The Bible Software Shootout
Nov 24, 2009 David Lang

The Bible Software Shootout

In yesterday's post, I mentioned the "Bible Software Shootout" at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and promised to give a more detailed account of it. While described as a shootout, it was really conducted more like a marksmanship competition. Each Bible Software developer was given five challenges, ranging from almost trivially simple to somewhat more involved. From our perspective, none of the questions was particularly difficult or taxing, since it's the kind of stuff Accordance users do every day. In fact, one of our staff described them as "softball pitches." The organizers of the event were, I think, trying hard not to slant the challenges toward the unique abilities of any one program.

As I said, the "shootout" was really more of a marksmanship contest. That said, I was surprised that one company failed to send their best marksman. The presenter didn't actually know Greek and Hebrew, and it showed. He was clearly nervous, following a predefined script, and relying on features designed to help the English Bible student. Consequently, it was hard for me at least to determine whether he had really hit the targets.

Another presenter gave a brief slide presentation discussing a particular language database, but didn't really attempt to answer the questions posed.

The next presenter clearly knew what he was doing. He had a clear competency in the languages and seemed to do a good job of accomplishing the tasks assigned. He moved quickly (everyone had to!) and I sometimes found it hard to follow exactly what he was doing, but I felt he gave a good account of himself and the program he was demonstrating.

When our presenter got up, he didn't start shooting at the targets right away. Instead, he spent a few minutes discussing the things which Bible software needs to be able to do in order to meet the research needs of scholars. I thought it was a brilliant move. After three presentations, everyone in the audience was feeling a little overwhelmed, and this introduction helped refocus their attention. I saw lots of heads suddenly nodding in the seats in front of me, and everyone there could see right away that the developers of Accordance have an excellent grasp on what they need to help them in their work. With respect to hitting the targets, our presenter passed out a 12-page paper detailing the solutions to the problems, and then slowly and carefully showed the audience how to perform those tasks. There were no searches prepared and saved in advance; he did everything right there on the spot. Because of this, he had to rush a bit through the last two questions, and was not able to show everything he had planned, but the paper details those features he had to skip.

After he had squarely hit all five targets, a few minutes were devoted to questions from the audience. One of these had to do with whether Accordance has critical apparatuses—a question which had been posed to each presenter. That gave our presenter the opportunity to point out that Accordance has more critical apparatuses than any other vendor, including the cutting edge CNTTS Apparatus, Swete's apparatus to the Greek Septuagint, and the newly released Cambridge apparatus to the Septuagint.

While we're on the subject of audience participation, one audience member had previously pointed out that another presenter's search for the middle weak verb had included a lexical form which was not, in fact, middle weak. At the time I worried that perhaps we had made the same mistake, but a quick look at the handout assured me that we had not.

Before the shootout, I don't think anyone expected the final presenter from Olive Tree Bible software to hit all the targets. You see, Olive Tree makes Bible software for handhelds, and everyone there would have forgiven them if they would have said that the last couple of questions were beyond the capabilities of handheld devices. Amazingly, that's not what they did. Instead, they found a way to construct appropriate searches using their iPhone app. Their search syntax was, they admitted, currently too arcane to be duplicated by mere mortals. But hey, the fact that they could construct such searches at all spoke volumes.

At the end of the session, no "winner" was crowned, but a packed room of potential customers left with a clearer understanding of the differences among the various programs presented. In other words, it was the end user who "won" the Bible Software Shootout.

Sadly, as with all shootouts, the "hostilities" rarely end there. An employee of one of the other presenters has written a blog confidently declaring their product the winner—so much so that it has "made the competition obsolete." The primary target of this latest volley seems to be Accordance, which I take as an indication that we must have done fairly well in the original shootout. Judging from the activity in our booth during the show, it would appear that a lot of other people thought so too.

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Archived Comments

Danny Zacharias

November 24, 2009 1:03 PM

I don't think names need to be excluded :-)


Ahshuwah Hawthorne

November 24, 2009 1:26 PM

Hi David,

I am a long-time Accordance user.  I have read your summary of the shoot-out out as well as the summary of one of your competitors.  I would be interested to know what your thoughts are about the arguments of Dr. Heiser on his Naked Bible blog in regards to the importance of syntactical searches and how these are some of the most important and useful for scholars.  You mention that you have critical apparatus but you don't mention the fact that you don't have any syntactical databases.  Is the lack of syntax databases a weakness in Accordance?

Thanks,

Ahshuwah


Robb B

November 24, 2009 4:10 PM

Ahshuwah,

While I'm not David, I thought I would point out Rick's post on this forum thread about syntactical databases: http://www.accordancebible.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=2580&pid=15163&st=20&#entry15163.

While I think there is some benefit in having a syntactical database, I don't find it at all surprising that Accordance's competition would tout this feature as "some of the most important and useful" features for scholars. To me, that's just pure marketing, plain and simple. There might be a small niche group of scholars for whom that statement is true, but for the vast majority (I'd venture over 99%) of Bible software users (including the scholars), syntactical searches certainly would not rank as one of the most important and useful features of Bible software. Just my two cents.


R. Mansfield

November 24, 2009 4:11 PM

Ahsuwah, read the comments on the forum beginning here:

http://www.accordancebible.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=2580&view=findpost&p=15156


Rob Robinson

November 24, 2009 6:37 PM

David, I would appreciate it if you would write a blog explaining how to use the MERGE command with MT-LXX, as mentioned in the 12 page paper.


Irwyn Ince

November 25, 2009 12:38 PM

David,

Rob Robinson beat me to it, but I have the same request. 

Thanks,

Irwyn


*

November 25, 2009 1:09 PM

David covered this in a series of posts last year. You can find the articles here:

http://www.accordancebible.com/archive/blog/archive/2008_09_01_archive.htm

Begin reading the article, "Creative Merging" and scroll up to read to follow-up posts.

HTH...


*

November 25, 2009 1:38 PM

Here is another link to some earlier posts by David on the same subject:

http://www.accordancebible.com/archive/blog/archive/2008_04_01_archive.html

Read, "Determining What Gets Displayed in MT/LXX" and "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics"

These series of posts along with the others should help with understanding how to use the MT/LXX module.

Again, HTH


Sean

November 25, 2009 3:42 PM

David's video tutorial also provides an excellent overview of the MT/LXX module. Check it out:

http://www.accordancefiles2.com/training/data/Advanced.html

and select "Using MT/LXX"




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