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Just One Page a Day 389

Charles Franks writes "Two years ago I started building an online proofreading system as a way to help Project Gutenberg (PG) get more books online: Distributed Proofreaders (DP). The concept is simple, we scan books and load the image and OCR output for each page into the online system. Next, proofreaders compare the OCR text to the image making any corrections as necessary, each page gets looked at twice. Finally the output from the site is massaged into a PG e-text and submitted to PG for posting to the archive. Now, nearly 600 books and a lot of PHP code later, we have snuggled into our new home which is graciously provided by the Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg. Now that we have 'real' resources available to us (the original site ran on a Pentium 200 over my 128kbps upstream cablemodem) I would like to invite the online community at large to help us put even more books online. To this end I would like to ask everyone to do 'Just One Page a Day'. Thank you, Charles Franks"
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Just One Page a Day

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  • Stop reading this (Score:5, Insightful)

    by XiC ( 207670 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:38AM (#4624954)
    And start reading a page!
    After that come back and you may continue();
    • by H0ek ( 86256 )
      In fact, I feel it would be a Good Thing(tm) for our friendly Slashdot host to stick the link to this project into their Quick Link section on the main page.

      Of course, I've already bookmarked the page, but that's on one machine. What happens six months down the line when I need to rebuild my bookmarks? Search for the article on Slashdot? Ick.
    • Proofing FAQ (Score:3, Informative)

      by Wanker ( 17907 )
      Stop reading this
      And start reading a page!
      After that come back and you may continue();

      ...but first read the Proofing FAQ on the site and save yourself some confusion: []

      Especially read section 5 for some of their typesetting-to-ASCII conventions which would be non-obvious otherwise.

  • by Harald74 ( 40901 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:39AM (#4624962) Homepage Journal
    ... which is renowned for it's spelling prowess? ;)

  • Excellent (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by drhairston ( 611491 )
    After some consideration, I propose that this system should be applied to Slashdot stories! Each Slashdot story, after being submitted by an editor, should be reviewed by at least two readers before being posted in order to correct inadvertent spelling mistakes and story duplicity. Thank you sir, for inspiration!
  • by Adam Rightmann ( 609216 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:42AM (#4624972)
    Sounds like Gary Condit's plan for extramarital affairs.
  • OCR Software (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Zach Garner ( 74342 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:42AM (#4624973)
    Is there any worth-while open source OCR software? How about reasonably priced closed source OCR software for *BSD or Linux?
    • Re:OCR Software (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:53AM (#4625093)
      Generally not used at dp. Mostly uses Abbyy Fine Reader ( which is commercial.

      gocr ( is open-source, and includes interesting bits like deskewing.

      As a proofreader, I really appreciate the best ocr, and the free guys are not the best.

    • by timothy ( 36799 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:13AM (#4625230) Journal
      Though the web page was last updated in July, I find several happy references (and some less happy) to "Clara," a GPL'd OCR program.

      Here's the web page:

  • Obvious... (Score:5, Funny)

    by OrangeSpyderMan ( 589635 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:42AM (#4624981)
    I'm shure that buy askin teh Salshdot crowd (esp. the editturs) to help, yule improove jamatically teh kwality off you're output.

  • by ardmhacha ( 192482 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:43AM (#4624987)
    Project Gutenberg only publishes books that are out of copyright. That means Dickens is okay but you wont find the latest Stephen King
    • Sadly, copyright is an issue in this sort of work. Just because Dickens' works are no longer copyright, doesn't mean you can go and pull a Dickens novel off the library/bookstore shelf and OCR it. Publishers tend to be careful to make slight alterations to the text here and there (formatting, spelling, come clarifications and corrections) which turns a copyright-expired work into a derived work over which they own the copyright. Shitty, isn't it?

    • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @01:17PM (#4626212) Homepage
      ...Not many, but there are some Project Gutenberg books that are copyrighted and distributed with the author's permission.

      Also, Project Gutenberg of Australia [] publishes a number of works that are out of copyright in Australia, but still under copyright in the U.S. It is a copyright infringement for readers in the U. S. to download these works, which include, among others, Hervey Allen's _Anthony Adverse_(1933), F. Scott Fitzgerald's _The Great Gadsby_ (1944), Khalil Gibran's _The Prophet_ (1923), D. H. Lawrence's _Lady Chatterley's Lover_ (1928), all of George Orwell's novels, most of Virginia Woolf's, etc. etc.

