparently some of the indexes are off). Clicking on the colored block takes you to source text at bible.logos.com (and a tooltip indicates the reference). As i recall, i couldn’t figure out a way to use RefTagger to actually display the text more directly in a popup.

Bible Data Visualization Blog

camaris has started a Bible Data Visualization blog to practice some visualizations. The goal:

… show 40 visualizations of the Holy Bible. Most of the visualizations will be self-made, but sometimes I will cover the work from other people.

Looks like there’s also some narration of the process, which may be useful if you’re thinking about how to do some visualizations yourself.

Visualizing Holy Week

Holy Week Visualization

I’ve posted an experimental visualization of the events of Holy Week, based on the Composite Gospel Index.

I’d be interested in feedback on the layout: i struggled quite a bit with getting the colored bars to show the quantitative information, but also having links. In particular, i would have liked to have pop-up text on each colored block with the Scripture passage, but i couldn’t figure out a way to do that with RefTagger without actually having the reference text, and that has layout issues for small blocks. No doubt Javascript mavens could do something cooler. But this is done only using XHTML and CSS, so perhaps i get some standards points.

It’s difficult, and sometimes impossible, to determine the precise chronology of the Gospel events, so this is a “best attempt”. I’ve followed the article on Chronology (Libronix link) in IVP’s Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels in placing the Triumphal Entry on Monday (though of course we celebrate it in church on Sunday).

Prezi and Dynamic Bible Text

Since Bob knows about my interests in zoomable user interfaces, he pointed out Prezi, a slick new flash-based interface for building your own zoomable presentations. They’re still in private beta, but somehow i managed to score an account.

These tools quickly separate the artistic from, well, people like me: start with this nice introduction, and afterwards, look at the showcase to see some better examples of what Prezi can do. At first, the zooming and spinning feel a little like the flashing text and animated GIFs of the early web: cool for a minute, but then quickly annoying. But i’m really interested in the possibilities of breaking the Biblical text free from static, horizontal rows on a page, and letting it become much more alive. At a minimum, the brain science says that  people retain more information when it’s presented in a dynamic, visually-appealing fashion. And Prezi makes it possible to make things very dynamic and image-rich.

Depending on your browser and set-up, this player may show the fruits of my labors, or you can follow the link below. Use the buttons in the lower-right corner to move forward and backward along the defined path. You can also click on anything to zoom in on it (like the OT quotations), click and drag to pan, or use the space bar to zoom out.

Prezi: Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness.
(Pericope 27 in the Composite Gospel Index)

It takes a while to figure out the editing process, but eventually you get it, and it works. The harder challenge is learning to design and think in a way that shows the zooming to good effect and doesn’t make you dizzy: i’m not there yet. And i found myself wishing there were more options for styling the text in particular.

But i see great potential here: maybe not for brainstorming (as they suggest: it still feels a little too heavy-weight for that), but definitely for crafting really different presentations. One major drawback here (that’s also true of the ubiquitous PowerPoint): since it’s Flash, your text is effectively hidden from search engines, which can be a significant downside. However, they have made it so you can link to specific spots in the presentation. And for making a flashy “prezi” (apparently the Hungarian short-form for “presentation”), Prezi seems like a great choice, provided you’ve got enough time and artistic sense to make it work.

PS:  if you’re interested in this technology, come join my Twine on Zoomable User Interfaces.

MyBibleVersion and Visualization

8037394e-0b4e-11de-88c9-000255111976 ManyEyes visualization of data from MyBibleVersion

MyBibleVersion has a helpful table that rates several modern English Bible translations according to features like functional or formal translation style, readability, was it produced a committee rather than an individual, etc. They provide a simple interface to let you choose which features matter the most to you, and then assign a score to each translation showing how well it lines up with your interests.

Of course, all such scoring has an element of subjectivity, but i still appreciate the fact that they’ve put this data out for others to look at. But i don’t care so much for the interface: it’s a big table of numbers and yes/no values.

So i copied the data over to ManyEyes, where it was a piece of cake to arrange it in a treemap that not only shows the information, but (for me at least) makes it much easier to grasp. Click through to the full image and see if you agree. This particular layout shows larger size for translations ranked higher for personal study, and darker color for transations ranked higher for functional equivalence. You can also re-arrange the treemap to emphasize different features, or drill down to see (in this case) which committee-produced translations were/were not also interdenominational efforts.

I chose this example because i’ve been using the Contemporary English Version for my “read through the Bible in a year” program of personal study, and i’ve really been enjoying the fresh perspective it brings.  (The New Century Version rated high as well, but since that’s targeted at 3rd grade reading level, i think i can safely set my aspirations a little higher.)

Using Word Tree Visualization for Checking Title Consistency

I’ve gotten a lot of positive comments on my Zoomable Bible talk from BibleTech:08. While the prototype i showed was little more than a conceptual toy, i think people liked it because

  1. animated visualizations are just plain cool, but even more importantly,
  2. visualizations (like zoomable user interfaces) provide a different view of the text than our linear print legacy has previously encouraged.

