Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Swedenborg Search Engines Review

I've decided to list all of the New Church/Swedenborg related search engines I'm aware of and give my opinion of their pros and cons. Let me know if I've missed any or if you have a different point of view.

NewSearch/HeavenlyDoctrines.org (http://heavenlydoctrines.org/dtSearch.html)

I'm pretty sure that this is the oldest and most popular search engine for Swedenborg's theological works. It is currently in version 4.0 which includes an entirely new layout and more documents in its database. It is part of the STAIRS project, funded by the Academy of the New Church Theological School. It is powered by dtSearch.

- This engine has by far the most translations available to read and search (including the New Century Edition).
- It allows you to search New Church Life and other New Church collateral literature.
- It allows you to search the Latin.
- It gives you a lot of control over your search argument and a pretty good explanation of how to use the different features.

- It's controls are not easy to use.
- You can't read sequentially. You have to individually search for each passage you want to read.
- You can't toggle between different translations of a passage.
- You can't choose to search only in certain books.
- You can't see a list of the books that you can search.
- The search results are ordered by relevance (i.e. how many times the words you searched for appear in a given passage) rather than by book (i.e. all the results from Arcana Coelestia first, then all the results from Heaven and Hell etc.). Some people probably prefer this.

BaltimoreNewChurch.org (http://www.baltimorenewchurch.org/search/index.cfm?action=search.searchwritings)

This search engine was originally developed as part of the now defunct ourvirtualchurch.org project (part of which became SwedenborgDigitalLibrary.org). It has since been revamped and simplified with the intent of being a newcomer-friendly search engine. (To this end BaltimoreNewChurch.org also includes summaries of New Church teachings on God, the life of religion and other topics, consisting of just passages from Swedenborg's works. These summaries also include some suggested reading and suggested searches.) It has a Search Doctrines tool and a Read Doctrines tool. The search engine is powered by ColdFusion.

- It's the nicest looking site in my opinion. (There's not much competition in this department and I'm probably biased because I worked on this site.)
- It allows you to search only the books you select.
- It provides short descriptions of the books.
- It provides an easy interface for jumping to a specific passage and reading sequentially.

- If you want to read a different translation of a passage than the default you have to look up the passage and then select the translation you want.
- It doesn't allow as much control over your searches as some others.
- When you view a search result the words you searched for are not marked in any way.
- The search results are ordered by relevance.

Small Canon Search (http://smallcanonsearch.org/)

This search engine was developed by Steve Simons in connection with Second Advent Christianity. The tagline of the site is "The Complete Word of God for All People" and it allows you to search the Second Advent Christian canon which includes the books of the Bible said to have an internal sense (Arcana Coelestia 10325) and Swedenborg's published theological works. (Here's Kurt Simons' argument for considering only Swedenborg's published works to be Divine revelation.)

- It has a clean, easy-to-use interface.
- It has some great advanced searching tools, including the ability to indicate words that are more or less important in the search results.
- It has Google Translate built in so that you get a rough translation of a given passage in a bunch of different languages.
- It allows you to cross check your search results using Google, Yahoo, Live Search, and Ask. I'm not sure if I would ever use this tool but it's kind of cool.
- You can add a SmallCanonSearch box to your web site, Google homepage, Google toolbar, or Firefox search bar.

- It doesn't allow you to just search Swedenborg's works. Obviously it was designed this way on purpose but if I want to search the Bible I'll search that separately and if I want to search Swedenborg's works I just want to search them.
- You can't search Swedenborg's unpublished works. Again, obviously it was designed this way but, personally, when I'm researching something in Swedenborg's works I want to see results from his unpublished works as well.
- It only has one English translation of each book.
- It doesn't allow you to look at the Latin.
- This is a minor point but instead of giving the short name of a book it gives the full title of the work (e.g. The Book of the Apocalypse Revealed, Uncovering the Secrets That Were Foretold There and Have Lain Hidden until Now 885 instead of Apocalypse Revealed 885). Kind of cool at first but it slows you down and so becomes frustrating, in my experience.

e-Swedenborg.com (http://www.e-swedenborg.com/)

All I know about this site is what I can learn from clicking around in it. It links to some material from the old version of HeavenlyDoctrines.org and its book descriptions seem to have been copied from BaltimoreNewChurch.org. I'm guessing that it was built by Ian J. Thompson who built SwedenborgStudy.com (see my post about that site) because it has a search box for searching another of his web sites, TheisticScience.org.

- Because all of the information on it has been lifted from elsewhere I don't see anything in particular to recommend it over those other sites except that it has the Directory of Teachings in the Heavenly Doctrines that used to be on HeavenlyDoctrines.org.
- It does have a relatively simple (though plain) interface with the search and read tools all on the same page.

- It seems to use Google Custom Search but it must have some bugs because it only returns 3 results if I search for fish (which, for some reason, is what I chose to search for).

KemptonProject.org (http://www.kemptonproject.org/)

This isn't a search engine for Swedenborg's works but it is an extremely useful tool for studying them. It was developed primarily as a tool for people to collaborate on the Kempton Revision translation of the Word (read more about the translation philosophy here). The main thing it provides is an online tool (based on Searle's Index) that allows you to see all the places in Swedenborg's works that reference a particular passage in the Word. Select a book and a chapter and click "Study."

Things I'd Love to See in a Search Engine:

What's missing from the Swedenborg search engines that are currently available? Well, obviously I'd like a site that had all of the pros that I listed and none of the cons, but beyond that there are a couple of features that I'd like to see.

