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News, How-tos, and assorted Views on Accordance Bible Software.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006  

Ease of Use a Little Issue?

Perhaps I should chalk this up to providence. Just as I'm trying to formulate my thoughts for a new blog entry, a user leaves a rather vehement comment on my last post about note-taking. I'll interact with that user's comments below:

Ease of use is NOT a little issue.

I'm quite sure that I never said (or implied) that "Ease of use" is a little issue. We take ease of use very seriously. But as the old Macintosh Bible (the book by PeachPit Press) once explained, "Easy is Hard." Developing something that is easy to use means considering all the factors involved, trying to anticipate user actions and prevent pilot error. We may not always get things completely right, but please don't imply that we therefore don't consider ease of use important.

For me, to open a separate window to jot down a quick note is exactly what keeps me from putting down quick ideas. It's cumbersome and gets in the way of what you're thinking about. It's not intuitive.

I'm not sure I know of any program that does not require you to do something to begin entering a user note. In Accordance, you need to click in the verse you want, use the keyboard shortcut command-U, and then start typing. If we allowed you to enter notes directly in the notes pane of a Search window, you would still need to click in the verse you want and start typing. The only step you would save is hitting command-U! If you want to add to or edit the text of an existing note, all you have to do is click in the notes pane and start typing. The Edit window appears instantly and reflects the changes as you type! I'm sorry, but I just don't see how either approach is much of a barrier to jotting down quick thoughts.

Moving all my windows around every time I want to take notes so I can see what's under the edit window is an unnecessary difficulty.

Now this is a barrier to jotting down quick thoughts. The Edit window is an extra window to manage, and its default location is unfortunate. However, once it has been moved, Accordance remembers where you put it, so it's exaggerating a bit to say that you have to move all your windows around every time you want to take notes.

Still, the point is well taken. I believe I said in my last post that we could improve the default location of the Edit window. In fact, we've already discussed having it open in the top right corner of the screen by default, to minimize conflicts with existing windows and workspaces. We've also discussed other ways of improving how Accordance recalls where your Edit window has been placed.

Modeless operation has been a cornerstone of the Mac since 1984. To not take that into consideration is a mistake in my opinion.

While it's certainly true that the Mac was modeless in the sense that it did not force the user to follow some flowchart of choices, branches, and steps à la DOS, the Mac OS has always featured modality. Modal dialog boxes prevent the user from doing anything until they have made a particular choice, and those are still an important element of the Mac interface today. Drawing tools are another example of modality. In some cases, you want to move them. At other times, you want to reshape them. That requires different modes of interaction, visual cues to reflect each mode, and an interface for switching between them. Or take Mail for example. If you look at a draft e-mail in the main viewer window, and then try to edit it, you'll get beeped at. You must first open that e-mail in order to edit it. That's because the viewer window does not have an interface for editing, sending, attaching files, etc. Switching between modes of operation is not a cardinal sin against the Mac interface guidelines—as long as you do it at the right time and in the right way. :-)

There, of course, is the rub. The challenge for every Mac software developer is to present the user with the interface elements he needs at the time he needs them, without leading him into some quagmire that is difficult to escape.

Many of your reasons for having an Edit mode can be easily overcome. For instance, user notes can be locked (un-editable) in while searching them.

Perhaps this would be another way of avoiding unnecessary changes, but would it really improve ease of use that much? Or would it simply shift the difficulty to another part of the process? For example, how do you "unlock" the user notes so that you can edit them? Presumably the user would have to do something, but then the question becomes, "Is this any easier than hitting command-U"?

As far as using whether or not the user is searching as the cue for determining whether or not the notes are "locked," that becomes difficult in a program where what you see is always a reflection of some kind of "search." You see, we decided to make the process of searching "modeless," so you wouldn't have to hassle with some dialog box or separate results window every time you do a search. How do you use something which is modeless to determine which mode your user notes are in?

Your solution to the user's objection only helps me understand the reason why I find myself so often recording my notes in a different Bible program.

This last statement confuses me a bit, because I know a little about the other Mac programs out there, and I don't see how they're any easier to use with respect to taking notes. I've never been able to figure out MacSword's note-taking features, and QuickVerse Mac doesn't really have any. Neither do iBible or Bible Reader Free, so I have to assume you're alluding to Online Bible. But Online Bible requires you to open your notes before you can jot anything down, and the notes window always takes up the bottom half of the screen (which obscures the bottom half of any Bible windows). You can edit directly in the notes window, yes; but you can only view one note at a time, and cannot view your notes as a running commentary on multiple verses. And, of course, searching the text of your notes is problematic at best.

My point here is not to criticize another Bible program. In fact, our option-down-arrow trick to create a note on the next verse was made in response to former OLB users who wanted a quick way to create notes on a string of consecutive verses, and it was a vast imporvement. My point here is that OLB lets you edit directly within the notes window, but the resulting notes are much more limited. Any interface can be simple if it doesn't do very much. (Which is simpler, the remote that came with your TV or the Universal Remote that can control your TV, VCR, DVD Player, and Satellite or Cable system?)

The challenge for us has been to create a simple way to edit user notes which can be viewed and searched in multiple ways. Overall, I think we've been successful. There are still ways we can refine the process and improve ease of use, so keep your suggestions (and even your complaints) coming. But please understand that improving ease of use is not always as simple as just making a notes pane editable or making something modeless instead of modal. Interface design is always a bit of a balancing act, especially with a program as sophisticated as Accordance.

