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Multimedia Bible aims for digital generation
[May 22, 2010]

Multimedia Bible aims for digital generation

May 22, 2010 (The Orlando Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- For a generation growing up with digital media, the written word printed on paper has little appeal -- even if it's the word of God.

It's for them that an Orlando company came up with the multimedia digital Glo Bible.

"You have entire generations of people that don't engage paper very well," said Nelson Saba, founder of Immersion Digital. "If you look at Bible literacy among younger generations, it's dismal. This is designed to be a digital alternative to the paper Bible." A Gallup poll in 2000 found that about a quarter of young people ages 18-29 read the Bible weekly -- about half the rate of those 65 or older. Part of that, Saba contends, is the younger generation's aversion to the printed word.

"There is nothing wrong with paper. I have lots of paper Bibles, but it's just not the media they engage," Saba said.

The Glo, released in October, recently won Bible of the Year award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. It's the first digital Bible to receive the distinction in the 32 years of the awards.

The company is now working on an application that will allow Glo to go mobile. By the end of the year, Glo software will be available on iPhones and iPads, Nelson said.

"The paper Bible, you have to carry it with you," Saba said. "The biggest advantage of Glo is you can access the Bible through whatever device you have in your hands." Currently, Glo is available only for personal computers and laptops, but the intent from its inception was that it would be applicable to mobile devices, Saba said.

Saba said he experienced a religious conversion in 1994. Two years later, he left his corporate career as a technology executive for a financial institution to join a company that conceived the Glo's predecessor, the iLumina. The iLumina, released in 2002, has many of the same features as the Glo but was aimed at families as biblical-reference material, serving more as an encyclopedia than an interactive Bible, said Saba who started Immersion Digital in 2008.

The Glo includes a series of interactive buttons that allow users to explore the Bible through text, a biblical timeline, an atlas and specific topics. Users can select a topic such as "parenting," and the software will produce all Scripture referring to parenting. They can click on the atlas button, see an aerial map of Jerusalem, zoom down to a specific spot, such as the Dome of the Rock, and take a virtual tour inside the shrine.

The Glo contains 7,000 articles, 2,000 high-definition images and more than 500 virtual tours.

"I think the appeal is in this Internet society people need to see things visually," said Skip Brown, customer-service representative for Long's Christian Book and Outlet store in Altamonte Springs. "You can get a feeling for what it was like in Christ's time, what Jerusalem looked like, what the streets looked like." The Glo sells for $80, about the same price as a leather-bound Bible or an illustrated study Bible. The downside of the Glo, Brown said, is that it takes a more powerful computer with a faster processor and the visual-memory capacity of a video-game system. In the Bible store's older demonstration computer, Brown said, it look four hours to download the software.

At the same time, Brown believes a mobile digital Bible that can be accessed by computer, phone and tablet computer devices is the high-tech future of Christianity.

"I think everybody already has a Bible," Brown said. "The plus of this is for people who want to study God's word in a multimedia fashion and understand the concepts visually." Saba said that, although the Glo was conceived as a way to reach the digital generation, its customers range from young people to the middle-aged. Tech-savvy churches have started using the digital Bible in their services.

In Lake Nona, Journey of Life Lutheran Church Rev. John Rallison uses Glo in his Sunday sermons to project maps on the screens in the front of his church. The Glo allows him to zoom down from an aerial perspective to street level. He can show worshippers what a particular place looked like in Jesus' time and what it looks like today as an archeological site.

The Glo not only supplements his paper Bible, Rallison said, but also the more expensive scholarly biblical software and the electronic-text versions of the Bible he has on his laptop and personal computer. At 43, he finds himself using his printed Bible less and less.

Technology has always been a means of bringing the word of God to people. The first use of the printing press was to publish the Bible. The goal of the Glo all along was to bring the Bible to where people are in today's digital age and in a form they find captivating and easy to use, Saba said.

"We need to take the Bible to where these generations are and try to communicate in a way they find fascinating," Saba said. "The idea was to explore what interactive digital media can do to communicate the Bible in a very new and powerful way." Jeff Kunerth can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5392.

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