November 26, 2012
The Hidden Value of Curated ContentA shameless plug by David A. Zimmerman
There was a time, albeit brief, when I was convinced I should become a master of divinity. I went so far as to sit in on classes at two local seminaries, an experience that--along with the price tag of a seminary education--effectively cured me of my hubris. But sitting in on the classes wound up being an interesting kind of field research for my work as an editor, because I found out what these future leaders of the church were reading and, maybe even more important, how they were reading.
One of the things they were reading, it turned out, was the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, a little reference book I had almost nothing to do with but had developed an immediate fondness for. Sitting next to me in the back row of one of those classes was a student who kept that pocket dictionary close at hand, flipping through it furiously as the professor professed.
That was just over a decade ago, and in the intervening years pocket books have become decidedly quaint. Why would you carry 124 tiny pages of text in your pocket when you can carry all the world's information there? But therein lies the hidden value of curated content: just because something's on your iPhone doesn't make it reliable (see: Siri; iMaps). Not all the world's information is good.
By contrast, the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, along with its many follow-up reference books, is both reliable and good, because (among other things) its editors worked really hard to collect the three-hundred-some terms in each book; to gauge what was most essential and foundational about each term; to anticipate how each book might be used in the classroom, in sermon preparation, in a variety of other settings; and to write each entry with all those factors in mind. This content wasn't just cobbled together haphazardly or randomly selected based on keywords and sponsored links. This content was curated.
Anyway, the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms is on my mind these days because it provides the root content for InterVarsity Press's first ever app. The Pocket App is available for Droid and IOS operating systems and brings the dictionary into the age of social media. You can, I'm told (I still have nothing to do with it), browse, search, swipe and highlight. You can also add your own terms, copy and paste content, and share what you find in the app with your Twitter and Facebook families, or (if you're feeling nostalgic) via your AOL account.
It's nice to see this very useful resource being retrofitted with the very useful tools we find on our phones these days. Whether you're trying to figure out the difference between a priori and a posteriori, or you're trying to remember who in the world Ulrich Zwingli was, now you can once again have reliable, carefully curated information right at your fingertips. I didn't have anything to do with it, but you're welcome anyway.