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Distributed Proofreaders Update for 3 September 2003

This is a significant and memorable week for the creative Diaspora of Distributed Proofreaders. On this day, the third of September, 2003 the DP enterprise has completed and posted it's 2,000th text to Project Gutenberg. For those who are unfamiliar with the history and lore of DP it may not be possible to provide an explanation of a 'Special Issue' to mark this event. To those who have been along for a part or parts of the DP odyssey so far, no such explanation is necessary. Within this small frame today, we will try to satisfy both perspectives and explore why there is much more behind all the fanfare than a nice, round number.

Like all good stories, there has to be a beginning. So where did Distributed Proofreaders originate from? Well ... a long time ago, there were these three ships; the Nina; the Pinta and the Santa Maria ... see there was this fellow, who it on 'good account' that if you sailed due-West for a number of weeks. . .'No...wait! That can't be right? [Scratches his head, checks his notes: "Let's see now...'Legendary Islands,' 'Likely Sites of Blackbeard's Treasure,' Ah! 'Longshot Dreams' That's it!...A..B..C..Ca..'Drats!' 'must have gotten my Ch's mixed up again?." drifts back.] Okay, it seems there was another fellow, came along a little later on that island the earlier fellow eventually bumped into. His name was Charles, and a few years ago an idea came and entertained him for a while. After some quiet consideration, instinctive calculation and some sleepless nights, Charles made up his mind to do something with that idea.

As a young boy, Charles loved his books. When he grew, like many other wise and hip people in the world, he became a big fan of Project Gutenberg. The idea of a true World Wide Library filled his mind with inspired visions. Like an errant knight drawn to Camelot, Charles knew he had something invaluable to contribute to Michael Hart's grand quest.

It was just after dawn in the new millennium and a buzz was in the air, the Internet would indeed become the wonder of wonders in Human history. It was just then becoming clear that only the truly useful and practical would survive into the on-line future. Only those ventures which remained true to the early promise of the medium would stand on through the great changes about to unfold.

There was one particularly pesky idea which would not let him sleep at night. This idea stood out amongst all the others, as the most practical way to help realize the intentions of Project Gutenberg. I wasn't there at the time, but I have heard it went something like this: '. . .

What if there were some way to take a book and prepare it so that all the many tasks of the digitization process were separated into small parts. If a structure were built that would allow many people to work on a book project at the same time, it would significantly increase the speed of the e-book development-creation process.

The validity of this idea is no longer open for discussion. The idea was pulled down into the physical world and hammered out on the anvil of trial and error. The noise made by all that banging caught the attention of over 10,000 people who have registered to the forums of DP to learn more. Of those individuals, nearly 8,000 have been inspired enough to give the proofing process a try. With the early stages of research and development a matter for historians, the rate at which the productivity of the project steadily grows must silence the staunchest critic.

Looking at a handful of key figures will give a measurable sense of that success. Two years ago this month there were less than 100 members within DP. By September 2002, that number had risen to about 600 members. Two months later, due to a tidal wave of attention from a Slash-Dot piece on DP, the membership ranks swelled up into the thousands. While the initial wave of activity quieted down over time, the number of people who stayed with the project and the talents they brought with them, have forever changed DP, and thus Project Gutenberg, for the better.

As head counts don't inform the whole measure of DP's growth, let's go over the actual output and see what happens in the world when a single person gives their heart and soul to an idea's manifestation.

Today we saw the 2000th text from DP posted to the PG stacks. Without looking I can assure you that figure have risen noticeably between the time these words are written and when you read them. It is a rare day now that does not see 5 to 10 books posted.

The page counts make the books, and a snapshot tells more than words:
Two years ago - Average Daily Page Total = 260
One year ago - Average Daily Page Total = 1,000
Present day - Average Daily Page Total = 4,100+

There's much to producing a finished book like Hamlet than the proofing process. The efforts and talents of many people are employed at each stage development. When the weekly DP column returns to regular size next week, we will continue to explore each stage and aspect of the creative system that bears the title of Distributed Proofreaders, but means so much more.

In the weeks ahead, we will also continue to explore this idea that Charles Franks set sail into this world. There is far more to his visions for DP than I could ever convey in the frame allowed today. We will spend some time with him over several issues to come. But now I think Charles would be the first to say that I have shed too much light upon his name today and not enough upon the many members of the DP community, who put well intended and dedicated efforts into making these 2000 texts possible. It would require an entire other issue to list those names.

To each and all of you, a deeply felt and shared congratulations! Hold the dream close to your heart and keep it true! You can make a difference for good in the world. Believe it.

For now...

Thierry Alberto

Links to Articles

19 October 2004
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11 February 2004
4 February 2004
14 January 2004
17 December 2003
3 December 2003
19 November 2003
12 November 2003
5 November 2003
29 October 2003
22 October 2003
15 October 2003
8 October 2003
1 October 2003
17 September 2003
10 September 2003
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27 August 2003
20 August 2003