      Not exactly "the latest Stephen King" but a lot newer than Dickens.
  • by SuperDuG ( 134989 ) < minus distro> on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:45AM (#4625011) Homepage Journal
    Where's the politics? Where's the controversy? Wasn't this posted before?

    Constructive criticism points me in this general direction, GOOD STORY /.!!! The above mentioned questions are null and void for a story like this. You're giving massive exposure for a project who's main goal is to make sure that even if a book goes out of a print and all copies are burned, the book will never die. This is not a novel (no pun intended) idea, this is an actual working project in which I have used on numerous occassions. If anyone can help out I would highly encourage it, this project is about as non-crontroversial as you can get, hell you can even do grammer checks in vi OR emacs.

    Donate something, you'll feel better, money, skills, or whatever you think you can give to help them out. Donating money isn't nearly as rewarding as proofreading an OCR and knowing that generations upon generations will be able to see it and use it.

    • Having slashdot editors post an request for proofreading does contain a certain amount of irony, if not contreversy.
    • by Cheeko ( 165493 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:19AM (#4625273) Homepage Journal
      I'm sure we can find some controversy someplace. For instance I was reading through the copyright section and I was nearly incensed at the end, seeing how long it would take for recent work to reach the public domain. For instance it will be well into the next century before something like The Lord of the Rings will be in the public domain. Under the initial copyright laws requiring a renewal it would enter the public domain in about 5-10 more years, instead of 30+. Also of note in reading the section was how the laws are constantly being changed, in what seems like an obvious attempt to PREVENT works from becoming public domain. My personal feeling on all this, is that books are supposed to be works of intelligence, why in that case would we NOT want them to be freely available to as many people as possible. Something like Project Gutenberg shows the true intillectual power of the internet, and at the same time the governments ability to get in the way.
  • by Apreche ( 239272 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:45AM (#4625013) Homepage Journal
    I think a better use of time would be to have all these programmers here develop a better OCR. Then you wouldn't need the proofreading and could just feed books into the scanner. I mean there are lots of things wrong with OCR and reasons why it can't be absolutely perfect, but it CAN bet better. If we just write one line of code a day each we'll have better OCR in no time.
    • Perhaps, but the page I just proofed was from a book publish in the 1850's, so it was not the best image quality, and still the OCR did a great job. The most common mistake I corrected was converting I's to !'s. It got right things that I had to look at pretty closely to make sure it was right.
    • No, not really (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Codex The Sloth ( 93427 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:46AM (#4625461)
      OCR Engines are not email programs. You can't just add a line of code and all of a sudden it works better. Usually you have to spend time developing a complicated algorithm. Usually this is more than a line of code. Then you have to test it against known text (ground truth) to make sure it's a benefit, rather than a problem over a broad selection of pages. It's quite often the case that something that improves one page makes another worse.

      Actually, having people make verifications against the OCR results establishes the ground truth which someone could use to improve the OCR engine so by doing a Page a Day, you are helping to make future Open Source OCR engines better.
    • by gosand ( 234100 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:58AM (#4625543)
      If we just write one line of code a day each we'll have better OCR in no time.

      OK, here's mine:

      #include stdio.h


  • Instead of proofreading the books, I think this guy is asking for his new server setup to be tested!

  • Dirtributed OCR? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by edwilli ( 197728 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:49AM (#4625054) Homepage
    Have each client do the OCR (if you can find GPL software). Or maybe there's a company willing to donate it. That way you could farm out most of the processing too.
  • Graphics (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mallfouf ( 585018 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:51AM (#4625073) Homepage
    Very good idea.
    Will there be any support for proofing in other languages (french, spanish, arabic, etc...)?
    What about books published in other countries. Would we be able to post those books if they're not copyrighted in the US but copyrighted in other countries? or vice versa.
    • Re:Graphics (Score:4, Informative)

      by dvdeug ( 5033 ) <dvdeug@em[ ].ro ['ail' in gap]> on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:23AM (#4625303)
      Will there be any support for proofing in other languages (french, spanish, arabic, etc...)?

      DP has had books in Dutch, French, Spanish and German. No Arabic - no one has mentioned being able to do it, for one thing.

