I mentioned in a comment on my last post here that I had searched Bible Gateway for the word “OK” in several modern Bible translations, and found no results. For example, my search of The Message gives the following response:
No results found.
No results were found for ok in the version(s):The Message.
Try refining your search using the form above.
You can find more about refining searches and using the search form effectively, visit the frequently-asked questions page.
However, it turns out that the information given here is incorrect and misleading, and, as I will show, that this error is quite “OK” with the staff at Bible Gateway. The word “OK” is probably not in The Message (although “okay” is), or in any other modern English Bible translation, but if it was I would not be able to find that out at Bible Gateway.
The problem is not simply with the word “OK”, because if I change the search term to “and” I get the same “No results found” message, although quite clearly the word “and” is commonly used in The Message, and every other English version. I “visit[ed] the frequently-asked questions page” (there was no direct link so I had follow a long rabbit trail to get there) and could find nothing to explain why these searches were not working, and indeed nothing at all “about refining searches and using the search form effectively”.
On 18th February I contacted Bible Gateway about this issue, and wrote:
I searched “The Message” for “ok”, with “match complete words” not checked. No results. But when I checked for “okay” I found three results. The first search should match all words beginning “ok” but doesn’t. See http://betterbibles.com/2011/02/18/modern-bible-translations-not-ok/#comment-20553.
On 25th February I received a response with the heading
Your request (#17945) has been marked as solved by our support staff.
and a message from Sandy Hall, presumably one of that staff:
Greetings from BibleGateway.com.
Thank you for contacting us. The following list of words is a sample listing of common words not recognized in a general search: a, an, the, is, of, and, by, be, for, to, this, I, O (as “O Lord”). The current search engine we use indexes all words in the Bible that are three characters or longer. It’s a technical restriction. To do more than that would index a lot more words making searches take longer and probably a lot more resources on our servers.
If we can be of any further assistance to you, please feel free to contact us again. Thank you for your interest in Bible Gateway.com. We appreciate the opportunity to serve you online.
BibleGateway.com Customer Care
Well, it was nice of them to say so, after a week. But if so, why didn’t they say so in the original results? It would have been very easy for them to explain in the “No results found” message, or in some page with a clear direct link from that message, that the search had failed because it was for a word that had been deliberately excluded. I note also that there is not a hint of apology for giving incomplete results or misleading their users like myself.
I have several issues with what they wrote in the message above:
- This is highly confusing and inconsistent. Have they excluded from their searches all one and two letter words, or only ones they consider common? They claim to index “all words in the Bible that are three characters or longer”, but they have also excluded “and” and “this” from their search. So does that mean that some words are indexed but not recognised in searches, or should I take “all” to exclude “common words”? Why did they not give me a complete list of these “common words”?
- “OK” is NOT a common word in any English Bible version, although it might be in a broader corpus of the language, and so there is no reason for including it in their undisclosed list of common words.
- I note that it is not true that no two letter combinations can be searched for. I can search The Message for “qu”, indeed also for “q”, and I get a valid result for all 758 words beginning like this. Why can’t I do the same for “ok”, when words beginning with these letters are probably much less common?
- Technically, their claim that indexing these common words is a large burden is unsupportable. Probably only around one third of the words in any English Bible version would be on any such list. That means that on any reasonable indexing strategy their indexes would grow by a maximum of 50%. They would have to index perhaps 200,000 to 300,000 more words in each of the less than 100 versions they support. Allowing four bytes per index entry that is a total of about 100 MB extra storage they would need – a trivial amount for any current server.
- If these searches are not of interest to their users, then few people will make them and the impact on their resources would be trivial. It would actually be more of a burden to maintain a list of excluded words (which would have to be different from language to language) than to include every word.
- If on the other hand a significant number of people, like myself, are coming to the site for searches like this, then it would surely be in the interests of Bible Gateway, and their advertisers, to support these searches – to provide for their customers what they actually want, rather than what someone at the company thinks they ought to want.
I note that in the 19th century Strong was able to index every word in the KJV, however common, using just pen and paper. Is it really too much for Bible Gateway to do the same using modern computer technology? After all, they have behind them the vast resources of the controversial Murdoch media empire: although their About page does not mention it, Bible Gateway is owned by Zondervan, which is owned by HarperCollins, which is owned by News International.
No, I’m sorry, Bible Gateway, but this issue has not been “solved”. In fact you have done nothing at all to solve it. Your response has caused me to lose the trust I used to have in your product and your website. I will be looking elsewhere in future. And I can’t help recommending readers of this post to do the same.