Clear your cache and refresh your browser: SuttaCentral 2021 is here!
We are proud to introduce the latest version of SuttaCentral. With this version, I finally feel that we have accomplished the goal I had in mind when setting out: to create a truly world-class, international site for the early Buddhist texts.
SuttaCentral has now been through five major versions:
- 2005: The original site, a simple lookup for parallels, with links to texts. Built with PHP and MySQL.
- 2012: The updated site, now at legacy.suttacentral.net. This includes actual texts, and adds parallels for Vinaya. Built with Python and JQuery.
- 2018: The first iteration of the modern site, built with Polymer 2 and ArangoDB, with Pootle for segmented texts. This integrates all the parallels in a single system.
- 2019: Update of the modern site to Polymer 3 and miscellaneous improvements.
- 2021: Use Bilara and JSON instead of Pootle, update to LitElement, add segmented translations in other languages.
SC 2021 brings with it a major set of changes, and I’ll try to summarize them here. Virtually everything has been changed in some way!
The core developers are Hongda, who has built most of the front end, and Blake, who is responsible for our translation app, Bilara. In addition, we engaged our friends in Poland, STXnext, once more, for two separate periods: in mid-2020 to build the text-integrity scripts, and in late 2020-early 2021 to help us complete the new site.
There are too many other helpers to mention all here, but I cannot omit Karl, who has done incredible work on SC Voice and has helped in SC in many ways; Sabbamitta, who in addition to her translation work is a dedicated assistant and tester for both Karl and SC; and Aminah, who managed the legacy texts and much else. Thanks so much to these and the many others who have made it possible.
The first impression: you’ll see a redesigned Home page. We now foreground the Tipitaka itself as the starting point for navigation.
You’ll also see the black bar at the top of the page. On the left are breadcrumbs. On the right are the familiar search and overflow menu. These have both had a nice redesign! You can change the site language from here. This will, as with the old site, make translations in your language appear, and will show the site in your language if it has been translated. We’ve added pretty good support for German, and more languages will be coming soon.
The most critical change for users is the navigation system. Since the 2012 edition we have used some version of expanding menu for the main navigation, but I have grown increasingly dissatisfied with this. It has become apparent that our navigation needs are simply too complex for such a paradigm. I really wanted to introduce translated and root title in the navigation, and it just isn’t a good idea in a conventional menu.
So our navigation is now entirely based on “cards”. This greatly simplifies the overall design. And it means we can add rich contextual information to each step of navigation (or hide that information for users who don’t need it). Typically cards contain:
- Title in root and translation
- Descriptive blurb.
- Relevant reference numbers
- Translation count
- Sometimes links to essays or navigation shortcuts.
There is always a loss with change, and the new design means that we can no longer go from one point directly to any other point, as is possible with the sidebar. Nevertheless, the cards and breadcrumbs used together make navigation much clearer, and there is rarely more then a click or two extra to get where you want.
The “suttaplex” is the card that contains the main data for each text, including title, links for text and translation, parallels, and so on. These remain mostly the same, with some styling tweaks; and the underlying code has been rewritten for simplicity.
The familiar and much-loved segmented texts are better than ever. The basic idea is the same, but we have completely rebuilt the system from the ground up.
Buttons are now in the toolbar, with labels for clarity. Texts with headings have a Table of Contents. And the Suttaplex with its parallels can be seen on every text page.
The “views” logo, previously “tools”, opens a horizontally scrollable sheet where you can change how you view the text, for example seeing both root texts and translations. We adopted this UI pattern so that you can see the changes as you make them.
There are now more options, including view options for variant readings, and multiple Pali editions.
We’re particularly proud of the Pali script changer. Using the amazing Aksharamukha, you can now view the Pali in over 80 scripts! This includes Brahmi for the true originalists.
The interface for the Pali lookup is also changed. we use a bottom sheet rather than a tooltip. This is for better accessibility and mobile convenience.
After two years without updates (!) we have added a lot of new content.
- Ven Brahmali’s Vinaya translation is mostly published. For the first time, we have a truly modern, segmented translation of the Vinaya. This is a landmark achievement by Ven Brahmali, and will mark a new era in Vinaya studies.
- Charles Patton has been creating segmented editions of Chinese Āgama suttas and translating them, and they make their first appearance.
- New translations created in Bilara:
- German translations by Sabbamitta
- Portuguese tranmslations by Gabriel and Marco
- Japanese translations by Kaz.
- My translations are also updated, with many adjustments and corrections, and the addition of translations for Therigatha, Theragatha, Itivuttaka, Udana, Khuddakapatha, and Dhammapada. The Sutta Nipāta is underway!
- There are also many new legacy translations, particularly in Bengali.
For stats nerds, here are some of our current numbers for Tipitaka texts and translations. Numbers are approximate (because counting things is hard):
- number of words: 50,000,000
- number of texts (total): 78,000
- number of texts (root, i.e. Pali, ancient Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit): 13,500
- number of contributing translators: 300
- number of languages: 47
- percentage of texts in Bilara JSON vs. legacy HTML: 20%
I’ve been working on website design since our 2012 edition, and I finally feel like I may have a handle on it. The new design is more open and forward; it gives more to the user.
In terms of typography, I have moved away from the Material Design grid-based method to a more traditional typographic approach using relative units. This, I think, gives texts more room to breathe.
We’re also introducing variable fonts, testing the variable Skolar fonts with the foundry, Rosetta. This gives us a lot more control over the appearance of text. You’ll see, for example, that the breadcrumbs and toolbar use a compressed width, which helps prevent overflow on mobile screens.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the latest Lighthouse scores for the Home page:
The most significant change is shifting the segmented texts from the PO translation format to JSON. This system had to be completely built from scratch, but it gives us a flexible and powerful way of relating and combining text. We have built our own translation app, Bilara, which is being used to create a new generation of translations.
In light of the multiple format changes to our source Pali texts, we rigorously tested their integrity to ensure that there were no errors or alterations in transmission. These helped us identify and fix hundreds of small errors in our source files. These tests are now part of our workflow, and they help to ensure that any error, no matter how small, will be picked up and fixed.
There’s a long list of changes here if you’re into details. This mainly covers the work over the last few months. You can always dive deeper into Github to see exactly what we’ve been up to.
There are of course some bugs remaining. At a certain point you just have to get it out there! Here are some issues you may notice.
- Back button is not always working
- Localized static pages are not updated.
- Reference data for segmented texts is not fully working
- Chinese lookup is not working
If you see any issues not found here, let us know.
This is not the end! The main plans for the next year include:
- Update search
- Expand translation projects using Bilara
- Build a “publications” portal with export as books and epubs.