YouVersion bills itself as a revolutionary online community! And it just may be! Its revolutionary potential finds a catalyst in the fact that it is a community built totally around the Bible and conversations about the Bible. YouVersion is a community built around the idea that online collaboration and interactive sharing can actually change the way we interact with the texts and one another in important ways. YouVersion is the epitome of “Open Source” theology and Biblical study. If there was ever a sign of the global decentralization of Biblical interpretation, this is it. Said differently, the work of Biblical interpretation has been freed from the ivory - and stale - towers of academia. The reformers would be amazed! This ‘aint the 16th century no more!
This is not your run-of-the-mill pew Bible. It’s not just another online Bible either. This is a fully interactive Bible that features 16 translations and community collaboration! The community collaboration is the most important feature of this virtual Bible. Users can add notes, commentary, stories and help decide if what others have added is relevant to the text to which it was added. Basically, this is an open source commentary that evolves, grows, and corrects itself in community. It is truly remarkable.
The most important feature of YouVersion is the Bible, obviously. Everything about this online application revolves around it. The intuitive and convenient user interface and navigation scheme makes it easy for users to shuffle and surf through the available sixteen translations (including three Spanish translations). To select the Bible version, simply click the black arrow to the left of the displayed version title; a drop down list of available translations is displayed from which you can choose your preferred translation. Selecting specific books and chapters within translations is simple too. Directly to the left of the translation title is a small orange box with a book icon living happily in it; simply click the orange box and a table of contents page pops up from which you can choose your book and chapter. The user interface of this application is incredible easy to use. That’s especially refreshing as one considers the ignorant and difficult user interfaces that ship with most desktop applications.
The real magic of YouVersion is revealed when users click on any given verse or verses. When you click on a verse it is auto highlighted. This means that YouVersion is now ready for your contributions. You can add commentary relevant to the highlighted verse; it can be irrelevant too, but it will be flagged as such and/or be given a low rating by other sharp community members. The commentary you add is text based, but it is not limited to text. Your commentary on any given verse can be expressed in link, image, audio, and/or video form. This is a refreshing feature! We now live in a world wherein online expression need not be limited to text, especially with the rise of a new form of multi-media blog aka the Tumblelog. The invitation to add Biblical commentary that spans an evolving expression through multiple forms of media is a sharp and smart feature.
Users also have the opportunity to collect and organize their own content under the My Content tab with the Bible Reader. Your content consists of those items in the Bible you consider most important for any particular time or study. You can tag, name, and star items in an effort to keep an organized record of the content you find important. My Content also tracks any thoughts, links, images, videos, webcam, and/or audio you submit. It is an excellent organization tool that raises the practical value of the site and increases the potential investment users will volunteer to this application.
Also included in YouVersion is the ability to keep an online journal. I almost discounted the idea of an online journal, because that’s what blogs are for, mostly. Upon closer investigation, however, I saw that YouVersion’s journal is slightly different. YouVersion explains the journal with the following:
The journal is a great place to write out your thoughts and prayers. The YouVersion.com journal is a safe place (it is only viewable to you) to record the ways God is speaking to you. Just start typing in this space and you’ll be on your way!
OK. So maybe having a secret place to jot down the things God speaks to you as you read the scriptures is a good thing. It might be a feature many, many people use. I’ll probably never use it, but that doesn’t mean it should not be available to the few who do use it. Ultimately, I think YouVersion could have lived without the journal, but its availability doesn’t hurt the application in any shape or form, so count it as an extra feature.
Is YouVersion just another online Bible? Hardly! The potential possessed in the opportunities for meaningful global collaboration and sharing around specific texts in the Bible is absolutely astonishing. The decentralization of theology and biblical studies continues and the ivory tower is crumbling along with a need for elitism. The Bible belongs with the people and the people should have every opportunity to search it on their own. Will this online Bible and it’s opportunity for global collaboration and sharing help make this idealism a reality? It depends upon the maturity of the audience it draws. It won’t take much to turn this good idea into a chaotic mess. Only time will tell. So, stay tuned!