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h2g2: an update

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Sophie Walpole | 18:26 UK time, Thursday, 20 August 2009

slide1_hg.pngThe first stage of the MOT for h2g2 was held last week. Taking part were representatives from strategy, audience research, commissioning and of course the h2g2 team themselves led by Nick. The opening MOT session usually takes about two hours and then we agree a timetable for reporting and next steps. Those of us who lead the reviews try to make the atmosphere in the room positive and collaborative in order to really dig into the issues as honestly and objectively as possible. Here are some of the headlines...

In terms of audience size and appreciation h2g2 does well (150k or so weekly users) and is clearly much loved by those who use it (and thanks to all of you who contributed so thoughtfully to this blog). Here are some of the slides from the audience research presentation and below them some of the thoughts and questions that came out of the discussion.

slide2_hg.png

slide3_hg.png

What works?

The editorial quality of the best of The Guide, the "serendipity factor" and the very strong, collaborative community.

What needs improving?

The look and feel is woefully outdated now - but thankfully the new design is in hand. Links to the rest of BBC Online and the BBC's output could be improved.

What is the strategic fit?

This was the longest part of the discussion. h2g2 was brought into the BBC in another era, and while the community is strong and purposeful and the Guide has some great content, it is very hard to describe what it is to anyone unfamiliar with it. While h2g2 does to some degree "inform, educate or entertain" is this enough in itself to justify future funding? How can we build on the welcoming and collaborative atmosphere of the community? Can it be used to reach out to new users and introduce them to the benefits of online interactivity? Lots of questions. Our next task is to set about finding the answers...


Sophie Walpole is a Portfolio Executive, BBC Online.

Ed's note: Nick Reynolds is away on holiday at the moment but will be back in a week or so and will let us know more about future plans for h2g2. (PM)
Ed's update: I should have credited the "42" image used in the first slide at the top of the post. It was created by Wikipedia user Martinultima and posted under this licence: Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Apologies and thanks to Shoobot for pointing this out. The original image can be found here. (PM)

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    If Auntie doesn't want h2g2 I for one would be happy to dump the content into a wiki...

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    What needs improving?

    *cough* the search engine *cough*

    improving the hit rate on external *cough,cough* google *cough* search engines...

    The salt is fine... http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/alabaster/A49292724

    Milla

  • Comment number 4.

    Come now Brianist your contribution to h2g2 hardly warrants an opinion.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/MP1279090

  • Comment number 5.

    "...thankfully the new design is in hand. " Great - as long as it includes updating the back as well as the front end. I look forward to it.

    "...it is very hard to describe what it is to anyone unfamiliar with it..." - yup, and I don't envy you that task. Still, you are asking the right questions to ensure that we stick around. I hope that we can trust you to remember that just because you can't describe it, doesn't mean it's not great (with apologies for double negatives there).

    This has been worded quite positively and I look forward to the next set of updates on the MOT.

    Vip

  • Comment number 6.

    You asked, so I'll answer...

    How can we build on the welcoming and collaborative atmosphere of the community?
    Perhaps by creating a link on the BBC main page...something like 'what are people talking about today'? For instance, many of the h2g2 conversations I've been on these past couple of weeks have been about the US health care discussions, including the bashing of the NHS, who the heck is Larouche, and other 'hot' topics. Why not highlight that?

    Can it be used to reach out to new users and introduce them to the benefits of online interactivity?
    First of all, the search engine...oy. And why is it that h2g2 isn't google-searchable? That seems to be a huge issue, I would think. I also think you might want to stick something in the next reprint of the books, or into the DVD case for the movie. Just the logo and the website URL and maybe something like 'find the Guide online at (logo) www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2" (you can give me my consultant's fee for that later :-)! )

  • Comment number 7.

    You've got an online resource that you've given very little attention or funding for most of the decade.

    Regardless of the lack of attention, it's built up a loyal user-base (and judging by the stats, lots of non-regular interest) and thousands of people have used their time and effort to create an interesting, informative and entertaining resource.

    What do you do? It looks like you're trying to justify dropping it.

    With funding and attention, you could've had Wikipedia, Myspace and Yahoo! Answers rolled into one. What you've got is something lesser than all three, but still more than the sum of it's parts.

    Rather than asking "can we justify keeping h2g2 on", you could do with asking "can we justify letting a golden egg slip through our fingers AGAIN?"

    Still, never mind. I suppose you need license payer's cash to fund another interminable season of "Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps" instead.

  • Comment number 8.

    "...it is very hard to describe what it is to anyone unfamiliar with it..."

