Accordance – In Search of a New Editor

I love Accordance. To me, it’s the Bible Study software. This isn’t to say other Bible apps are bad. I really enjoy Olive Tree, especially on mobile, and I always had a good experience with BibleWorks before I switched to Mac 1. It’s just that when I’m using Accordance I feel like I have the flexibility to set up my workflow the way I think, and it’s just plain fast. Unbelievably fast.

In fact, when I first started with Accordance only two things about the software which bothered me.

First, it had a “window heavy” interface – it seemed that every portion of the application had it’s own window and getting them organized could be a bit of a pain, keeping the correct window in active focus was even more of a challenge. Thankfully, this issue was taken care of with the release of Accordance 10 when the multi-window interface made way for an integrated user interface. I love it, and it’s only gotten better with each iteration.

The second bother has been more nagging, the editor for User Notes and User Tools feels really antiquated. It’s been due for an update for a while now, and it’s not too difficult to find discussions on the editor in the Accordance User Forums. When I first started with Accordance in 2008 requests for advanced features often drew replies which pointed out how the Accordance team didn’t want to try to create a word processor within the app – it was out of their core expertise and the concern was that it would create more headaches than solve. It was difficult to argue with the reasoning in 2008, but then things changed.

In the intervening years, the advent of web everything, has changed people’s expectations of what makes a “simple” tool. Entire online office suites exist, and blogs embed something which looks like a traditional word processor as it’s story editor. People began asking more and more for a refresh, and hints from the folks at Accordance are pointing to the team thinking, “Well, why not?” I’m thinking the editor may get some much-needed love in the not-to-distant future, but how should Accordance handle the data the new editor creates? I think perhaps they could take a cue from the very web-tools which have changed people’s expectations.

Accordance should go with html as their file-format of choice.

This might sound odd, but using HTML would work well into the existing Accordance editor very well. Currently, for example, the editor doesn’t have a boat-load of formatting or linking features. What it handles beautifully however, is document structure. In the left margin of the editor different levels of text can be designated at “titles,” which are automatically broken into a table of contents in the User Note pane. When a line is designated as a title, however, the look of the text does not change at all. This is because, in Accordance, document structure and document formatting are handed independent of one another.

This is exactly how HTML is supposed to work.

On a web-page, the way a document looks is handled by something called a stylesheet – this creates a consistent appearance throughout a site, without having to manually set the font of each part of a site. As I said, Accordance similarly splits the look of the document from it’s structure. The way a text is displayed can be set to just about anything the user desires. Where Accordance’s editor falls short is that it doesn’t allow the user to designate styles which apply to the different elements of document structure. A change in font is applied universally, unless the user does an over-ride for a particular set of characters.

Switching to HTML would allow Accordance’s general set up to remain the same, users would be encouraged to primarily work with structure and content instead of appearance. To create the appearance, Accordance’s excellent text formatting sheet would just need to be upgraded to apply styles for the different document elements. For viewing, Notes and Windows would end up using an HTML parsing engine – totally transparent to the user. The data in the editor might also be converted to an ePub for viewing, a format already designed to handle text-reflows on the fly.

This switch would add incredible power to these essential tools, while keeping the current Accordance work flow largely intact. It’s a win all around.

Though if they give me Markdown support in the editor, I’ll do a jig.

  1. I never used Logos, so I can’t comment on that. People I know love it, though.