What ebook designers can learn from Bible-reading software

A deep dive into the ebook innovations of Logos Bible Software and Glo Bible.

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers’ project “Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader: A Buyer & Builder’s Guide to Digital Books.” We’ll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It’s republished with permission.)

Plenty of people open the Bible for inspiration. Today, I’m turning to this all-time bestseller for ideas on how to create better ebooks. I’ve been kicking the tires on two reading systems — Logos Bible Software and Glo Bible — both of which are packed with reader-friendly ebook features. Let’s jump right in:

Reading plans

Anyone tackling a big topic (the Bible, Ulysses, CSS, whatever) faces huge, morale-draining amounts of material. Commitment is tough to maintain. Publishers can help by splitting the reading load into small, easy to conquer segments. Glo, for example, lets you set up a schedule built around what you want to read (just the New Testament, for instance, or the whole Bible), or how much time you want to spend each day.

Glo reading plan

Logos does the same and lets you export the schedule to your computer’s calendar, complete with pre-programmed auto-reminders.

A related idea, similar to the reading suggestions found at the end of textbook chapters: offer guidance on what to read outside of the book in hand. For example: blog posts, Twitter feeds, web articles, and so on. In an age of information overload a curated, guided path is what many overwhelmed readers would welcome.

Inline footnotes & cross reference previews

Great reading experiences happen when we lose ourselves in the text, forget the online world’s blinking lures, and submit to the text’s “flow.” Any interruption — from a nearby toddler meltdown to time spent flipping to the back of a book to consult an endnote — disrupts this state. No advice here regarding screaming kids, but ebooks can end the attention-jarring chore of footnote lookups. Check out, for example, Logos’ tap-and-you-see-it, tap-and-it’s-gone implementation:

Tappable footnotes in Logos

The idea here is pretty straightforward: embed foot- and endnotes “behind” the body text, in a ready and waiting manner, just a tap away whenever the reader needs ’em.

Most current e-reading systems instead follow the cumbersome path established by print books: force the reader to flip to another section of the book, read the note, and then flip back. (Even books that use sidenotes — commonly seen in Shakespeare’s plays — disrupt our mental groove by forcing us to move from main text to margin.) Making the notes available and hideable at a tap lets us preserve our reading momentum and summon help only when we need it.

And what about those “cross reference previews” I mentioned in the header? Check out how that works in Logos:

Cross reference previews in Logos

The first tap gets you the number of the related passage; the second tap summons the first line of the referenced section. And if that snippet proves interesting enough, the “Jump to reference” link awaits for you to head over to the new section. Nice.

Analytic aids

This one’s similar to footnotes, but amps up the kinds and degree of guidance a really good book can offer its readers. Think of this type of supplemental info as a friendly teacher, waiting in the virtual margins, ready to offer commentary, explication, and reading extras. Logos’ iPad app, for example, offers an incredibly rich “Passage Guide” customized to whatever section you’re currently reading. It’s stocked with all sorts of help: links to specific passages in other books (ready to read — not just marketing teasers); cross references to related Biblical passages; and image collections.

The passage guide in Logos

Bundled books

There’s lots of chatter in future-of-the-book circles about the day when — Google and Judge Chin willing — all books will be connected via hyperlinks to each other. While that tectonic battle progresses, Logos has built a smaller version of this vision that just might be more useful. Namely, they’ve put together a mini-network of related books: dozens of titles that any serious Biblical student would love. It’s a hand-picked, rights-cleared little library of translations, commentary, and historical background. Now, the real payoff comes when you see how Logos integrates the collection. It isn’t just supplying a “dumb” pile of related books. Instead, they’ve done things like let you display multiple translations in line-by-line layout, read two books in adjacent panes, and created hyperlinks between significant parts of the collection.

Logos' mini library

Rich-page layout

Where Logos bundles other books, Glo surrounds the pages of its Bibles (six different editions available) with smaller but no less helpful supplements. Each page comes nicely designed with an easily hideable collection of notes (yours, other people’s), background essays, and art and photos. The fact you can hide this stuff is great; it’s there to investigate when you need it, and outta sight when you want to focus.

Rich page layout in Glo

The notes I mentioned are themselves noteworthy. Glo has partnered with a popular Bible reading website called YouVersion, which lets Bible fans post their own commentary on specific passages. All that stuff is now available, if you like, as you read. Especially with a subject like Bible studies, which generally attracts a collection of likeminded individuals with a passion for the topic, the idea of publicly viewable notes is powerful. This is precisely what’s missing in Amazon’s laudable but not-yet-there “publicly visible notes” feature. Most of us don’t care what the world at large thinks about, say, James Gleick’s latest book, “The Information.” But, man, would it be useful if I could view the marginalia of people I respected or who’d demonstrated a commitment to the topic.

Zoomable text & objects

No, I’m not talking about some feature that lets you bump up the font to granny-friendly dimensions. What Glo offers is a service that serious readers of non-fiction will love: the ability to telescope in from a birdseye view of an entire book …

Glo Bible: the highest zoom view

down to a specific section level …

Glo Bible: the 2nd highest zoom view

and end up in a particular passage …

Glo Bible: the page view

Some readers won’t give a fig for this feature. But for those of us whose brains need to switch between macro and micro views, the ability to switch from big picture to up-close detail is a great learning aid. The iPad’s touchscreen makes the whole process a delight; you tap to move between levels. That makes it easy to sniff around at the highest level and then swoop in when you decide what you want to read.

Glo’s zoomable objects are equally impressive. No mere pinching and spreading here. What they’ve done for many of their multimedia objects is stitched together hugely detailed composites — virtually stacked collections that let you view, say, a church and then zoom into its various nooks and crannies. Check out the path you can trace (by tapping, of course) an astonishing six levels down into this church:

Six different image zoom levels in Glo Bible

If you can believe it, I’ve just scratched the surface of what Logos and Glo do. The PC-based versions of each program — both of which are available in stripped-down freebie and souped-up premium editions — are plenty worth checking out, as are the iPad editions.


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