A Small Step and a Giant Leap

Article excerpt

Three technological trends are coming together in a profound way, and the Hymn Society's Dictionary of North American Hymnology (DNAH) is about to make a huge leap forward to take advantage of this confluence.

The first trend is an old one-improvement in basic computer hardware technology, especially the rise of the personal computer. When I was a teen, I had a lot of computer punch cards around my room. I used them not only for running computer programs on a large mainframe computer that filled a basement at the nearby university, but also as index cards for writing term papers, taking down phone messages, and saving recipes. Today, that is about all they would be good for, or perhaps as museum exhibits. Computers have become smaller, more powerful, and more ubiquitous. Think of it this way: today's 21-year old college students have never known a world without a Macintosh computer.

The second trend is the incredible improvements in computer software-the programs that run and run on the computers. Database technology has exploded, especially with the development of relational databases. When compared with older "flat" database systems, a relational database is able to handle a much larger amount of data, handle it more quickly, and handle it in a way that minimizes problems that emerge from data entry typos. (Do not worry about how this happens; just trust that it does.)

Finally, there is the internet, which is busy reshaping modern life in all kinds of ways, from news to politics to social interactions to academic research to . . . well, you name it, and it is changing. Here is one little example: more and more of the new Hymn Society members first hear about us via the Internet. The Internet is helping to forge connections across vast distances, allowing for all kinds of amazing interactions. By collaborating online, communities of people are able to take on massive research tasks that would be impossible otherwise.

When you combine these three trends, the Internet is the logical place for collaborative research involving large databases. …