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Distributed Proofreaders Update for 5 November 2003

This is a historically significant week for Distributed Proofreaders. You may not be aware of this yet for it was not covered on the BBC or CNN, nor was it picked up by any of the major daily papers. Consider it a PG Newsletter exclusive. In fact, so important is this week that the mid-section is going out in an extended Late Edition.

Now before you go wondering what you might have missed, remember we did say it was a 'historic' week. To behold the full majesty of significance surrounding us at present requires that we step back a little and attempt to view as much of the DP time line as possible. Okay, so maybe just the past year for now!

A new era has definitely begun for Distributed Proofreaders. This was not planned to be a demarcation, but a clear one has settled in right before our eyes. If you are a daily visitor to the site, it is likely that you felt the sea change moving in over the past several weeks. If this is includes you, then please stay with us as we explore the past twelve months for those who are occasional visitors or recently joined members.

Before the beginning, let us set a marker in the present, for that is where we will circle back to. It is a landmark impossible to miss; last Friday's Halloween celebration and the collaborative 'Big Climb.' In last week's column we gave everyone ample notice, and it was clear from the line at the door that the word went out. I must say, the party wasted no time getting started. From Midnight on Thursday the place started rockin', and it did not slow down until well past Midnight on Saturday morning. I can't name for you everyone who was there...they all wore masks...and some people switched every hour.

Appropriate content begin dancing through the rounds in pumpkin colored costumes within minutes of the witching hour...there were short stories by Bram Stoker and Alexandre Dumas, Curiosites infernales were seen. The Centaur by Blackwood made an appearance as did La vampire, who was still hangin' out in R2 last night refusing to believe the party's over. Juliet went home with the prize for 'Scariest Book of All' for Diseases of the Horse's Foot. I'm still having nightmares.

Thanks must go out to Dr. Gutenstein, and to all the content providers and behind the scenes crafters who made the event as much fun as it was. The highlight of all was the 'Big Climb.' If you missed it, you have my sincere condolences, because it really was something to see! There was a steady pace to the climb right from the start, but it did not really get exciting until late in the afternoon, when we started to see over 1,000 pages an hour being proofed. The existing high, which is what we set out to surpass was over 15,000 pages proofed in a single day. We entered the challenge in the spirt of the day with more fun in mind than seriousness of purpose. After all, the highest proofing day of 2003 was still less than 10,000 pages.

In the final six hours it became certain that we actually had a chance to set a newrecord, and to go a good stretch beyond. The original target for everyone was to match or slightly pass their own best proofing day. With this in mind, people had committed to a set number of pages they would complete for the day. Most everyone went beyond their pledge, and many people doubled and tripled what they set out to do. By the final three hours the pace had quickened and the 15,000 drew near, and then with just a passing wave, Oct 31st flew on by Nov 8th and rose another 3,000 pages, opening up a whole new era in DP history. Friends and family members are still at a loss to explain the behavior last Friday of the members who were on-line when the new record was set. To stretch a worn out cliche that just happens to fit. . .
You really had to be there!'

If you weren't with us, there's always the many forum threads from the 31st that will bring back a sense of what it was like. For those who were a part of the climb, the memories will linger for a long time to come. For those who have been members for more than a year, Friday night rekindled existing memories of another day, and another mountain of pages that were proofed by a small and enthusiastic band. That of course, leads us back in time nearly a year to this day. The timing of these two grand days was the inspiration for this special issue of the column.

This upcoming weekend marks an important anniversary for DP. One year ago on November 8th a small piece appeared among the daily discourse on Slashdot. Within hours the ranks of registered proofers began to grow...and grow...and grow. That day changed DP fundamentally like a plot point in a classic novel.

November 8th is not an official holiday at Distributed Proofreaders, but it should be. Not so much because of the large crowds that came initially, nor the high page counts. It should be a day of reverence for those members who came and saw and stayed. Next time you are in the forum pay attention to the Date Joined beneath the poster's name. Note how many arrived either on Nov' 8, 2002 or within the following week to ten days.

Among this group you will find people who have contributed immeasurably to DP, including two of our largest content providers, a legion of high volume proofers, including some of the Top Ten, code authors and site maintainers, nearly all the tool developers and even our own SA Bill Keir. Whenever the story of DP is told, that Slashdot November will always be remembered as a milestone in the project's early history, yet not solely for the high count numbers to which it is often anchored. The greatest contribution of November 2002 is the quality and character of the people who came to stay and add something uniquely their own to DP.

As we look back over the past year, it begins to seem that the greater part of 2003 was spent adapting to new size and potential of the membership. We have all been learning, growing and sharing ideas that over time came materialized into concrete results. Through the unfolding of that process we have managed to send over 1,500 completed books to PG with an equal number at some stage on the DP server.

There were times in 2003 when we seemed to loose our forward momentum and even begin to drift apart. But somehow something always came along and drew us all back together; a mention by Slashdot in July, a spontaneous run for a daily goal that reminded us that we were a collective effort after all. Somewhere towards the third quarter of the year we began to find ourselves together more often than not. Within this same time frame several sub-projects and initiatives that had been developing through the year began to take on more of a concrete and unified form.

It is no longer possible to point to any few specifics and say 'that's what made the difference', but the DP of today is very different than the DP of six months ago. This transformation is measured by strong increases in output and quality at all stages of production. What brought about this deep change then, if not some particular event or development? I have been thinking about this question a great deal in the past week. From today, I believe it can be attributed to two primary factors. The first is arguably the recent synchronization of the many tools and technical innovations that have been evolving through the past year. Space and time do not allow me to cite them all...and individually they may not seem like much.

Together the improvements to the site code, the steady evolution to the proofing process, such as the queue organization and enhancements to the project release system, added to the impressive set of tools now available to assist the pre and post production processes. All of these have become integrated into an effective system within the past few months.