      Would we be able to post those books if they're not copyrighted in the US but copyrighted in other countries?

      Project Gutenberg only worries about the US copyright. If it's not copyrighted in the US, they'll do it.
  • by tomlouie ( 264519 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:52AM (#4625081) Homepage
    What if they kept track of every time the human reader finds an OCR-error. Couldn't you then build a profile of what words/phrases/letters the OCR software has the most problems with?

    Then, couldn't you just selectively have the humans review the highest probably error prone sections of a book, instead of every single word of every single page?

    What do you think?
  • Read? (Score:5, Funny)

    by uneek ( 107167 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @10:58AM (#4625118)
    Don't you mean run a compare tool in the background using CPU idle time right?

    You don't actually want us to read a
    page of literature do you?
  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:02AM (#4625147) Homepage Journal
    I was thinking -

    In order to make the proofing faster, maybe you could OCR a document 2 or 3 times, and then have only the disagreements proofread.

    We use omnipro here at work, and I'm surprised at how well it works, even recreating page formats.

    Of course, it doesn't work 100%, but it sure does get about 95%. If you were to OCR a document 2-3 or more times, and most of it was identical, it would save a lot of time if you had humans going over only the parts that the different OCRs didn't agree on.

    Steve Lefevre

    • In order to make the proofing faster, maybe you could OCR a document 2 or 3 times, and then have only the disagreements proofread.

      This may eliminate some of the OCR errors, but it won't speed up the process because a good editor reads every word. You are asking for more errors when you ask your editors to become lazy and skip words.

      Most OCR will probably misread the same character incorrectly every time (read 'B' as '13', for example). That kind of error will not be flagged, and will be overlooked by editors who are used to only looking for flagged errors.

    • by noodlez84 ( 416138 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @12:13PM (#4625629)
      Although your method of "proofreading" is actually useful for most documents, it is _not_ a good method for Project Gutenberg (as a contributor to DP, I can attest to this).

      The works put out by Project Gutenberg are going to be around for decades, if not, centuries. 95% accuracy is shit for those purposes. An issue that comes up on the PG mailing list (gutvol-d) every once in a while is whether or not to correct spelling mistakes that appear in the real, dead-tree versions of the books. What if, for example, it's obvious to almost any reader that the author meant the word "by" instead of "bye". Surprisingly (or not, depending on the way you look at it), the general response is *not* to correct those kinds of "mistakes". The rationality being that PG is -not- an editor, but simply a library (which is actually its legal status).

      So, in short, for works with millions of characters that are going to be around for many decades, 95% accuracy. The "bar" might be high, and, when proofreading for DP, I strive for 100%.
    • [i] it doesn't work 100%, but it sure does get about 95%[/i]

      THAT IS 2000/20=100 errors per page.(That is the way OCR works, if it 99% ok, it is still 20 errors per page.

      And that doesn't include "strange" formatting like things scribbleing things in margins or heading above pages, italics and extra spaces.

      By the way you are not supposed to correct spelling errors made in the original pager. especially since this is often "old" english.
  • by CatWrangler ( 622292 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:05AM (#4625173) Journal
    The new congress might extend copyright protection to Shakespeare's great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandson's nephew's out of wedlock kid's son whose paternity is in question.
  • will this work? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by smeg168 ( 92477 )
    I have a little problem with the logistics here. I can understand why every page is being sent to 2 people for proof reading in an effort to eliminate errors, but the problem arises that these arent 2 computers doing simple computations, if both of these people have different versions of a corrected page, as im sure they will. what happenes then? who does the final proof reading, and if there is someone doing the final proof reading that kinda eliminates the need for the distributed part. I could almost guarentee that any 2 people checking the same full page of data in their free time will find/create different errors. I hope I'm missing some large concept here, becouse i do love PG, they keep my palm stacked with good reading for free.
    • Re:will this work? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GiMP ( 10923 )
      These are humans comparing identical books to text.. if they have the IDENTICAL book they won't have this problem.

      Gutenburg often has published the same 'book' but of different publications due to slight variations in the text.
    • Re:will this work? (Score:4, Informative)

      by clonebarkins ( 470547 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:32AM (#4625378)
      who does the final proof reading, and if there is someone doing the final proof reading that kinda eliminates the need for the distributed part.

      charlz has a workflow diagram [] for the works that go through his site. As you see, each book has a project manager, who has final processing/proofing responsibilities.