    I am a Chemical Engineer..every Chemical Engineer has been asked what they do and it's so difficult to explain in a few sentences because our work spreads across so many different areas and disciplines but if we disappeared little in this world would get made.

    Our target audience is ultimately everyone, there's not much in this world that we haven't had a hand in at some point.

    What am I trying to say? You don't have to be able to explain something to the nth degree for it to be useful and relevant.

    Improve the way the site works...but please keep the basic feel of it how it is don't try to make it 'hip and happening'.

    Get advertising H2G2, the 'product' is fine, it's been fine for 10years, we just need to get more people visiting.

    Build it and they will come. Let's stop this being 'the best kept secret'.

    Less talk...more doing.

  • Comment number 9.

    Re "inform, educate and entertain...": I think the side of h2g2 that involves helping people to develop their writing skills should be emphasised. I'm a professional journalist now, but h2g2 was where I first became acquainted with the idea of working through an editing process and using it to make my writing better. h2g2 was where I first dealt with rejection. As a volunteer sub-editor and as the editor of The Post, h2g2's community newsletter/literary magazine, I learned about the editing process from the other side. These skills helped me to get my first journalism jobs. There's nothing like a supportive community that will encourage you to write and engage in detailed editorial back-and-forth--and given that the BBC's usual format of delivering information doesn't necessarily involve that level of interactivity, h2g2 adds something unique.

  • Comment number 10.

    "Improve the way the site works...but please keep the basic feel of it how it is don't try to make it 'hip and happening'."

    As 3dots says don't go making h2g2 modern now because as someone on h2g2 said to me "todays best is tomorrows memories". Make h2g2 timeless, keep the feel of sturdyness and reliability and uniqueness. Keep it line with DNA's vision and iI think people will be ok.

  • Comment number 11.

    I'm rather annoyed at that questionnaire response about taxpayer's and
    licence payer's money being wasted. The BBC has a broad range of content, and it's not all aimed at everyone (for instance, I personally think most of BBC Three's programming is utterly dreadful and that the money might be better spent).

  • Comment number 12.

    "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" comes to mind. In my opinion & that of many other hooters, the only parts of h2g2 that are broke are:

    *The Non Search Engine function, which rather defeats the object of being a Guide to Life, Universe & Everything*

    *The seeming reversal of it being a self-moderating site.

    *The fact that whenever an Official BBC statement is made on Announcement thread, we are no longer allowed to reply!!!

    So; if Auntie Beeb really is broke, please don't worry about spending cash on modernising us/sexing us up/whatever, we are pretty good at doing that ourselves on a voluntary basis. Just sort out the above & let us get on with it, please!

    (By the way, h2g2 *is* Googlable where i live (Ireland)

    zdt

  • Comment number 13.

    Just a thought, but wouldn't a spot on the front page for an iPlayer link to the radio shows be worthwhile?

    Or at least when it is repeated on the radio and is therefore on the iPlayer, it could be highlighted both to AND from the H2G2 front page... Though a permanent presence would be lovely :-)

  • Comment number 14.

    I will echo the thoughts of others, If it aint broke, don't fix it.

    Hootoo needs to be timeless, right now it is stuck in the past.but it has the feel of something from a bygone era, when things were built to last. I would hate for the site to lose that feeling. We know that there are little bits need fixing, sure we could do with a working search function and the site needs a lick of paint. But that's all. don't ruin it.

  • Comment number 15.

    Montana Redhead wrote:

    >>Perhaps by creating a link on the BBC main page...something like 'what are people talking about today'?


    There *is* a link to h2g2 on the BBC Homepage. (Check 'Add more to this page - and tick the "Weird and Wonderful" box) The h2g2 Front Page articles from the Edited Guide are showcased here, with other selected entries. That is why the Edited Guide entries have to meet such high standards. It is possibly where we get the most visits to the site from.

  • Comment number 16.

    I was recently reading an article on another website, talking about the difficulty of dealing with trolls and building a community. The interesting thing was just how many of the solutions suggested h2g2 already did. Hootoo has remarkably few problems with trolls.

    I think this is something the Beeb should be shouting from the rooftops: the relatively easily, it's managed to created the sort of friendly, open community most people would give up limbs for. We look after each other, back in the day when kids were allowed on, people kept an eye on them and in very rare cases when something untoward was going on, it was stopped very quickly. We're invested in our community and look for ways to make it better, as the comments on the original MOT blog showed. That in and of itself is something the BBC should be cherishing.

    As others have said, the reason it's hard to come up with a specific fit and purpose to h2g2 is because there isn't one. We are open to just about everyone (though conspiracy theorists tend to have a hard time) and there are parts of the site for every interest.

