Today we’re excited to announce that BetaMidrash and its two developers Noah Santacruz and Josh Herzberg are joining the Sefaria team. BetaMidrash is the best free Torah app we’ve ever seen. Bringing this work in to our project sets the foundation for launching native Sefaria apps for Android and iOS (which we’ll be pleased to announce soon!).
The story of how Josh and Noah started working with Sefaria, and how BetaMidrash was born, is a beautiful example of Open Source at work. Noah and Josh are both undergrads at Cooper Union and they’ve been two of Sefaria’s star volunteers since 2013.
In late 2014 I got an email that said, in short, “We’re taking a database course. Is there a Sefaria related project we could work on that has to do with databases?” “Well,” I said, “Sefaria uses a non-relational database. A lot of other platforms like mobile phones use relational databases. If you wanted to work on mobile app, you’d have to figure out how to convert one to the other…”
A few short months (or at least, short to me) later Josh and Noah and I were in the Sefaria office in Tribeca and they were showing me the finished app. I was really impressed! Not only did it squeeze all of Sefaria’s thousands of texts onto your phone, it included access to all of our links and interconnections as well.
This is the beauty of Open Source. Josh and Noah were motivated and independent. They were able to download our structured data and make something beautiful and valuable out of it. They didn’t have to get our permission to start, and they were free to follow the directions that most interested them.
Having BetaMidrash as a reference point and watching real users interact with it has helped our design team in figuring out what the Sefaria mobile interface should look like. You can already see the first fruits of this design work when you visit Sefaria on your smartphone. This is also a win for Sefaria’s gracious donors – by working in the open we’re able to get better results faster and for less money then if we were simply paying to do all this work in house.
As of today, the BetaMidrash app is officially an open source project– you can see the code on Sefaria’s GitHub account). Noah and Josh are now busy extending this code to work with complex texts and to reflect the latest mobile user interface that our team has been testing and refining. Stay tuned for the launch of Sefaria for Android and Sefaria for iOS!
––– Brett Lockspeiser, Co-founder & Chief Technology Officer