When you see a car commercial on television, does the commercial ever claim that the car is the “best”? As a description, “best” is rather bland, and frankly, it’s too general to be meaningful. Instead, car companies distinguish their vehicles as the “fastest,” “safest,” “greenest,” “most fuel-efficient,” “longest-lasting,” or “most luxurious.” Think of any other product category, and you’ll see the same thing happening. In almost every case, there are too many variables to consider when determining which product is “best.” The question is always, “Best in what way?”
When it comes to Bible software, however, it seems that the question prospective buyers ask is, “Which is best?” And the answer every Bible software developer is tempted to give is, “We’re the best.” No qualifications or clear distinctions are given; just grandiose claims like “best Bible software in the universe” or something to that effect.
Why aren’t Bible software developers (or their users) more judicious in their claims? My theory is that Bible software developers are creating a platform rather than merely a program.
What is the difference? Programs are designed to meet specific purposes or applications, which is probably why they’re called applications. Competition among applications of the same class can certainly be fierce, but the developer of a word processor is hardly bothered when some—or even all—of their customers purchase spreadsheet software. A platform, on the other hand, is a hardware or software choice on which other choices depend. For example, your choice of computer or smartphone will largely determine which software choices you make. Choosing a platform involves a level of commitment which is greater than that involved in choosing a program. If you choose the wrong word processor you may regret the purchase and have to pay again to buy a better one, but if you choose the wrong computer platform, you may find lots of reasons to regret that choice. What’s more, the hassle and expense involved in switching platforms may force you to live with your unfortunate platform choice for quite some time.
Because resources purchased for one Bible program cannot be used with any other program, Bible software functions as a platform for future software purchases. Software programs which compete on features alone (like word processors) may be able to leapfrog each other and attract users who need a particular feature, but Bible software programs must compete on the relative merits of their platform: the features of the software itself, the resources available for it, the reputation of the company that develops it, etc.
Some users get around this problem by using more than one Bible software program. For example, you might choose Program A because you want a commentary only available for that platform, and Program B for another commentary only available for it. This is analogous to someone using a Windows machine to run some Windows-only software and a Mac to run Mac-only software. Yet this is only a partial solution. First, not everyone can afford to buy into two different Bible software platforms, just as not many of us can afford to buy into two different computer platforms. Second, the choice to use two different platforms requires an investment of time to learn both platforms. Third, when you use two different platforms to accomplish a single task (namely, studying the Bible), you may want to exchange information between the two platforms in some way, and that again, may involve additional hassle.
Since using more than one platform is not without its drawbacks, most people try to choose the one that is the “best.” That of course leads us back to the challenge of determining which is best. Every platform has its strengths and weaknesses, so every one may be “best” in some respects while less than best in others. The challenge of choosing the “best” platform is therefore in determining which factors are most important to you and deciding which platform offers the right balance of those factors.
Here at Accordance, we have always tended to focus on the features of the software itself rather than on all the other advantages of the Accordance platform, but I’ll discuss those various advantages in several upcoming posts. I’ll probably also wax philosophical about how this platform aspect of Bible software affects you as users. I’m hopeful, of course, that most of you reading this blog are already sold on Accordance as a platform, but hopefully you’ll still find the discussion interesting. 🙂