    It was intended to be a Guide to Life, the Universe and Everything and that's exactly what we are. Ask a question in Ask h2g2 and no matter how obscure the topic, you will get an answer - seriously, try it - and this is because of the breadth of knowledge members have, thanks to their diversity. Not having a specific target demographic is sometimes a very good thing.

    As for things that could be made better, we're a pretty low-maintenance bunch but search and edit post functions would be handy.

    Iago

  • Comment number 17.

    I'd like to make a plea for taking care of the existing h2g2 community through this process of change. Many of us feel deeply about things that affect the site and the community (remember what happened when the profanity filter was introduced?). Keeping the goodwill of the community seems a high priority. Talk to us about what is going on, keep us in the loop, and use our various realms of expertise. Please don't foist radical change on us without any warning. I know that h2g2 is short staffed at the moment (even more than usual), so please make use of the large number of formal and informal volunteers on the site who love the place and want to help make it even better.

  • Comment number 18.

    Can't say I feel exactly optimistic when I see h2g2 summed up in poorly designed snazzy graphical sound bites, comprising one box full of little green speech bubbles, labelled, 'positive verbatim themes', and another box full of little lilac speech bubbles labelled, 'negative verbatim themes'

    I must be getting old.

  • Comment number 19.

    "The look and feel is woefully outdated now - but thankfully the new design is in hand."

    Anyone else notice how much the bbc blogs look like alabaster? *whistle*

  • Comment number 20.

    No, you aren't getting old. Effers.

    'Reach' ' Market' etc ****-words all of them. One can only hope that Seetha etc are only using these words and phrases 'because they have to' and it's all 'hoop jumping'.

    The world has to have procedures for everything which destroys the creativity in everything.

    Ever since Birt got his hands onto the BBC it's got worse.

    Let's see what happens after the MOT hoop-jumping box has been ticked and the people running H2G2 can get back to designing the new site etc.

    As usual this depresses me:

    "Taking part were representatives from *strategy*, *audience research*, *commissioning*."

    I might be far-wide of the mark but I would bet they have been through the courses and got the qualifications to remove any creativity and just go through the 'processes' that are used to create a strategy based on 'the vision' and 'the goal'.

    Ag, I'm off. I start getting depressed when I realise everything's run by essentially admin people rather than the people who know what they are doing (hiya Nick!).

    Sometimes I just want to shout 'Go away and let me do my job!'

  • Comment number 21.


    ~Anyone else notice how much the bbc blogs look like alabaster? *whistle*~

    *starts to shudder*

  • Comment number 22.

    Come on Magwitch, finally Brunel has been condemned for the ugliness that it is ;-)

  • Comment number 23.

    Just because it's been the same for a few years is NOT a reason for changing something (unless you are trying to sell a new car). Does a Fender Stratocaster (or an AK47 for that matter) look 'outdated'? Both have been around for sixty years or more - virtually unchanged.

    As T&Y said "If it aint broke - don't fix it.

  • Comment number 24.

    I say bring back official support for Goo and framed pages. Browsers have come a long way since they were accused of "causing incompatibilities".

    Better still, rather than designing a corporate-style front page why not simply design a reliable CCS2 or CSS3 tool to allow users to design their own page layouts, colour schemes etc.

    Fundamentally, no redesign should ever give the end user fewer options.

  • Comment number 25.

    The first slide uses an image taken from Wikipedia without attribution. Under the terms of the file's licenses, you need to acknowledge the author (User:Martinultima). The original file is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Answer_to_Life.png

  • Comment number 26.

    Sophie:

    Thanks for the excellent update!!!!

    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 27.

    #25 Shoobot
    Thanks for pointing this out. I've now added a note at the end of the entry.

  • Comment number 28.

    End of lunchbreak. No time for detailed comment. Glad to be consulted. Wonder what responsibility BBC has for care of a community, albeit on line. Can it be carefully transplanted elsewhere without damage?

  • Comment number 29.

    I think some of H2G2's problems could be sorted by the following...
    - Replace the header & footer for the new/current template version.
    - Integrate the search H2G2 facility into the main BBC search. This would help make the site more accessible to wider visitors of bbc.co.uk.
    - Upgrade the membership/login system to use the new version currently on the iplayer boards (where the login & register links are in the header). If H2G2 is being updated this may as well be done at the same time.
    ...with these sorted I think it would improve the site without resorting to anything too radical/drastic which could alienate long term contributors.

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    Just to respond quickly to some of the points above.

    I'd like to defend my colleagues from strategy/commissioning/market research from 3dots comment above. For one thing they have been supportive and constructive through the MOT.