However, the real test of a visualization isn’t its coolness, but rather whether it helps you understand things that are otherwise difficult to grasp. I had a good example of that this morning, and walking through it might help others see the value of this tool.

I wrote a year ago about IBM’s Many Eyes site, which provides a host of easy-to-use visualization tools: you upload your data set, choose a visualization technique, and voila, you’ve got a sharable visualization! I’ve posted a few data sets and visualizations previously, like:

(the entire collection of my data and visualizations is here), and lots of others have posted interesting visualizations of Bible data as well. Of course, if you want fine control over the visualization, you’re probably not going to get it from these pre-packaged techniques. But it’s pretty impressive how much you can do with what’s there, and this is an easy way to learn about and sample different visualization techniques: if you’re a data-oriented person, i’d strongly encourage you to check it out.

One of their text oriented visualization techniques is the word tree, which provides a kind of visual concordance for free text. This example of the KJV text of Genesis is a good illustration: type a word in the search box at the top and hit return, and you can see all the phrases that start with that word. You can also turn it around and find phrases ending with a word, and sort by frequency. James Tauber has also used the word tree technique for visualizing NT Greek nominal suffixes.

I found a new use for word trees today, in reviewing titles for the Composite Gospel Index (CGI). One motivation for creating the CGI a few years back was to make it easier to get an overview of the combined content of the four Gospels. Pericope titles are meant to help with this by effectively summarizing the content of a single story, and i deliberately tried to regularize their content. In particular, i wanted as many as made sense to start like “Jesus …”, to try to show the commonality: “Jesus teaches about …”, “Jesus heals …”, “Jesus tells the parable of …”, etc.

Word trees are a perfect tool for data like this, because they make it easy to find phrases that start the same. Conversely, they tend to visually isolate phrases that start the same but then end differently. I’ve created a word tree for titles from CGI pericopes (unfortunately, i haven’t figured out how to embed the visualization live here in my blog: WordPress keeps eating the script element). The input data to word trees are normally free text, but in my case each title is a complete unit: so i just appended special tokens +start+ and +end+ to each one, making the input data look like this (except that, as viewed raw on the site, it’s all wrapped and hence not so readable).

+START+ Jesus is the Word +END+
+START+ God became a human being +END+
+START+ Jesus’ ancestry back to Adam +END+
+START+ Jesus’ ancestry from Abraham +END+
+START+ Luke’s purpose in writing +END+
+START+ The angel Gabriel promises the birth of John to Zechariah +END+

etc., for all 355 pericopes.

So if you enter “+start+ jesus” in the search box (or just click on Jesus in the default view), you’ll see the various titles that start with the word Jesus (255 of 355, or 72%: punctuation becomes a separate token, so a few starting with “Jesus’ …” aren’t included). This works even better sorted by frequency: here you can clearly see the most frequent pericope title is “Jesus teaches …”, and clicking on “teaches” narrows the view further (which you pretty much have to do to see the details: results over 30 or 40 aren’t really visible). One advantage of this representation is that it gives you some help in knowing what to explore (in user interface terminology, an affordance). Though i can’t see all the details without zooming in, i can see a significant cluster of titles starting with “Jesus warns”, and if that’s interesting, i can click on “warns” to zoom in and see those 18 titles.

This last case also points out a benefit i hadn’t previously considered, which is consistency checking (finally getting to the main topic of this post). Looking at the frequency-sorted suffixes for “+start+ Jesus warns”, i see a large group under “against”, and a number under “about”, but also a single instance, “Jesus warns of coming judgment”. Because the third word is “of” rather than “about”, it stands apart from the other instances which really share the same concept. This could just as easily be re-worded “Jesus warns about coming judgement”, and made more consistent with other similar pericopes. Given my goal of consistency (in order to enable just these kinds of visualizations!), it’s really useful to identify cases like this, where a minor revision retains the meaning but also makes the data more consistent. The word tree visualization made it easy to enter “+start+ John” and find the one case where, instead of “John the Baptist “, i just put “John baptizes Jesus.”

What would be really great would be to turn this from a visualization into a navigation system, so once i’ve drilled down to “Jesus warns against …”, then i could select a title and actually view the pericope text. That’s beyond the scope of Many Eye’s toolkit, but something i expect to be working on in the future.

More BibleTech:08 Followup

Additional posts of presentations and blog reviews about BibleTech:08 have continued to trickle in: there are even some photos, like this one taken during my Zoomable Bible talk.

I’ve finally got the slides up from my talks.

  • The Zoomable Bible. Abstract: Information visualization is an established computer technique for providing rich, typically interactive, visual presentations of complex multivariate data. While increased computing power has made information visualization more common, our interfaces for navigating and browsing the Bible are still largely linear adaptations of traditional print forms. New interface paradigms (like Apple’s iPhone and Microsoft’s SeaDragon technology) can present large amounts of information on a traditionally-sized computer display though the use of Zoomable User Interfaces (ZUIs). This presentation will overview existing tools, applications, and principles for ZUIs and other visualizations, and explore some novel interfaces that give higher-level views of Biblical content.
  • Bibleref: a Microformat for Bible References. Abstract: Microformats are “a set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards” (see http://microformats.org) that capture small but important bits of information on web pages. Bibleref is a proposed microformat for identifying Bible references that are embedded in blog posts and other web content. Broad use of bibleref would enable search engines, content aggregators, and other automated tools to correctly label the references so they’re more easily searchable. This presentation will explain why bibleref is needed, explore the technical specifics, and discuss how to promote broader adoption.

