Ben Crowder

More on Unbindery

For the first year doing the Mormon Texts Project, our process went like this: Volunteers would tell me they were ready for a batch. I would send them a range of five page numbers (145-149, for example) and a text file containing the unproofed text for those pages. (I would also track this in a Google spreadsheet.) The volunteer would then go to the book in Google Books, open the text file in a text editor, and proof the text. After they finished, they would email the text file back to me and I would assign them a new batch. Rinse and repeat.

Hello, overhead. So I started working on Unbindery, a web app to automate almost all of this. This is what it looked like a couple weeks ago (a functional but completely unpolished bare-bones app):

Ew. I was kind of disappointed about the project — it was moving incredibly slowly, I didn’t really care about it anymore, etc. — and I had made up my mind to let it quietly fall by the wayside.

Then I was at the temple two weeks ago and got a clear impression that I wasn’t going to get off the hook that easily, and that I needed to keep going with MTP and finish Unbindery. With that impression came some inspiration on how to polish the app, and I’ve been working on it since then. Here’s what it looks like now:

For the past week we’ve been using it for MTP work, and since then our productivity has totally skyrocketed. Here are my educated guesses on why:

  1. Smaller chunks. Volunteers proof one page at a time instead of five. It’s easier and, because it’s easier, volunteers proof more than before.

  2. Progress bars. Since volunteers can see their progress visually, there’s more of a drive to keep proofing so they can make the black bar go all the way to the end.

  3. Scoreboard and leaderboard. Volunteers get points every time they finish proofing a page. With the leaderboard, there’s competition, and already I’ve seen an increase in productivity because of this (at least subconsciously).

  4. Convenience. Since Unbindery is a web app, volunteers can proof pages anywhere, instead of having to download/upload text files and all that.

There’s also a new feature I added today, where volunteers can see how much of a given project they proofed:

This way there’s more of a sense of ownership to the work. We’ll see how it goes.

Like I said a few days ago, we went from taking eight months per book to a few days per book. My volunteers have proofed 373 pages in the last week, and I’m now scrambling to get enough books into Unbindery so we don’t run out. That’s a very different problem from the stagnation I had a month or two ago. (Yes, it’s a good problem to have.)

For those interested in this sort of thing, we have openings for three or four more volunteers. Email me if you’re interested.


  1. Eric Heaps

    You got me back involved by doing it this way, and, sadly, the competition element does drive me :P. That and I get caught up in the books and want to keep reading them. Had somebody proofing the same book as me today for awhile and it drove me crazy skipping pages, but I survived.

  2. Kurt

    Any chance I can harness that Unbindery goodness for some family history scans I’ve got?

  3. Joshua Dance

    Awesome. Congrats on making a sweet tool and using it for a great project.

  4. Lindsay

    I wish I had time to volunteer because I would love to read these books — my husband will kill me if I do anything but thesis until it’s done. But I just wanted to say that this mix of technology and behavioral economics was really fascinating to read about. Well done, you (and God, I guess, since it sounds like he helped too :) ).

  5. Ben Admin

    Eric: Mwahaha. :)

    Kurt: Yep, I’ll be releasing it as open source on Github once I clean the code up a bit.

    Joshua: Thanks!

    Lindsay: Thanks! And we’ll still be doing this after you finish your thesis. ;)

  6. Emmy Southworth

    Any news on Github? We'd love to use this at the Church History Library in Salt Lake for crowdsourcing.

  7. Ben Crowder Admin

    Soon. :) I've got a few other projects I have to wrap up before I can get to Unbindery, but it's on the radar. (I need to clean up the code a bit and add some admin screens.)

  8. Bryce Beattie

    Did you ever get the code up on GitHub? Would you ever need help fixing bug/adding features. It looks like you’ve done a great job, but I’m a php programmer by trade, and I’d love to help out somehow.

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