    And for another one of the reasons that h2g2 has been underserved in the past is because no one has ever tried to make it fit with a bigger BBC strategy. It will be easier to support h2g2 if it fits with some of BBC Online's bigger aims. If I want more resource to go into it then I have to justify that - and it's not enough to say "I think it's a good community" - resource is allocated according to bigger priorities. So if h2g2 can be hooked into those it will be easier to support it.

    My number one task for now is to do the refresh of the site. And we'll be talking to the h2g2 community about the refresh - on h2g2 itself - as we already have been doing.

    Thanks for all your comments. The MOT was a good experience (for me anyway) and we now have to build on it.

  • Comment number 32.

    I've had a look at H2G2 on a number of occaisions, what I fail to understand is why it is being paid for by the BBC licence fee, and how it fits into the BBC Trusts guidelines of what BBC content should be.

  • Comment number 33.

    To add to my above post I would cite

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/A56598015

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/A583300

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/A56198587

    How do these articles, or the discussions following them fit into the BBC output?

  • Comment number 34.

    What! Someone is daring to diss The Joy of Socks? It's one of our signature articles.

    Anyway, I'll see that, and raise you

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A3682352 - Knocking on Doors
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A352739 - Spoons
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A16832117 - The Wick End of Candles at the Close of a Long Night
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A22084625 - The Campaign to Abolish Slavery
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A3204983 - My Termination
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A4326509 - She is NOT a Retard
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A4596735 - The Decipherment of Linear B
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A51606777 - 'Strange Fruit' - The Billie Holiday Song

    I'll stop there. I could keep going.

    You'll notice I've mixed the Edited Guide and the Underguide. Unlike some, I think the distinction is useful, but I agree that the Underguide is excellent, and we should be proud to showcase it.

    TRiG.

  • Comment number 35.

    #31, Nick sorry to butt in (exceedingly off-topic) but I was looking to see where you're lurking and found you here. I'll be quick. What's up with the BBC HD PQ Blog? Have you closed it, is it being censored, or is there a 500 comment limit beyond which additional ones disappear into a Black Hole (i.e. 501-524)? Can you fix, or reopen, it please? Thanks.

  • Comment number 36.

    #35 - sorry Nick, there's now 2 pages on that Blog - just discovered how to get to p2.

  • Comment number 37.

    I think it's great that Nick has learned something from his POV experience and has chosen to communicate with the h2g2 community via their own preferred medium. ;-)

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 39.

    Quoted from Nick Reynolds:
    "My number one task for now is to do the refresh of the site. And we'll be talking to the h2g2 community about the refresh - on h2g2 itself - as we already have been doing."

    May I ask, Nick, why you didn't talk to the message board community on the message boards themselves when doing your consultation about message boards? We were forced to sign up to your blogs in order to comment.
    'Ö'

  • Comment number 40.

    Leaping Badger:

    1. You're off topic.
    2. It is untrue that I didn't talk to POV community on the POV boards. In fact I've lost count of the number of comments I left about the subject on the POV boards.

    Any more comments like this will be off topic and removed.

  • Comment number 41.

    Yes, tis true, Nick did talk to us on POV - many many times. But he made it very clear that he would rather talk on blogs. And he never started a thread on the Television Board where he would have reached the vast majority of POVers and got the most comprehensive response.

    Hope Badger sees this before it's modded ...

    Hi Nick, welcome back btw.

  • Comment number 42.

    "What needs improving?"

    The bbc staff attitude to readers, posters, listeners, is a top priority,.


    Or is it?

  • Comment number 43.

    Nick, re: "In fact I've lost count of the number of comments I left about the subject on the POV boards."

    There's a big difference between just putting a comment on a thread and actually returning to acknowledge responses to that comment. I have noticed a tendency towards "Seagull consultation*" amongst BBC staff who show a preference for the Blogs.

    (*Drop "wisdom" from a height and never return to it...)

  • Comment number 44.

    If you look through the comments on various BBC blogs you'll appreciate the strength of h2g2 ~ people come back ~ people respond ~ and people are (usually) polite.

  • Comment number 45.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 46.

    Hootoo needs to be timeless, right now it is stuck in the past.but it has the feel of something from a bygone era, when things were built to last. I would hate for the site to lose that feeling. We know that there are little bits need fixing, sure we could do with a working search function and the site needs a lick of paint. But that's all. don't ruin it.[Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 47.

    If the BBC doesn't keep h2g2 then it will have one less online user..as it's the only BBC site I regularly visit EVERY day without fail apart from the news section

  • Comment number 48.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 49.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

 

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