[Cross Posted from Sixteen Small Stones]
Before I get into the tedious specifics, let me get right to the main announcement.
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Scripturelog is a free, open source plugin for the popular WordPress blogging platform that turns WordPress into a collaborative online LDS scripture study journal.
The plugin installs volumes of scripture into WordPress as hierarchical, inter-linking pages of books, chapters, and verses. Once the pages are installed, you can use the built-in features of WordPress by yourself or in collaboration with others to read the scriptures, take notes, and discuss the gospel.
ScriptureLog can be used by a family or a study group to read and comment on the scriptures from a distance. It can be used by a Sunday school, seminary, or school religion class to allow for preparatory or follow up discussion by class members on the scriptures being studied for a class. It can be set up on an local network for private use or hosted publicly.
Go check it out right now at http://scripturelog.com and then come back here.
ScriptureLog benefits from all of the great features of WordPress. And there are scores of free plugins and themes that can be used to customize the site to your liking: plugins to make the site private, or to require registration; plugins to allow people to subscribe to be notified of comments by email; plugins to allow people to login using Facebook or Open ID; plugins to interface with twitter.
Currently only the Book of Mormon is available. It is organized in a way to help readers understand the textual structure of the book. Though not yet available for download, the code for the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price is substantially complete. However we are still working on an organization that helps illuminate some of the textual structure of these other books, like we have for The Book of Mormon, so we have not made them available quite yet.
Every ScriptureLog page links to the corresponding section at the official LDS Scriptures website.
Because it is open source and built on WordPress, the plugin is open to innovation by others. WordPress has a well documented plugin API and we hope that in addition to suggesting patches to the plugin itself, other developers will produce companion plugins to enhance features.
How ScriptureLog Came to Pass
I am not a very good at studying the scriptures. I have often had great aspirations for a better approach to scripture study, but my study nearly always falls far short of my intentions. I’ve experimented with various systems of study over the years, always looking for something better. In some ways, ScriptureLog is an extension of that search.
In September of 2004, ancient history in blogging, when I was still blogging under the pseudonym Ebenezer Orthodoxy, I wrote a post entitled “On the Follies of Scripture Marking.” While scripture marking has its place, my main concern was that it encourages a reductionist compartmentalization of the text and facilitates ritualized reading. In other words we establish visual queues that prompt us to read the verses the same way each time we encounter them and separate them from the surrounding text. I began to explore the idea of a scripture study journal as an alternative to scripture marking. (That post is no longer publicly available, but I may repost it if there is interest.)
In March of 2005, I posted about my attempts to construct a scripture study journal. I purchased a looseleaf edition of the Book of Mormon designed for use in a day planner from Deseret Book and put it in a small three-ring-binder style journal. I could write impressions, thoughts, observations, relationships to other scriptures, and note external references or personal experiences related to the text on the journal pages along with the date and then insert them in between the pages of the Book of Mormon to which they related. I still like this idea a lot, however the pages would rip out of the binder easily and it was too tedious to reinforce them manually, and I stopped using it.
In March of 2006 I registered a scripture related domain name and began working on my own scripture study service that would allow people to use emerging technology trends in tagging and folksonomy to tag scriptures and take notes. I wanted to have free signup, groups, tools for group administration and coordination, etc. But at the time the project was simply too ambitious for me to do in my spare time.
In April of 2007 I tried using Google’s Notebook product as an electronic scripture study journal. I would link to the section of scripture at scriptures.lds.org and write my notes. The notes were available anywhere I had internet access, but they were also outside of the context of the actual text and they were difficult to organize. I stopped using it.
Daniel Bartholomew and I met through LDS Blogging. He had various scripture study projects of his own, but since he is not a programmer he was doing a lot of manual work with HTML tables. We had discussed our mutual interest in ways to improve scripture study and my ambitions for a scripture study website back in 2006, and I had helped him a little with some of his coding projects.
At the end of 2007 he paid me to write a custom program for him that would parse text files containing scriptures and generate thousands of static HTML files based upon customizable templates.
But Dan felt the final result was still not entirely satisfying. He also wanted to ‘go’ open-source and create a model which would allow others to improve the results.
Dan and I were discussing some enhancements he wanted for the program I had written and ideas he had about where he would like to see his project go. Dan had been a big fan of WordPress ever since I had known him and decided WordPress provided an excellent model for what he wanted. He asked me how hard it would be to import the html scripture pages he had been working on into a WordPress MySql database and I told him it was very possible and had some immediate ideas about how to do it. At that point we both became very excited about the prospects. Dan wanted to pay me to work on it, but after looking into it I was so excited about his idea that I offered to do it for free. I realized that WordPress offered all of the things I had wanted to do with my own scripture study service: user management, tagging, RSS feeds, plugins, and developer API. Why not use WordPress as the platform? Dan’s idea was great!
I had seen myself as merely a technical advisor to Dan’s project, but Dan asked me to partner with him on this project and I accepted.
Working full time, finishing my degree at BYU, working on the scripture parser program, and developing and launching my LDS blog portal, NothingWavering.org, kept me from pursuing the WordPress idea until nearly a year later. On December 23, 2008 I emailed the first version of the plugin to Dan. It still needed a lot of work and with Dan’s continual feedback, ideas, and testing I continued to work on it into 2009.
In March of 2009, I posted an Outline of the Textual Structure of the Book of Mormon to my blog. The outline was an outgrowth of my work on the ScriptureLog Plugin.
So here we are in October, 2009 and it is finally launching.
President Ezra Taft Benson, in his famous sermon on the Book of Mormon said:
“The time is long overdue for a massive flooding of the earth with the Book of Mormon for the many reasons which the Lord has given. In this age of the electronic media and the mass distribution of the printed word, God will hold us accountable if we do not now move the Book of Mormon in a monumental way.”
ScriptureLog represents the culmination of our personal attempts to find ways to better study the scriptures, in particular the Book of Mormon, and we hope that it can contribute to the fulfillment of President Benson’s prophetic vision.
Dan and I enjoy working together and look forward to not only eventually making all the scriptures available for WordPress, but also to develop ways that we can apply this blog-and-a-book technology to other forms of great literature.