YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY: When God closes a door, he opens an Internet browser window.
In October 2010, Colin Wong’s three-year-old Christianity-centric social networking site was fizzling, and the Redmond resident was hunting for a stable, corporate tech job. When he wasn’t chasing leads, though, he was building a searchable online Bible. It was a side project meant simply to refresh his coding chops and showcase them to prospective employers, but friends who saw it geeked out over its innovative approach to spreading the Word. This isn’t just a portfolio piece, they told him. It’s the start of something much bigger.
Wong’s digital Bible was hardly the first, but the clean, white space–heavy interface was reminiscent of Google’s—which made sense since he’d worked at the company’s Mountain View, California, campus in the early 2000s. A highlighting and note-taking function gave the site an interactive component. And a commenting feature that allowed users to share their interpretations of each passage in more than 40 translations of the text mirrored Facebook’s social aspects. “Before, if I wanted to discuss something with my pastor, I had to physically visit the church and bring the Bible with me,” Wong says. “What if I could just send him that information online so we could have a discussion right where the content is?”
Inspired by his friends’ excitement, he started shopping around the idea early this year to investors and got similar praise. He landed his first round of funding in spring, and by late June the site—oobible.com, or Infinity Bible—had $500,000 in startup financing. “It was a very accidental creation of a new company,” Wong says, still a little surprised at how quickly the site grew from skill-building exercise to mini enterprise. Even the name was an accident; ebible.com was taken, so he experimented with different vowel prefixes until he landed on “oo,” which looks like the mathematical symbol for infinity.
A lot has changed since Wong and his team of three developers booted up the site earlier this year, starting with the address. They secured the rights to ebible.com and plan to relaunch under that name this fall. They released a mobile version over the summer. (Is it only a matter of time before local pews are stocked with iPads?). And then there are the study plans they’re adding to make it easy for users to keep up on their reading and follow their friends’ progress. The changes are all in the name of improving the uplink between believers and God. “You can read about something before a sermon, understand it during the sermon, and then follow up with discussion afterward,” Wong says. “It’s not social in a Facebook way, but it’s social in the sense that people are coming together to read.”
For Wong, though, eBible is more than just a business venture. It is the latest step in the rehabilitation of his faith that began six years ago when his first daughter was born with a rare medical condition. “You start to fundamentally question whether there is a God and, if there is, why he would allow bad things to happen to good people,” he says. “You get to a point where you think it’s all crap and you move on, or it’s all real and you lead your life like it’s real.”