Distributed Proofreaders sends its 20,000th ebook off to Project Gutenberg

Today the counter for public domain e-books at Distributed Proofreaders says: “20,000 titles preserved for the world!” At the top of the Recently Completed Titles list is Niederl√ɬ§ndische Volkslieder by Hoffmann von Fallersleben, though I don’t know if that is the official #20,000.

Project Gutenberg expects to post its 30,000th English language ebook somewhere during this week. Late last year Distributed Proofreaders produced its 500th Dutch language ebook, Vanden Vos Reynaerde, of which I was one of the two post-processors (together with the mysteriously named Clog, who may have put in one or two hours more work than I, he said understatingly).

Distributed Proofreaders started in 2001 (the same year as Wikipedia). They were crowd-sourced projects 5 years before the term was invented by a Wired editor. Before Distributed Proofreaders it took volunteers about 40 hours to produce a single ebook for Project Gutenberg. This was a problem as volunteers often lost interest half way through, and abandoned projects without notification. Distributed Proofreaders doubled and in some instances tripled the production time, but was nevertheless a better proposition for volunteers. An ebook project got split into pages, and people could work on as little as a single page and still be productive. It then took a single person again to ‘glue’ those pages back together again in a single ebook, but by then a lot of the work had already been done.

The success of this new model is shown in the amount of books produced. Of the about 30,000 ebooks published by Project Gutenberg since 2001, two-thirds were produced by Distributed Proofreaders.

A welcome side-effect, the Project Gutenberg people assure us, is that the Distributed Proofreaders produced ebooks are of a consistent and high quality. Another side-effect is that this production model makes it easier to tackle difficult books.

Project Gutenberg started publishing electronic books before anyone else, in 1970, when then-student Michael Hart got a present of lots of computer time on the then nascent internet, which he used to publish out-of-copyright books there.

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