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Monday, March 13, 2006  

Preserving the Links in the Thompson Chain

We've been talking a lot about interface lately, so it's timely that I can now announce the release of the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible for Accordance. What does this classic study Bible have to do with user interface? Although I'm sure Frank Charles Thompson wouldn't have thought of himself as a usability expert, the study Bible he developed was born out of a concern for user interface.

The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible consists of a series of marginal notes which list related topics and cross-references for each annotated verse. Rather than listing cross-references as a long string of references, which in the original print Bible would have taken up an enormous amount of space, Dr. Thompson would simply list the next verse dealing with a given topic. To see all the verses related to a given topic, the user would simply flip from reference to reference, looking in the marginal notes for the next link in the "chain." In addition to saving space, this system had the added benefit of encouraging the reader to explore the context of each verse.

The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible also included an Index of Topics, which would list all the references related to a given topic, and include some basic information about that topic. In this way, Thompson's study Bible was like a cross-reference, topical Bible, and Bible dictionary all rolled into one. Over the years, the topical index has been expanded to include additional topics, charts, diagrams, timelines, an archaeological supplement, and additional helps, making it a tremendous all-around study aid.

In developing the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible for Accordance, we wanted to make it as easy as possible to follow the chains and access the topical index. Here's an example of how the typical marginal note in Thompson is laid out:

  • Parallel passages are marked with "p.p." and are formatted as Scripture hypertext links. That is, if you hover over or click on them, you'll see the text of those verses.
  • Next is a list of topics related to the verse. To the right of some topics, you'll find a Scripture reference. This represents the next link in the "chain" of cross-references.
          If we had formatted these references as Scripture hypertext links, we would essentially have created a "dead-end." You would click the link to see that verse, but there would be no easy way to find the next link in the chain. We therefore decided to format these references as internal hypertext links. In other words, when you click on the reference to Job 26:13, you'll be taken to the marginal note on that verse within the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible itself. There you'll find a link to Job 33:4, where in turn you'll find a link to Psalm 104:30, and so on throughout the "chain."
          To see the text of each of these verses, just hover your mouse over the bold-faced reference for the verse to which each note belongs. Or you can use the "still more excellent way" of using parallel panes (which I'll talk more about below).
  • If you don't feel like traipsing through the chain one verse at a time, you can get a bird's-eye view of each topic by clicking the Topical index number to the left of each topic. This will take you to the Topical index, where you'll find summary information and a complete list of references for that topic. Drag a selection across all those references (making sure your selection starts and ends inside a hypertext link), and a window will open displaying every verse related to that topic.

    In my opinion, the coolest way to use the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible is to display it in a parallel pane alongside the text of the Bible. Then, when you click on the link to go to the next verse in a chain, the Bible text will scroll in parallel with the pane containing Thompson. That way, you can go from verse to verse within a chain, and immediately see the text of those verses in context.

  • By formatting the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible as we have, we've done our best to preserve the experience of following a chain of references throughout Scripture, while also making it easy to jump to the Topical Index and view all the references for a given topic at once.

    I haven't even gone into all the supplementary material, archeological information, charts, photographs, and additional information which the Thompson module includes, but I think many of you will find it invaluable. This is not the public-domain edition of Thompson which can be found on the internet, but the current edition published by Kirkbride Bible and Technology in conjunction with WordSearch. We're very excited to be working with WordSearch to make this resource available to our users. For more on the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible CD-ROM, see this page.





    Comments:
    David,

    Thanks for the great, and I mean GREAT idea to run TCR on the side of the bible window, that makes all the difference in the world. I have been waiting so long for this and it is a great work. I wish though that WordSearch would have used the quality of graphics as you did on the photolibrary, the pretty much makes them unusable.

    Rino
     

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