I recently reached my ten-year anniversary at Distributed Proofreaders. I thought it would be interesting to acknowledge ten memories, observations, events, changes, or other items of nostalgia and hopefully of interest to others — Screeching halt! I wrote that a year ago and never finished. So now it’s eleven years and eleven items.
The Beginning — Welcome!
Someone had mentioned Distributed Proofreaders on another website, and I came to see what it was about. I started at the DP page, decided to create an ID, and started as a beginner. I immediately felt welcome. People’s answers to questions, appreciation for efforts, and encouragement are part of the palpable fabric of DP life. This year, someone posted in the forums, “Being helpful is the sort of thing that DP does so well.” I agree. There’s a blog article about Comments That Matter that expresses this in more depth.
I found a group of fellow nitpickers, perfectionists, error spotters, spelling geeks, and grammar guards. It’s great to be in a place where you can question the use of a comma, semi-colon, duplicated word,
mis-seplling misspelling, etc., and instead of getting a long-suffering sigh in response, to know that the comment is appreciated or in some cases leads to a thoughtful discussion or a thank-you. I found a group of fellow nitpickers! If you are one also, this may be for you!
Diffs: A Source of Enlightenment
An e-book project at DP goes through several rounds of proofreading and formatting. After each round, a proofer or formatter can check his or her “diffs” — the changes made to the text of a project’s individual pages as it progresses through each round. (A diff doesn’t necessarily mean there was something wrong, just that the page text coming out of the subsequent round is different.) I learned so much from my diffs. Yes, I got gentle feedback for the pages I did in Begin (projects set aside especially for beginners). However, by looking at the changes the next rounds of proofers made to my pages, I also learned an incredible amount. I learned what my eyes were glossing over and seeing what they expected to see instead of what was there. I learned to slow down. I learned to stop for the day or at least take a break every so often. I learned to go over a page another time if I found I was just reading instead of proofing. I learned that I still need to access the Proofreading Guidelines regularly.
Variety, Variety, Variety
Within the first few days I was at DP, I had the temerity to work on an English-Spanish dictionary as well as part of the Encyclopædia Britannica (in the G’s). I’m pretty sure I worked on an issue of The American Missionary (a challenging 19th-Century periodical) in early days as well. I know I also worked on some Begin projects, got helpful feedback, and forged on ahead. Over time I’ve been impressed with the wide variety of projects we work on. There are of course English-language books published across time periods, mostly up through 1923 (due to copyright) in standard library categories like fiction, reference, science fiction, cookbooks, adventure, history, military, music, anthropology, etc., etc. Add to that books in those same categories, but in other languages: French, German, Catalan, Spanish, Esperanto, Italian, Latin, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish, and Cebuano. But there are more — think of the patience of the DP volunteers who provide content and manage the projects, and the dedication of proofers and formatters to work on single- and dual-language dictionaries, multi-volume encyclopedias, “Complete Works of…,” etc. I’ve also seen and worked on thesis papers and handwritten documents. There are also relatively modern government publications about parks, national monuments, nature guides, and more. The variety seems infinite.
Working Site – Not Just Social
While there is definitely a rich social aspect to DP through the volunteer forums, that’s not the primary focus. This is a working site. People contribute in many, many ways. I like the feeling of my efforts being a small part that feeds into a much larger contribution. People’s work gets recognized. There are places to announce accomplishments, and DP Anniversaries are acknowledged and celebrated. Without that, I wouldn’t be aware of my
tenth eleventh anniversary.
It’s incredible that so many people volunteer so much time to make this happen. It ranges from a-page-a-day to what approaches or even exceeds enough time for a full-time job. Volunteers are not just incredible for the time and/or consistency they donate, but for their incredible knowledge and willingness to share it with others.
There is a considerable international community involved at DP. There are contributors from English-speaking countries, but also from many other parts of the world. I mentioned some of the different languages in the Variety paragraph above. There are perspectives brought to various discussions that I wouldn’t be exposed to on a U.S.-only site.
It’s a Learning Site
I learn a lot from other volunteers. They are always willing to share their knowledge and answer questions. I’ve learned some html coding in setting up project comments, using templates others have provided, and then finding resources on the Internet to figure out how to do other things. I’ve learned from discussions on various threads. And of course, I’ve learned a lot from the content of projects I’ve worked on.
The Custom Proofreading Font Looks Normal Now
DP is continually looking for ways to make the volunteers’ work easier. For example, a DP volunteer created a display font especially for proofreading, DPCustomMono2. When I first proofed with it, I was amazed at how much it helped. It clearly differentiates among I, 1, l. It distinguishes O and 0 without strain. It helps point out capital W that should be lower-case w and much more. Although at first it seemed odd looking and just plain weird, one day I realized that I had gotten used to it. It was the day I was sure DPCustomMono2 was missing and had been replaced by a “normal” font. Looking more closely, I saw the l with the curve and the 0 with the dot. DPCustomMono2 looked “normal” to me now.
Change and Accomplishments
Over my eleven years at DP, there has been a lot of change and many accomplishments. DP’s management has changed from a “benevolent dictatorship” (being run by a single overworked volunteer) to a non-profit corporation with a Board of Trustees and a General Manager. DP posted its 14,000th e-book to Project Gutenberg a few weeks before I joined. We just posted our 38,000th e-book last month. That’s 24,000 books since I joined. The site has been made available in French. Hardware, operating system, middleware, and forum upgrades have been rolled out. Now we’re gearing up to support additional character sets. The site changes, but the sense of purpose continues, as do the improvements and milestones.
This Blog was introduced in 2010, and DP volunteers were invited to contribute blog posts. Surprising myself, I found I had thoughts to share. Thoughts grew to paragraphs and to contributions. It’s a good feeling to see something I’ve worked on show up as an official blog post. It’s something I don’t think I would have attempted otherwise. Once again, although a year late, here’s another article.
Thanks for joining me on my journey through the past.
This post was contributed by WebRover, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.
Distributed Proofreaders wishes everyone a Happy New Year!
I love the principle of Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders. I made it to Round Three several years ago and then fell off volunteering because my eyesight grew unreliable. It made a big difference in diffs and this was embarrassing. It would cost me out of pocket to get an exam and glasses, but you know, that could be my resolution for this year. Thank you.
Your thoughts echo those of many other volunteers, WebRover, thank you so much for taking the time to so eloquently write about DP and what it means for us. robgradens, have you tried smooth reading–you can enlarge the copy as big as you need to comfortably read the words? And of course, thanks LCantoni for facilitating the blog.
I haven’t tried Smooth Reading, but it sounds like a viable alternative. Thanks.
Webrover, I echo Jacqueline’s comment above. Well-said–and thank you for sharing your thoughts. The community and the feeling that I’m doing something that matters is why I have stayed with DP for so long. I’m only active in two forums, but that’s ok with me. The Smooth-Reading Pool is where I’m happy and content, and I get to nitpick to my heart’s content. ^_^
robgradens, come join us in Smooth-reading. It’s a lot of fun!