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.