Thursday, January 05, 2006

I've been reading some material at work on faceted browsing, a different paradigm for searching large information collections. Rather than trying to find just the right keywords to retrieve just the right documents, . You can see a nice demo of this at, where they show browing a collection of information about wines ("resources" in their parlance) via facets like type of wine, region of origin, and price (using a slider interface).

Faceted browsing has some significant advantages:

  • The continual exposure of the next level of detail helps you understand the nature of the data more than the sodastraw view of keyword retrieval. I don't need to figure out what subcategories of wine types are, or how they're named: i can see them and select them directly
  • Adding information about how many resources fit in particular facets reduces blind alleys
  • Even an enormous collection can quickly be reduced to just the items of interest through the intersection of several facets

I posted previously about a prototype browser for New Testament Names using Longwell from the Simile Project, a nice faceted browser that runs off RDF.

So now i'm thinking more about the Composite Gospel and what facets would enhance search. Once i finish NTN (alas, still a work in progress, and too slow progress at that), person and location names are two obvious facets that will then be easy to add. There are some obvious top-level categories as well:

  • historical periods in the life of Jesus (birth, ministry of John the Baptist, Holy Week, his Passion, etc.)
  • parables, other teachings
  • a collection of imperatives, that is, commands that Jesus gave, whether general or specific (another yet unfinished project). Once i've got an initial catalog, i'd like to organize these in an ontology: imperatives about prayer, about our relationships with others, about our attitidues, etc.

This really comes back to a deep and fundamental issue: why do we read Scripture? The basic factual tasks are to understand the history of God's interaction with people and his revelation in Jesus (as well as the history of the early church). But beyond this, it's really about change: learning a different cognitive framework or worldview, adopting new attitudes, and changing the way we behave. How do we structure this information in a way to make it easier and more transparent for disciples to grasp and internalize, resulting in their own transformation, and subsequent teaching and training of others? That's a cognitive and learning challenge behind the task of making disciples in the 21st century.

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