With respect to user notes, the Accordance interface is designed to let you specify which verse you want to annotate, which set of notes you want to use, which corpus to use (did you know you can annotate extrabiblical works such as the Dead Sea Scrolls or the works of Josephus?), and which versification system the notes should follow. The Edit window gives you a simple interface for formatting the text, creating Scripture links, and saving changes, and the user notes pane and user notes window are both designed to open an Edit window as soon as you type anything. And of course, the keyboard shortcut for creating or editing a new user note is an easy-to-remember command-U. I don't know any other Bible program on Mac or PC which packs that much power into their user notes while offering as simple an interface.

As a newcomer to the "Notes" feature, I too found it hard to use, for a number of reasons:

- Cmd-T doesn't bring up standard font dialog; have to choose fonts from incredibly long list
- No unicode, therefore hard to enter Greek/Hebrew directly
- Hyperlinks don't work in edit mode
- Hyperlinks don't act normally in window (e.g., Cmd-Click won't open stand-alone window; links don't always open in previous window; the window opened is not a standard search window)
- No apparent way to tell which verses have notes attached, apart from opening notes
- Notes are limited in that they can only be attached to verses

The last two bullet points of the previous comment are incorrect. It is easy to tell which verses have notes attached. There is a red dot by every verse that has a note.

While the notes are limited in that they must be attached to verses, user tools are not attached to verses and overcome this limitation.

Cmd-T is dimmed in the edit window. You can edit the font by right-clicking or choosing font from the menu. You can quickly browse the list by typing the first letter of the font you want to use.

As to the incorrect bullet points: I missed the red dots, which are pretty small, pretty faint, and I for one was looking for something on the other side of the window.

Notes can only be attached to verses, so my last point was correct. I don't see how having to open and learn yet another type of window is a step forward.

Cmd-T is not dimmed in the edit window, but selects plain text. I don't see how typing my way through a long list of fonts is an ease-of-use feature. A list of commonly-selected fonts at the top of the long list would be an ease-of-use feature.

Another substandard feature of the notes window: links to texts other than the primary one don't work at all. Linking to a Psalm from Romans GNT produces a verse in Philippians.

Perhaps you don't understand the purpose of the user notes/user tools. The user notes are to attach notes to specific verses, while the tools are for general notes not attached to a specific verse. The difference is the same as that between a reference tool and a general tool.

I understand your point about linking to Psalms from Romans in GNT, but then the question arises, "Which text should Accordance use in linking to that verse?"

As far as fonts, I've never been satisfied with OS X's font management system. It sounds like you want a MS style of font management. Personally, I'd rather Oak Tree devote their time to development of new modules and other features besides font management. Hopefully, Leopard will manage fonts better than Tiger, and then Accordance can take advantage of whatever is built into the OS.

Although the ability to comment is useful and at times helpful, the 'anonymous' option (when a name is not attached) is not respectful to anyone on this blog, including those that read and post. May I recommend, out of general respect for the blog administrators and contributers, that all comments be appended with a name?

Jeremy Archer


Rather than argue with you over Acc.'s weeknesses, let me say this. Stick with it. Once you get past its seeming weaknesses, you will discover it to be a wonderful, powerful tool for writing your thoughts while you study and read. I didn't use the Notes feature for years, thinking it was awkward, but one day I found myself really needing it, so I just worked at it. Oddly enough, it didn't take me any time to get rather proficient with it. Is it perfect? No, but what on this great planet is?

It would do well to remember what it isn't. It is not a full-featured word processor, and if you want one, simply use Word. It is also not a tool for writing random thoughts on any topic. It's a commentary. Use it to write your own. Fill it up, one verse and one note at a time. Yes, there are limitations, but most limitations for the early user are in the head. It is only once you are seriously using it that you begin to discover its _real_ limitations. ;-) (like the lack of an outlining tool!) ;-)

So, again, I recommend sticking with it rather than complaining here. :-)


Re. Font selection - If text is pasted into a note from elsewhere the font often needs changing to conform with previous notes. In a preceding note place cursor in any text with the required font - press Cmd [ to copy font - then in the new note select (highlight) text and press Cmd ] to paste the font. Accordance remembers the required format and you can paste that format font as many times as you like until you close the session. (Unlike MS Word whose "paste style" brush works once only !)

I am the original poster of which you called "a rather vehement comment." I'm sorry you interpreted my directness for vehemency, if that's even a word.

I have not been following the discussion, but have just read through all the comments. This is only my second post. It's obvious that I'm not the only one who has issues with the Notes feature.

Part of my post was addressing your response entitled A Simple Note-Taking Set up which addressed a users concern about taking notes. It's a great solution, but you loose lots of real estate and it's something you have to come up yourself. However it does keep you from using overlapping windows which is Accordance's default. Issues: (1) Even though you can change the default place it appears, it still overlaps windows. (2) Creating a note taking set up to switch to still means I have to then change all the other references and tools to match what I was doing when I decided I wanted to take notes. This is great if i start out with the intention to take notes, but if I want to jot down something on the fly it becomes cumbersome.

My comment was intended to spark some thinking about a better way to do it. Personally, I would like being able to attach the note window like the Reference Tools.

Yes, I still use OLB, especially for user notes. You wrote: " But Online Bible requires you to open your notes before you can jot anything down, and the notes window always takes up the bottom half of the screen (which obscures the bottom half of any Bible windows)." However, one click on the Windows menu automatically resizes the windows so they look very similar to Accordance. I also find it easy to enter cross references in which ever version of the Bible I choose. (which also confused another Accordance in these blogs)

Also, sorry to post as Anonymous but AFTER I had written my comment I realized I needed a different username and password than the one for the Accordance Website. So for the sake of time, I posted as Anyonymous.

I am Dan Giese. You should be able to find me in the user database for Accordance if you wish to discuss this further.

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