The second primary cause, in my view, is a little less obvious, but of an equal import. I believe that what we have come to possess in the later part of this year is the collective sense of who we are in our dedication to the work of DP. I have been reading and watching very closely of late both in on-site and off-site exchanges. One thing stands out very clearly, time and time again; this work, which is very distinct to DP, has become a significant part of our lives. What we do here, both as individuals and in collaboration, is held very high amongst our personal values. We don't discuss this often in the forum, except when a new member makes note of it, and then for a while we are reminded of what keeps us coming back. Maybe the reason we don't discuss it often is that we have come to accept this as a group. Once we log in to DP we know we are among a kindred mind-set. We all know why we are here, and it is widely recognized that the work we do is no mere idle pastime. We believe it makes a difference in the world.

What has happened to us recently is that we have uncovered and experienced a new found dynamism when we give ourselves collectively to a specific end that we hold to be of significance. This is the true service of the Daily Page goals; they call hidden strengths from our inner depths and push us to always do better than we might just normally settle for. They are more important than the playfullness with which we approach them may evidence. Times will come when there are urgent and maybe important needs that require us to reach up and stretch on some short notice. By having found our sense of self as a working group, we will not hesitate to take on such challenges, and we will not fail to accomplish them. It is a faith based work ethic at DP...the same is true for the larger PG community. The great cathedrals rose up on the dedications to such an ethic. A world library is rising up on this one.

So those are my theories on how we manage to average 6,500-7,000 pages a day without breaking into a sweat, and how we can post process 325+ books in a month. Maybe what matters above any reason why is the fact that we are doing it in the first place. We are nearing a new year now. The holiday season will soon be upon us and there's no doubt that we will all have some time away from DP while we enjoy the affairs of our personal lives. It does seem to be good timing after all that has been achieved in recent weeks. We will begin 2004 fresh, strong and ready to complete the most challenging of projects.

PG has reached the long awaited milestone of 10,000 titles and new horizons are nowfocused upon. DP is ready and fit for such new vistas within this new and exciting era. If the past year revealed to us who we are collectively, the year ahead seems ready to show us what we are truly capable of. Perhaps the greatest lesson October taught us, is that on this account, who we may yet become, we still have very much to discover. I look forward to sharing the journey with you! I believe many of us will be togetherfor a long while to come yet. As Big Bill often says..."We have many years of work out there ahead of us." Let give the best within ourselves to those years!

With this week's expanded column we are going to give you a taste of some new features that will be appearing regularly. One of these is a spotlight on unique and special DP accomplishments. Now there are no hard rules here and there will be no judgmental limits applied. The features will justify inclusion on their own. Now we will try to make this a little surprising, so you may not actually be aware of the nature of the 'accomplishment' until we focus upon it. That's the main reason why we have decided to add this element. Maybe the motto here could be 'credit where it is due, not where it is recognized.'

For the first feature we will start with something I am personally very familiar with, and which you will be in the days and weeks to come. It is called 'The Project Gutenberg John Keats Collection.' It has a nice ring to it, don't you think? Expect several more authors to receive such designation in the near future as we get to them. On the whole, the framing of an authors entire catalog, once it is available, is one component in the ongoing upgrade of the PG index. The Keats Collection deserves special mention here because it is a purely DP accomplishment. In fact, the entire Keats library; three volumes of his verse; all of his letters and two very extensive biographies, was located, scanned and prepared for DP by one person; Jonathan Ingram. You most likely know him as Jon.

Earlier this year upon learning that the body of Keats' work was not available in PG, Jon set out to right this imbalance with firm determination. It would not be the last Romantic poet Mr. Ingram would single handily escort to the PG library. Our Jon has managed the entire works of Byron, Coleridge, Southey (well, the first 20 years - watch out if you work at Jon's local library, he'll be in shortly for the rest!), Wordsworth, and many other poets outside the Romantic era. Perhaps this is a good place to mention that Jon joined up with DP on November 8, 2003.

I know a little bit about this collection because I adopted the entire series for the post production phase. The logic behind that decision was on one hand a gesture of respect to what Jon had done, and on the other, an intention to see that the set of titles would be sent to PG within a consistent style, along with some added features. These works are near to completion now and will begin their passage to Verification beginning this week. Once the set is completely available in PG, we will remind you within the newsletter and there will be a fixed link posted on the archive site along with PG Collection authors.

As part of this week's Featured Accomplishment we will be including some samples from the Letters of John Keats and William Rossetti's biography. These will be complimented with an author profile by our own Gali Sirkis. For anyone who would still like to proof a little Keats, watch for the upcoming French translation of Saint Agnes which was just recently located and should be available just in time to join the collection.

There is a lot of news within this week that I have not even touched upon so far. It would be an injustice to attempt to squeeze it all in effectively in this last paragraph or two. Next week, when the column returns to normal size, I will explore some important day to day developments that tend to serve as the glue which holds DP together through all manner of weather.

One thing that deserves mention going into next week is that Tuesday the 11th, which is recognized as Armistice Day or Veterans Day and by other names elsewhere will be honored at DP by several content providers who are preparing appropriate titles for the proofing rounds. If you would like to contribute a book or two, please visit the Content Providers forum or contact one of the System Administrators. If you would like to contribute by proofing some texts, all you need to do is log in at any time during the day or night. A diverse selection of books will be available for release.

To everyone who joined up with DP in those first wild days of the great Slashdot rush, a very Happy Anniversary!!

Thank you all for staying and helping to make Distributed Proofreaders what it is today!

For now...

Thierry Alberto

Links to Articles

19 October 2004
18 February 2004
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
3 September 2003
27 August 2003
20 August 2003