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

Thursday, June 21, 2007  

The Genius of the Instant Details Box

I've been an Accordance user since version 1.0 (yes, I was a user before I became an employee). When I first started using Accordance, I loved being able to get the parsing information for any words I selected. But I soon found myself wishing that I could just get that information for any word I passed my cursor over. Apparently I wasn't the only user to think of that, because by the time version 1.1 was released in October of 1994, an "Amplify palette" had been added which included a section displaying the parsing details for any Greek or Hebrew word you passed your cursor over.

The original Amplify palette was shaped like a box, with buttons for the Analysis, Graph, and Table details, a button for showing context, and a space across the bottom for showing the instant parsing details. When I began working for OakTree Software, we were just beginning work on version 2.0, which would add various kinds of Tool modules to Accordance. This would require additional buttons on the Amplify palette, which would make it larger and consume more screen real estate. So I suggested that we split the Amplify palette in two: creating a vertically-oriented palette with buttons for accessing major features and modules, and a separate horizontally-oriented palette for showing instant details. It was a simple suggestion, and one I'm sure other people would eventually have made, but it was the first time I actually had an influence on the design of the Accordance interface, so to this day I look back on that simple suggestion with a great feeling of pride and satisfaction.

I don't know if Accordance was the first Bible program to offer this kind of instant parsing information, but I suspect it may have been. Nowadays, however, lots of programs offer instant information about items you pass your mouse over. So is there anything which sets Accordance's Instant Details Box apart? Of course there is!

I've seen other Bible programs use one of two different approaches to presenting instant information. Many programs use tooltips: those little floating boxes that appear right beside your mouse cursor. To see an example of tooltips in Accordance, just hover your mouse over one of the buttons of the Resource palette, or over the search text pop-up menu of the Search window. Tooltips are great for giving you quick hints about a program's interface, but they're not well suited to giving instant information about any word the mouse passes over. That's because the tooltip appears right beside the cursor, on top of the text the user is trying to get more information about. If he unintentionally passes his mouse over a word and pauses there, a block of instant information he didn't want suddenly obscures the text he was trying to read. He then has to move the mouse again just to get the unwanted tooltip to disappear. In addition to obstructing the text, this repeated opening and closing of tooltip windows results in a visually distracting flashing effect.

Accordance avoids this hassle and visual distraction by keeping instant information neatly displayed in a designated (and user-sizable) palette at the bottom of the screen. If you want the information, all it takes is a glance at the palette; but when you don't want the information, you're never accosted with it.

Another approach I've seen sets aside a designated area of the screen for instant information, but it's a relatively large and prominent area. Programs which take this approach usually rely on full-blown lexicons and dictionaries for their instant information, and so a larger area is required. For example, when the user drags over a Greek word, he might get the full BDAG article on that word flashing in the instant information area. While it's nice to have that much information so readily available, the constant flashing of large chunks of text is visually distracting and wearisome. With a large section of the screen constantly updating with new information, the user's eye is continually drawn away from the text he is trying to study. What's more, if he actually takes the time to read that article in BDAG, he must be careful not to move the mouse or the article he is reading will disappear and be replaced with something else!

The genius of the Accordance Instant Details box is that it provides you with instant information without getting in your way or unnecessarily attracting your attention. It gives you enough information to inform your study without drawing you away from the text. At times, the information you see in the Instant Details box might lead you to triple-click a word and begin reading a lexicon article, but in those cases you have consciously chosen to explore some aspect of the text in greater depth. In short, you haven't had the decision to dig deeper thrust upon you.

Agreed on the nice window that Accordance uses, but BibleTime, a nifty Sword-based *nix-based app has one nifty feature I would like to see in Accordance. One problem you alluded to with tooltips, and even Accordance, is that when you move your mouse, you are stuck with the text disappearing. BibleTime (which uses a chunk of real estate rather than tooltips) gets around this by allowing you to hold down the shift key to "lock" the amplified item, so you can move the mouse around, and scroll the article if you wish. It's an interesting compromise between the two methods you mentioned, with the added benefit that you don't have to hover the mouse in one place the whole time. It's neat in practice.


I agree with the above writer that the ability to freeze the instant details window with the shift key is a good feature.

I don't know that I can agree with having these little floating details window and palette. I like having it all in one window so if I want to move the window, I move one window, not three. There is something inherently clunky in having bits and pieces of windows floating around. I understand (kinda) why it is done the way it is, especially for people with small screen real estate, but I think I'd rather have a small fixed (customizable?) toolbar at the top and a fixed detail window at the bottom (perhaps with a button to turn it on and off). This might be a case where one of these tear off toolbars would be the go, although I probably wouldn't bother to tear it off. Or even tear off details window.

Speaking of which, it would be cool if you could tear off the tabs and make them into a new window, aka Safari 3, by dragging them into nowhere.

Just to provide some impetus for rumors and suspicion: There has already been some discussion as to a completely new feature, as far as I know neverbefore done in a bible study program, that would encompass something along these lines and much more. I apologize for such a vague post, but not only is it fun to talk this way, plus I cannot give any date details nor even confirm if such a feature will happen. All I can say is that it is being discussed and may appear in some future release of the program.

This won't freeze the instant details box, but for those with enough screen real estate, you can open a Greek/Hebrew tool window with your favorite lexicon set to recycle, and then when you triple-click a word it will go to the correct article in that window. It will be "frozen" there until you triple click another word, and you can scroll through it using a scroll wheel or the scroll bars.

I know that's not exactly what you're asking for, but it might be a working alternative. Personally I would rather triple-click than shift-click. Also, it seems like it might be a pain to unfreeze the instant details box. By design the instant details box generally isn't so loaded with information that you would need lots of time to read it anyways.

As far as detaching tabs, you can do that now with a keyboard shortcut or by clicking Window->Detach tab. Not as flashy as Safari, but it gets the job done.

Maybe after Joel's post we need a new website called AccordanceRumors.com. :) Shockingly, Joel, your vague post contained more information than some of David's "hint" posts about future features!

I would welcome the ability to scroll the Instant Details box, if the cursor hovering over a text range (e.g., John 3:16-17 in an ESV cross-reference) would allow both verses to be shown. Currently only the first verse appears.
I would also love to have a keyboard shortcut to change the version displayed (e.g., from NRSV to NIV, or NIV to GNT-T). Currently you have to change the Text Display choice for that module or pane from the menu.

>Also, it seems like it might be a pain to unfreeze the >instant details box.

No, you just take your finger off the shift key and it is released

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