      Also, I'm not sure you get the idea of two rounds of proofing. They don't see different versions of a corrected page -- the first one sees the straight OCR output (or, sometimes the project manager will do some automated corrections on it first) and then the first round proofer edits the text. Then, when all the pages have gone through the first round, the second round proofer reads the text as it was edited by the first round proofer. This helps because it builds off the edits of the first round proofer and allows the second round proofer to perhaps catch things not caught in the first round.

      When proofreading, you're never going to capture all the mistakes with one pair of eyes. A distributed proofreading effort is very beneficial to the goals and efforts of Project Gutenberg, and I applaud the efforts of all those who have proofed even one page.

      Having said that, I've done over 300 (under a different name).

  • I think he was just watching all his volunteers working on one page a day and thought:
    "Imagine a beowulf cluster of these!"
  • by dudemaster ( 228232 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:19AM (#4625271)
    How about this.... use an open source speech synthesis tool/API that can play these text books (especially as more get added) over a PDA, laptop, etc while cruising in on the way to work and home. Something like:
    (no plug, just did a quick freshmeat search)

    would be pretty cool to get some good novels read to you w/o buying the tapes.

  • by WIAKywbfatw ( 307557 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:23AM (#4625304) Journal
    Sure, it starts as just one a day. But, before you know it, you're doing two, then five, then ten.

    You stop going out with friends or even returning their calls, personal hygiene takes a back seat and even Counter Strike and Warcraft III become unappealling. And, finally, after countless chapters and hundreds of pages you realise that you're friends were right: you're an addict.

    Just one page a day, huh? Yeah, right.

    Opium. Pot. Cocaine. Now pages.

    It might not be your older brother's drug, or your Daddy's or your grandfathers, but, trust me, this stuff can be dangerous.

    Do what I do. Just say no.
  • by Alethes ( 533985 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:29AM (#4625348)
    Is there a list of books that are out of copyright and perhaps the status of those books on the Gutenberg Project website or anywhere else?
  • by Niles_Stonne ( 105949 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:31AM (#4625361) Homepage
    This a great project... But after doing my first page I found a couple of possible enhancements.

    Add a "Quality" stat for each person. Base it on the number of things that were missed(another words, the number of things that the second-string proofer finds).

    Use more than just two proofers. Have one "First String" proofer, who could be anybody, but have two second string proofers (who both get the output of the first string proofer). If the second string proofers have any differences in their output(with the exception of white space), then another second string proofer should be used. Only proofers with a certain quality rating(slightly higher than what a newbie's would be) should be able to do the second string proofing.

    The "User rating" should be a combination of the number of pages done and the quality rating of those pages. Note that quality rating would only be increased by doing first string proofing. Page count would go up for any proofing.

    Quality could be a float, starting at 1.0 for newbies. Every page that is completed and has a second-string person check would then go into a calculation like:

    _new_quality_ = _old_quality_ + (0.01 - (_num_differences_between_their_proof_and_final_pr oof_ / 1000))

    Thus, for every page proofed that requires NO corrections by the second string the user's quality would go up by 0.01. ( 0.01 - 0/1000 = 0.01 )

    if there were more than ten errors in the proofing, their quality would go down ( 0.01 - 10/1000 = 0.00 ), (0.01 - 20/1000 = -0.01)

    Have a threshold of 1.10 or some such for second string proofers... That way it would require the user to do at least 10 perfect pages, or 20 pages with 5 errors, etc, before they could do the second string proofing.

    Obviously, make sure that the second string proofer can't see who the first string proofer is.

    The "User Rating" (mentioned above) could just be a multiplication of the Quality and Page Counts...
  • ASCII Only? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vondo ( 303621 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:34AM (#4625389)
    Reading the blurb at the page-a-day site, it says ASCII only where bold is converted to ALL CAPS, the English pound symbol is rendered as "L," etc. No preservation of figures, drawings, or photos.

    This seems very short sighted to me. Devices that can only display ASCII are becoming rarer and rarer. Why not, instead, store docs in some sort of SGML format to handle the special markup (which must be rare) and then down convert to ASCII when needed.

