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Distributed Proofreaders Update for 11 February 2004

At this time last week the total of Gold texts at DP stood at 3,175. This hour--since we do need to count by the hour now--the total has reached 3,260. That amounts to 85 projects completed and ready for posting to PG. The previous week matches that figure near to exactly. To set this into the context of where the column needs to go I will share with you my own perspective on how important an accomplishment 85 completed projects a week is. Bear with me for this ride? We have somewhere to get to today.

This past Sunday was a rounded year since I joined up with Distributed Proofreaders. On that day in 2003 the total of Gold texts for the previous month was 119. February's total would match that number, evidencing a slight up-tick by doing so in 28 days. In only a year's time we have witnessed a month's total production being achieved in little over a week's time. How did DP manage this? Well, the answer to that is a little more elusive than we might like it to be. Simply put, it is true enough to say that this result rests upon a broad combination of factors and innovations. As there is much to be gained from a finer analysis of this success, we are going to looking into the facts of DP's production efficiency through the rest of this month. That the site coders and admin's have provided us with some new tools for deciphering this progress will make the investigation all the more interesting.

But before we start exploring this study, it is important that we step back a little ways from the day to day work which brings us all together. Numbers are what we use to measure our progress and they are essential guides to steady improvement. What numbers alone cannot do is inform us of an eventual value of the product of our collective labors. Today is the 11th of February, halfway through the day DP has posted 125 books to PG. So for every day this month DP has transmitted 10 unique books into a form that allows them to be freely distributed throughout the world. If the present rate of production were to lock steady from now until New Year's eve, we will enrich the digital public domain by over 3,650 individual volumes in 2004.

I stress that to the point of obvious redundancy for a specific reason; to remind us all of the central plot to this tale which we have all become players in. As a lifelongstudent of history it has long stood out to me that one of Humanities most costly flaws is that we forget. Forgetfulness seems to be hard wired into us. Yet I believe, in my more optimistic moments, that this might just be a saving grace and not the eventual cause of our doom. What saves us, quite often in the most critical moments, is each other. What I may forget you can easily refresh in my memory. This act of common humanity is so very essential to survival and progress. When it comes to the great social issues of our time there is no doubt to the imperative nature of this mutual care and exchange. The contextual question is whether or not such significance can be equally accepted within the PG/DP communities. I believe that this is not merely a possibility, but a necessity.

What you are now reading is a second version of this week's DP Update. More than halfway through writing the first edition--which I must say, was 'quite good'--I deleted it. This was not an accident but a very firm intention. The path I was writing along was simply a wrong turn and I needed to go back to the fork in the road and take a completely different journey. If you are still reading, I assume that you want to come along? Good. I'm in the mood for noble company today.

The heart of my unease with the initial version was that I was completely omitting any reference to the recent developments in Australia. This is really not such a hard thing to for a DPer who does not hail from 'Down Under.' It could almost be forgivable, just as the low murmur of a response to the Free Trade Agreement in the DP forums. See, the thing is we do not and can not work on the texts which are produced for PG Australia. So, for 95%+ of the DP community ... "Out of sight is out of mind." as far as this issue is concerned. For my part, recognizing that Alice would be covering the PGAU news front, I blissfully turned to all the upbeat, positive news of this week, for there is plenty of it. "After all, it is PGAU not DPAU, right?" . . .

Wrong! And on that 'wrong' my index finger tapped the Delete key.

To put it succinctly I will lift a quote from the recent thread in the DP forum about PGAU: "Apathy is illiterate--it would not care if the public domain were to go extinct. .... So it is on those who actively create with the PD to start making a loud noise. .... If people are not outraged by the present lock down on the PD it is not always their fault. It may be as simple as ... they just do not know about it." - Henry Craig

Now I have known Henry for ten years, and in that time I have listened to that view repeated in many ways. Perhaps this is why the words kept nagging at me as I started writing earlier. If so, that would make my decision no less valid. Henry's right. If we care enough to commit our time, talents and creative energy to enriching the fields of the Public Domain, then we should be willing to stand up and defend that field when it comes under challenge.

Now, let me be clear with you ... I am not talking about radicalism here. I am not endorsing anything different than what we already do; apply ingenuity to collective effort for a cause we all believe in which benefits people throughout the world. The distinction I propose is that we raise our perspectives just a little higher on the horizon. By this, I mean that our concern and care for a book project extends beyond the time when it is posted to PG.

At the present level of production DP masters the means to produce over 3,600 books a year for Project Gutenberg. That is 3,600 books for everyone in the world with access to the Internet. If you go digging around in the basement of the forums you will find within my earliest posts, a call to embrace the historic significance of DP. This was itemized on several levels. We have used a decent amount of ink in past columns for the uniqueness of DP among distributed projects. The foundation of this distinction rests upon the fact that DP is 'distributed' through people, not electronic processors. This truly is historic, and it is not possible to know from today the long term utilization borne from the fruits of this 'proof of concept.' The recent decision to incorporate the DP model within the Rastko archive network of Europe is assuredly only the first of many innovative examples to come.