Side-by-Side Translation Comparison:
The software version of Kempton Project allows you to view multiple translations and the Latin, all at once, instead of having to toggle between them. I haven't yet seen this online.

Hyperlinked Tables of Contents and Indices:
For some reason, the texts available in all of the search engines don't include the tables of contents. Sometimes when I'm looking for a certain passage I'd be able to find it much more quickly if I could glance through the table of contents instead of having to try to remember a specific phrase from the passage. As I reported recently, you can find a hyperlinked version of the table of contents of New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine on BibleMeanings.info. And I just discovered that you can find the tables of contents for one translation of each of the Swedenborg's published theological works at SwedenborgDigitalLibrary.org (some books with more links than others). The links take you to SmallCanonSearch.org. All we need now is to have this for all the translations of all the books and for all their indices.

Collaborative Search and Research Community:
A couple of years ago Steve Simons made a Swedenborg related swicki at EmanuelSwedenborg.info. It currently seems a little broken and neglected but the concept is pretty cool. The idea is that people who are interested in Swedenborg would use it to research Swedenborg and would rate the results as good or bad and provide comments on them so that people who search for the same thing would find what they're looking for sooner. (Here's a swicki for free online games.) The swicki that Steve set up searches the whole internet. I don't know if you could make one that would just search Swedenborg's works but I think it would be pretty cool to have a community of people giving input as to what passages are good to read on a certain topic and provide comments like "If you like this passage I recommend that you also read this one and this one which seem to say the same thing in different terms." If it got rolling it would probably require quite a bit of managing to avoid spamming and inappropriate comments but it could be quite cool and useful. It would also be cool to have a wiki-style community created concordance of topics in Swedenborg's works, which brings me to my final dream...

Hyperlinked Potts' Concordance:
I've posted before about how useful Pott's Concordance is and I mentioned recently that you can read and search parts of Potts' Concordance on Google Book Search. But wouldn't it be great if there were a site where you could read and search the whole concordance and read the full text of the passages that are excerpted in it with one click? It probably won't happen because of copyright or something but I can dream can't I?


Ian Thompson said...

These are comments related to the E-Swedenborg.com website:

This site was one that was started when the heavenlydoctrines.org site was down a year or so ago, so I was given all the source material. It is really only a skeleton of a website, and unfortunately the progress has stalled in recent months.

My ambition is to there have proper html cross-links, a good search engine, proper paragraphing, numbered lists, etc. But so far, it barely exists at all.

About search engines, I’ve been considering various java-based search engines, but they seem too complicated to set up, and do not do hightlighting. Suggestions are welcome! (Hosting is on a http://www.cwihosting.com/linux_starter_plan.php). I just now looked again the custom Google search, and discovered that my sitemap was too large! I'll subdivide it asap.

Chuck Ebert said...

Some comments on the review of heavenlydoctrines.org


Thanks for this review of all the known sites. Your section on cons for heavenlydoctrines.org is something of a list of items that are soon available in the desktop version.

The STAIRS (Swedenborgian Theological Automated Information Retrieval System) project decided a few years ago that we would continue to develop a desktop version and a web version. We felt that with the growth of the New Church in parts of the world where Internet service is not yet available or affordable indicated a need for a desktop version. The web version serves the whole world – including those who may never have heard of Swedenborg before. We anticipate that those who use the web version may be inclined to order the more fully featured desktop version – know as NewSearch 4.

The desktop version has 8 document collections and the web version four:

Swedenborg’s theological Writings in English - both
Swedenborg’s theological Writings in the original Latin – both
New Church Life – both
A collection of books and monographs by New Church authors – both
The “Journal of Education” – a publication of the Academy of the New Church and the General Church – desktop only
The “Theta Alpha Journal” a work that supports New Church education at all levels – desktop only
New Church Bible translations – the Pentateuch and the New Testament – desktop only
Some of Swedenborg’s pre revelatory works (English) – desk top only

Functionality that is unique to the desktop version:

Clicking between different translations and the original Latin of the Writings.
Direct reading by passage number – this will be implemented on the web version
Choice of which books to search
Choice of the order of display of the books to be searched – including alpha, date written, author (in case of books and monographs)
Choice of the order of the results list by occurrences and date written.

We expect to upgrade the web version by putting in some convenience features such as direct reading of passages in conjunction with a descriptive list of Swedenborg’s works. We hope to use the web version to introduce people to the Writings for the first time. Some congregations have members that first learned of the New Church through heavenlydoctinres.org. To further that end we will implement some search engine optimization to try to get more people using it. We don’t intend to make it as fully featured as the desktop version, but to let users know that the desktop version is available.

This year we are starting to explore the inclusion of non English translations of the Writings – specifically Spanish and French. For the growing need see Recent Translation Initiatives


Martin Penn said...

This is a great web site and I plan to use it more I am in the process of downloading web sites on to my own computer I am doing this for two reasons 1. as the internet is not always available to me 2.as all the search engines available (except a few very old ones)presently are windows based which I have always thought was a serious disadvantage now more so with the spread of the i phone os and android but I think downloading the site may help. Unfortunately the New Search 4 site has evaded me so far but I will persevere if any one can help me by suppliying the data files from Dtsearch I would be very appreciative. An excellent additional site is www.BibleMeanings.info which has many new church commentaries on it including the Clowes gospels.

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