Noticing Things with Bible Formats

This should probably turn into a segment in our Future Trends series (Publishing, Software, Hardware), but I’ve got to do a bit more digging before making some more definitive positioning statements. One thing is for sure, there are some trends in regards to data formats that I see a bit clearer after doing some updates to our Mobile Bibles page, and it could end up being a win-win for a lot of folks – especially users.

A Short History of Files

Years ago, I got involved with the Palm Bible+ project as the webmaster and a user. As one of the few free Bible applications (at that time), Bible+ used to get all kinds of requests for Bibles in various languages. This was usually easy to do with a bit of programming on the part of the user, but you usually ended up with a Bible that would only work with that application.

In a similar fashion, there was the eSword application and Bibles created for it.  This application were also free to distribute  and worked across several desktop PC platforms. In the years since initially running into the eSword project, there’s been several updates to the file format, including the use of the STEP format, and the creating of a Windows Mobile client to also read these texts.

On the other side of the Bible+ project was the move to DRM texts. The original developer of the Palm Bible Reader made steps to create a version of the Bible reader that would accept copyrighted texts. The Bible+ project grew out of this, yet it was clear at this point that there would need to be two methods for handling Biblical text/media.

The Dollar Items

Of course, not everything can be for free, and as we’ve chatted about here several times, the issue of Bible formatting is a sensitive one for those publishers and developers involved.

There is a clear line though towards Bible formats and what becomes needed to be paid for. For example, there has always been numerous versions of the Bible available for free – but, it had not been until recently (past three years) that you’d be able to find some of the more modern translations available for free.  These were (rightly) tied to an application, and coded to work specifically with that body of text.

This works well when you are talking about the audience of readers whom are invested into reading the text – those people who are new to the faith, or who only see the Bible for a casual reading/reference work will place a different value to it, and therefore look at the cost of it to them differently.

Not everything can be free, and not everything will fly off the shelves priced too far away. There’s got to be some kind of answer to this issue, and maybe it is near the actual formats that are used in various Bible applications.

What I Noticed

When looking at the Mobile Bibles page, I noticed a few things. The Bible+ Project was originally just for one platform, and the Bibles created for it can now be read in PalmOS Classic, Symbian, BlackBerry OS, and Maemo/MeeGo. Bibles made for the eSword environment also are supported on several platforms (Windows/Mac/Linux, Maemo, Maemo/MeeGo, and some previous Windows Mobile devices).

And that’s the free stuff. When you get to the paid Bibles, there’s compatiability for everything from Java-based handsets, to iOS (iPad, iPhone), Android, Symbian, and BlackBerry mobile devices.

A newer approach is being taken on by Logos, with the Biblia API project. Here, its not so much the actual reading environment that is being pressed, but you are given content, and have the ability (through license agreement) to use that content in a manner that works best for you. So here, you are using both new and old texts, free and paid texts, in a connected space, over a browser, or a customized (for the platform) application. So far, other companies aren’t going this route, but I do postulate that this would be the eventual end of much of the content that we deal with Biblically when consistent connectivity (QoS) isn’t in question.

In effect, everything is covered by two approaches to Bible formats:

  • Leveraging the existing content, older translations, and multi-lingual needs created for platforms that still have a large user base, but the users may have moved to newer devices and don’t want to purchase their initial downloaded investments
  • Utilizing proprietary formats which are advantageous for newer translations, free and purchase systems, and leverage the exposed connectivity features of newer mobile platforms and/or wireless access levels of users

I think that we still need to get to a point of seeing one commonly used Bible format, with the sharing, purchasing, etc. components handled by device/user tokens. And we might get there. Looking at just what is available now, and how the needs of those looking for Bibles are being addressed, it looks like we might essentially get there – but with users needing to pay as much attention to the reading platform, as much as they do the text itself.

At least that’s what it looks like on our Mobile Bibles page. I’ll probably tweak this page even more later when more of these associations are noticed. Besides making it easier for you to find a reader, it might help you make better decisions about how to manage your digital Biblical assets before the next major change hits several more software/development companies in this space.

And to think, I’m not even touching (yet) audio Bibles 😉

  • Hi Antoine,

    One of the problems we suffer from here at Laridian is an aversion to taking every little thing we do, giving it a name, and trumpeting it like some great new technological advancement. 🙂

    We’re currently working with two companies (and talking to a third) to give them access to content from our server for use in their custom apps. The first is well-known: We’re working with Bits of God Software LLC to give access to our content through their webOS Bible reader program called Simple Bible Pro. Users of Simple Bible Pro will be able to access existing content they already own by logging into their Laridian account through the Simple Bible Pro program. They’ll be able to add new content by purchasing it at our site and eventually through the app itself, much like we do in our own iPhone app.

    The second project is well under development but unannounced as of yet. I can tell you it’s an iPhone app that uses the same interface as Simple Bible Pro to access Bible text. The third project is just in the talking stages but will be for yet another platform we don’t support in-house, and will most likely also use this interface (or perhaps another more proprietary interface like we use internally in our iPhone app, but again accessing data from our server).

    In addition to delivering access to content in this manner, we can also provide synchronization of user-created notes, highlights, and bookmarks so that they can move from platform to platform or be kept in sync between one user’s multiple devices. You may recall attending one of my BibleTech talks on this subject a couple years ago. That technology is alive and well and working very well for us.

    Again, we should do a better job of naming our technologies and pumping them up in the press, but we tend to not think that way. Had we thought about it more back when we were at Parsons Technology in 1995, you would recognize all this fancy new technology as simply the QuickVerse Online Library, which also offered an Internet-based interface to all our content to competing Bible software products long before anyone was doing anything at all on the Internet.

  • Hey Craig; maybe that’s just it – we aren’t talking enough about what’s been done and that’s where this conversation returns from time to time. You have done a lot in this area, and I’m always glad to hear your notes on what Laridian is doing and what’s new/not-new about current practices. I wish others were as open in speaking towards some of their work in this area – but maybe that’s also part of our job here at MMM.

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  • >Bibles made for the eSword environment also are supported on several platforms (Windows/Mac/Linux, Maemo, Maemo/MeeGo, and some previous Windows Mobile devices).

    e-Sword runs only on Windows. You need WINE or CrossOver to run it on Mac OS X and *Nix.

    Pocket e-Sword is available for Windows Mobile 6.5 and earlier. It is not compatible with e-Sword.

    As far as Maemo and MeeGo goes, if there is a program on those platforms that can utilize either e-Sword, or Pocket e-Sword resources, it was created by a third party, without the authorization of Rick Meyers.

    As far as STEP goes, e-Sword can read older versions of that file format, but it is not its native format.


    On eSword in listed, and indented under it is Rapier and Katana. The indentation implies that the latter two are related to the former. They aren’t. My guess is that confusion between _The Sword Project_ with e-Sword.

    There are at least thirty different front ends for _The Sword Project_. (AFAIK, they dont’ have any front ends for gaming consoles, which are the only platforms that they don’t currently support.)

  • Thanks for the corrections Jonathan; confusion on my end did run amok.