The other historic development unfolding at DP is what needs a little more attention in light of recent events. The changes to trade agreed to this week in Australia are likely to have a profound impact on the network of Project Gutenberg archives. How we deal with this as a distributed community will depend a great deal upon our self concept and the estimation of our strength and influence within this age and for ages to come.

We produce 10-12 books a day, every day for the education, enrichment and simple entertainment of the world public. Who else presently is doing that? I don't see anyone out there coming close. As impressive as this is, I say 'hold on a minute' and raise your eyes up. Expand your sense of who we are. Add to what DP produces, all the works by the Independent developers allied to PG. Take also into consideration the work of PG Australia, and the work now beginning at PG Europe. Combine this with the vast enrichment that is already being added through DPEU by the advent of character sets beyond Latin1. Look higher still and see the ever-increasing support of the National libraries and international cultural organizations along with the contributions by contemporary authors. Consider all of this, the next time you use the word "community" to describe what we are building at DP. Consider all of this ... because this is the DP community.

The next time you are in a library and you come across a book that strikes you as a great addition to the PG archive ... think about what you are doing for a few moments. The next time you are scanning some pages, running some OCR, or uploading 25 megs of .png files ... think for a few moments. The next time you are proofing a page ... running GUIGuts or Verifying a finished project ... think about the countless individuals your work will be touching. Most importantly, the next time you download a completed text from PG ... think. Yes, at every point of contact and participation in this wonderful endeavor we should all pause for some moments, lift our eyes beyond the day's horizon and consider the enormous range of Humanity that we are connecting with.

The work of Project Gutenberg IS unique to our time, and it is historic in nature. From the spark of inspiration that landed on Hart's shoulder some thirty years ago ... to the retired grandmother of six who will log on tonight in North London to proof a few pages of Wordsworth on DP ... to her great great grandson, not yet born who will carry the entire PG library in a hand held device on a summer vacation to the Moon some year ... we are all connected. And should it come to pass, like a shadow out of Mordor, that the work of PG Australia is removed from the public domain ...then too shall we all be connected.

That day has not come yet. What has been agreed to on paper, is not yet law. Think about it ... that's all I ask. I did, and it changed every word you have read today. Think about it ... because thoughts do change things--they change us. If we change, then the world can change. We learnt this week that the future is no longer what it used to be. What it might now be leaves a heavy feeling in many hearts of those who are close to us in this work. What can we do about that?

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote, "The future belongs in the hands of those who can give tomorrow's generations valid reasons to live and hope." I tend to believe we fit that role. I don't feel that to be a boastful claim, but rather an acceptance of responsibility.

Do what you will with the time that is yours then. Just be assured of one thing ... you won't be alone. The rest of us will be right here with you. Very often the best choice of action is to do exactly what you already are doing. If your heart leads you to participate in one or more of the projects which support Project Gutenberg then you are likely already doing what you should to help make this vision a sustaining reality. We all matter. Every task we take on from proofing a page to writing a column makes a worthy difference and counts for the long term. If you feel an urge to go an extra length sometime, consider the power in thinking about the larger context of the work which today places in your hands. When you come to your own realization of the significance of that work try reminding others close to you in subtle ways just how significant their share is. Simply then, let us not forget why we are here together. We all love most is what we hold cherished memories of and we tend to preserve what we love. Refreshing our memory from time to time then is very closely related to this line of work. That's my piece for now.

February is the shortest month, but you will not know it from how full the next two newsletters are going to be. As we start our in-depth exploration of what makes DP purrrr so finely, we will discover together many wondrous details never before published anywhere. You can expect the secrets of the DP masters to be revealed in these very pages!

How does Jon Ingram scan like that--does he really have four arms?

Where did Big Bill actually get the magic proofing font from and what manner of ciphers are hidden within its unusually shaped characters.

Have Curtis and Dave truly discerned the identity of the figure on the 'grassy knoll?'

How in the world did Prishan manage to proof the equivalent of twenty years of the Encyclopaedia Britannica at the same time as he shepherded 35 books through Post? Are the rumors true? ... does he actually belong to a secret Guild of free & associated Post Processors?

All this and more will be revealed by month's end. Don't miss a word! ... stay right here and I promise to make up some true stuff for you.

Really, stay close by. This is an important month for all of us. We may need some extra hands on staff at the newsletter, and I am sure to keep everyone up way past their normal bedtime, but we'll see that you stay informed. There are many developments going on for DPEU and PGEU this week. It is an exciting week across the continent, I am doing my best to keep up with all the latest tips. It is going to take a special issue to cover all the news as MH wraps up his tour of Europe. We will be working time and half to bring you all the details as we get word of them. In the meantime check in at the forums of DPEU to keep up on the progress of events. While you're there lay down some support and take on a few pages. After all, that's how we make history around here ...

one page at a time.

Until next week, all the best in the world for you!

Thierry Alberto

Links to Articles

19 October 2004
18 February 2004
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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