They’re not fully linked into the navigation structure of SemanticBible yet, but the direct URLs linked above (which i gave in the talk) work fine. I’ll probably also tweak the content a bit (i really need some screenshots for the Zoomable Bible talk), but i wanted to get the official version out without more delay. There are lots of links embedded in the presentations, especially the resources at the end of the Zoomable Bible talk, so look for blue text.

If you’re curious, i’ve created these with Dave Raggett’s Slidy program (see this previous post). Editing (X)HTML content for these by hand is still a little clunky (though i’ve gotten better at it), and it would be nice to have a WYSIWYG interface (i did lots of edit -> save -> switch to browser -> reload -> view cycles: it’s quick, but still painful). But the big payoff for me is that the result (unlike PowerPoint) is really a first-class citizen of the web. For example, all the content gets indexed by the search engines, you can link into the presentations (each page has an ID), and not only can i talk about web markup, i can illustrate the point in the body of the presentation itself (view the source of the Bibleref talk for examples). Yes, you can publish PowerPoint on the web, but that’s it’s own special challenge, which is why nobody does it: they just post .ppt files, which are largely opaque to web tools. The newer version of Slidy also improves browser compatibility: these presentations mostly work fine under IE (though you don’t get the footer).

Countdown to BibleTech:2008

Things have been very quiet on Blogos for the last few weeks, as i’ve been cranking away on a prototype for my Zoomable Bible talk at BibleTech:2008. While i’ve always loved learning new things, over the last month i’ve been positively cramming on a multitude of totally new subjects to me:

  • programming in C# (i’ve been spoiled by Python)
  • Using Visual Studio as an IDE, including integration with MySQL databases
  • Basics of 2D graphics
  • Layout algorithms for treemaps (major kudos to the University of Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab for not only pioneering this area, but even providing open source implementations for people like me to learn from)
  • Using the excellent (but rich and hence challenging) Piccolo 2D toolkit for building zoomable user interfaces (also from the UMd HCIL group)
  • loading up a variety of Bible data (since visualization requires something to visualize!)

I also have a separate presentation about Bibleref: a Microformat for Bible References, and some related recent developments at Logos that will help make the world of on-line information about the Bible more searchable and usable than ever before. You’ll learn more at the conference about some of our plans in this area.

There will also be time Friday night for “birds of a feather” sessions to informally gather people around topics of common interest. I’m hoping to bring together people to talk about developing common naming conventions for people and places in the Bible. If you’ve been following my posts on the Bible Knowledgebase, you know an essential part of this work is simply identifying and disambiguating named people and places: which Judah, or Zechariah, or Gaius, or Jabneel, is which? I think some simple agreement on identifiers, and principles for constructing them, would make sharing such data much easier, and Logos is prepared to start by sharing our own sets of identifiers. So be sure to find me there if you’d like to talk more about how to make this happen. (By the way, i was tickled to see that my post on the most important person in the Bible was #7 in Logos’s list of the Top Ten Blog Posts for 2007 (most viewed)).

As i told one of the speakers in an email earlier today, i’m feeling a little giddy about what a great conference this promises to be. BibleTech, and the interesting and diverse group of people who are coming, really encompasses all the things that brought me to Logos in the first place, and that define my current professional endeavors as well as my personal interests.

It’s not too late! Come join us this Friday and Saturday at the SeaTac Hilton in Seattle (registration details).

OpenBible.Info and the Long Zoom

Following on my Powers of Ten Day post, OpenBible.info posts about the Long Zoom which, somewhat to my embarrassment, takes one of my abstracts for the upcoming Bible Technology Conference and runs with it. The embarrassment comes because the post goes much farther than i’ve had a chance to (and says a lot of things better than i can).
I hope to get my own post on the topic out soon: but in the meantime, i want to both point to and briefly comment on this one.

The post correctly credits Steven Johnson’s NY Times article with the phrase “Long Zoom.” I first came across it listening to his talk at the Long Now Seminar (MP3), which (zooming farther back) i started following after reading Stewart Brand’s Clock of the Long Now (i was tickled to get a comment on my post from the man himself). If anybody ought to have the Big Picture and a Long Now, it should be the Church, and at this stage in my life i find myself searching for them more and more. So i’m keenly interested in visualizations that bring more of this perspective to studying the Bible.

I hadn’t seen OpenBible’s Bible Word Locator yet (oops), but, along with the Bible Book Browser, these tools for visualization and navigation start to give a sense of what it might be possible if we could easily move from macro to micros views of Scripture. More about this to come …