    I've tried reading these things on my Palm. Very difficult. But if I could get a nice typeset PDF version, that would be a whole different story (no pun intended).
    • Re:ASCII Only? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Robotech_Master ( 14247 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:42AM (#4625440) Homepage Journal
      Check out Black Mask [] for a lot of nicely-formatted pubdom e-books, including many from Gutenberg but also some that Gutenberg doesn't have.
    • Re:ASCII Only? (Score:4, Informative)

      by rusty0101 ( 565565 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @12:53PM (#4626013) Homepage Journal
      When the project was started, SGML varients were not widly used, and the option of including images was a concern for storage space.

      Using things like BOLD and L for british pound were workarounds to have a common way of presenting the data. I suspect that it would be trivial to build a formating filter in perl, or another language that would convert BOLD to bold though it would require a bit more work to recognize that it really should be Bold or even that it should be BOLD.

      Converting monetary symbols would require a bit more work, but would also not be impossible.

      Re-inserting any diagrams, figures, illustrations or other graphics would require more work. If the original scanned pages are still available, as this part of the project suggests, even that would not be impossible.

      One variation is the free bookmobile project that is out there. They use scans of the original book to build a new book for kids. Preparation for printing involves downloading the book over the internet, via a dsl speed sattelite link. I am not sure however if the working material is suitable for e-book reading however.

    • Re:ASCII Only? (Score:3, Informative)

      by quinto2000 ( 211211 )
      From actually proofing a few pages, this depends entirely on the particular project and when it was started. Some of the newer ones allow special characters.
  • by Lovepump ( 58591 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @11:37AM (#4625413)
    How long before someone writes a script to hit "Save and get another Page" and they shoot to the top of the ladder claiming to have proofread 13,450,213 pages per day...

  • by mttlg ( 174815 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @12:01PM (#4625559) Homepage Journal
    I have a few books that are old enough to be well out of copyright (and obscure enough not to be found online already), and for a while I have been considering typing them in. OCR would be a lot easier, but getting a good image from a flatbed scanner would seriously damage most of these books. Even a handheld scanner would be impractical in some cases, and a digital camera seems even less likely to work. Is there any reasonable way to scan in pages from something like a 100+ year old 1.5" thick wire-bound paperback book that only opens about 60 degrees before putting up a fight?
    • by jpetts ( 208163 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @12:19PM (#4625697)
      Is there any reasonable way to scan in pages from something like a 100+ year old 1.5" thick wire-bound paperback book that only opens about 60 degrees before putting up a fight?

      Yes indeed! *Any* decent academic library should have a photocopier which can do this. Older models tend to have a glass platen which extends right to the edge of the photocopier, and the side slopes away at around 60 degrees rather than dropping at a right angle. Newer models, such as the Minolta PS3000 will support the book in a cradle, face up, so that contact with the pages is minimised. They also tend to have a host of features, such as automagically erasing the gutter shadow that one gets with such a system.
  • by wls ( 95790 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @12:21PM (#4625715) Homepage
    It seems like every few years I turn around and notice that some massive archive collection gets sued, goes out of business, has funding pulled, gets tangled in legal action, has a university board go into panic mode, etc. and suddenly it disappears without warning or notice to the frustration of many. I'm certain you also can name a number of services, collections, and resources that spontaneously vanished when hosted at friendly sites. History has proven that despite best intentions, nothing lasts forever unless we go out of our way to protect it.

    So that work isn't lost or destroyed, are any of the mega-sized projects replicated elsewhere in the event that a "it'll never happen" situation crops up to this unsuspecting resource?
  • by gbnewby ( 74175 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @01:15PM (#4626198) Homepage
    The main Gutenberg page is slashdotted right now, but you can get nearly the same access to the books via the main ibiblio page at [], which is the main distribution site for the collection.

    It looks like the site is holding up fairly well! If you cannot get through today, though, please check back later. Slashdot effect aside, it's usually quite speedy and has a decent 'net connection. If you want to keep informed of current events, get on one of our mailing lists via (when it's not slashdotted) our subscriptions page [].

    Dr. Gregory B. Newby
    Chief Executive and Director
    Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation
    A 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization with EIN 64-6221541 // 919-962-8064

  • by tadas ( 34825 ) on Friday November 08, 2002 @02:44PM (#4626908)
    If they're looking for proofreaders here, the project is in deep trouble...

Promising costs nothing, it's the delivering that kills you.