Envisioning the Next Phase of Bible Applications
What if the Apostle Paul had a Facebook profile page? Facebook uses their social graph to understand people’s relationships and experiences. Google organizes the world’s information with the Knowledge Graph. If we organize biblical information in similar ways, it could lead to a new generation of applications helping people discover more about God’s story. That’s the idea behind my new project: Theographic.
I’ve been collecting and visualizing Bible-related data for the past eight years, but working with available data has proven difficult. That’s because most tools organize information according to a library of resources instead of a set of subjects. You can find out about a place by searching an atlas, read about a person in a Bible dictionary, or organize events by looking through a timeline. But, the atlas, timeline, and dictionary are not linked to each other. Any information you might want exists as a separate module (usually a book) that’s tagged with verses or key words.
To learn all the details of Paul’s life would take some work. I could find the places involved in his missionary journeys with one set of maps, but would need more to know where his birthplace was and see the places he visited after his trip to Rome. Reading all the stories of his life takes more than a simple word search for “Paul” because it would exclude stories about him when he was still called Saul.
Understanding when major life events happened may not be easy, either. Timelines don’t include the names of all the people involved. It might be easy to spot Paul’s missionary journeys, but what if we wanted to see the chronology related to someone less prominent, like Barnabas or John Mark? This process gets more complicated as we begin consulting Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and other volumes.
To ask any question that includes a combination of people, places and periods, we need a different model. Like social media apps, people would be connected to each other, to events in their lives, and to places they’ve been. All of those would tie back to the relevant Bible reference. Modeling everything according to subjects looks very different.
With a model like this, we could link a timeline to the people and places involved in an event. It would be easier to see how a geographic area’s name or boundaries have changed over time.
Applications built on this foundation would dramatically simplify the user experience. Instead of a list of books and media related to a search, you would get relevant facts wherever you look. When reading a passage, selecting a verse would lead you to the right period on a timeline. If a map is relevant to that verse, a button would show you the world as it looked at that time with associated places and routes highlighted.
This kind of interface would treat words as more than a string of search text. Tapping a person’s name would show biographical details. Tapping a place name would show its location and a description. Tapping any other word would define the word and give linguistic details. Any of these would go to a screen dedicated to answering questions about locations, times, or people.
Our questions may start when reading a story but they could also come from looking at the map, timeline, or ancestry tree. What if it a page with facts about a city could also show you the people who have visited or lived there? What if it had a timeline of things that happened in or around the city?
Every detail screen would work the same way. No matter where you look, it would be possible to follow connections to all aspects of a story. Unlike searching a library of resources, it would be smart enough to know that when you look for “Paul” it should also find places that call him “Saul,” before his name changed. It would know that the “Antioch” in Acts 14:21 is different than the one in Acts 14:26 so it automatically leads to the correct spot on a map.
Every Christian should be able to discover more about a story as easily as we do with familiar social media and search engines. It shouldn’t take hours of research or software training to follow a chain of inquiry. We can make it easier to answer any question with the right model, the right technology, and passionate builders working together. Let’s make it happen.