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MOTs: Putting h2g2 through its paces

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Seetha Kumar Seetha Kumar | 13:40 UK time, Friday, 7 August 2009

One of my priorities in my first year as Controller has been to introduce a regular editorial review of every significant component of BBC Online. The BBC is about quality, trust, and relevance and these values need to be imbued across all our output.

Editorial reviews are an intrinsically creative process which needs to be embraced by site owners. The logic is simple - if you take pride in what you do, and care about your user, it is a win win. How else do we improve our offer? There must be wisdom and benefit in standing back, interrogating what we have in order to understand what's not quite working or what's working well - in which case there are shared learnings. In the end it's all about pushing ourselves to offer real utility to our users, and in a way that clarifies our point of differentiation in the market place.

It's never easy when you introduce something new. After three trial runs we have come up with a blueprint for how to run the reviews - or MOTs as we call them. I like the MOT analogy. We are all used to testing cars which have to be kept roadworthy after three years - now I am hoping that the BBC Online teams will get used to having their websites tested to ensure they serve our audiences well and meet our current quality and accessibility standards.

2cv_300.jpgAs part of the ongoing MOT process we'll be reviewing the h2g2 website next week. h2g2 is one of the BBC's few websites that has no broadcast equivalent on TV or radio, and it relies wholly on its users' contributions for its content. As such we thought it'd be good to share some of the thinking that goes into an MOT and we'd invite you to contribute to our thinking on this occasion.

The Online MOT has a core set of questions which the website owners should answer. The broad themes are:


  • Strategic fit: How does this site fit into the wider BBC Online service? Does it serve the BBC's public purposes clearly?

  • Place in the market: Where does it sit in the wider UK market? How does it relate to external sites covering similar themes?

  • Audience: What is the key audience need that the site seeks to meet? What is the target demographic?

  • Quality: Does the site clearly display the BBC's editorial values of accuracy, independence, impartiality, taste and decency.? Does the sit adhere to our publisher principles? Does it meet best practice technical, UX and accessibility standards?

So as we prepare for h2g2's MOT we'd value your comments on h2g2 to include as part of the review. We'll be following up with news on the outcome of the h2g2 MOT in more posts over the coming weeks.


Seetha Kumar is Controller, BBC Online.

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Given the existence of the much more comprehensive (although less quirky) Wikipedia, I can't see h2g2 passing the 'place in the market' test.

    There will probably be a few failings within the 'Quality' category too. The site hasn't exactly had much design love over the past few years. And whilst there are some great articles in there, they're pretty hard to find or browse.

    Strategic fit: the best hope h2g2 ever had within the BBC was fulfilling a public service to encourage and support young, new and emerging writers. However, given that the BBC saw fit to close its "Get Writing" community (see http://writersguild.blogspot.com/2004/12/bbc-get-writing-site-to-close.html), this educational remit is perhaps not such a high priority.

    Audience: This was always an odd one. Whilst the site has lots of aspiring writers, it's also full of Douglas Adams fans. And perhaps that's just too specific (or generic) and audience for a BBC service?


    So sadly, after 10 years (of which I was part of for the first five), maybe it's time to close the door on h2g2?

  • Comment number 2.

    Hello Seetha,

    I've been involved with h2g2 on and off for a number of years, although not so much recently. I thought I'd chip in a couple of thoughts under each heading to get the comments rolling.

    Strategic fit: h2g2 is related to, obviously, BBC output of long ago, from which it takes its guiding theme. I personally think that h2g2 has a lot to offer back to the wider BBC online offering - including across aspects of community management and the role of user-generated content. it's more than theoretical, though. h2g2 is a fantastic resource in its own particular way - a huge pool of Entries written to a particular style and offering a distinct experience as reader or contributor from what's available on the wider web.

    Place in the market: h2g2's content base is narrower than other online encyclopedias, but the focus is far more on the community of contributors. h2g2 goes to much greater lengths to encourage a focused, long-lived contribution from Researchers than, say, Wikipedia, where it's possible to nip in and edit a typo and run away again. h2g2 has a different concept of Entry ownership and a focus on assisting users to write to House Style and to produce compelling Entries - it's a far more supportive environment than a lot of places.

    Audience: h2g2's such a diverse site in terms of subject matter, and has a number of sub-communities each with their own flavour. I joined aged 15 (which would now not be possible), but there's a lot of older people to. It's hard to define one target audience by age or gender, but I'd suggest that you could define a core area of appeal as writers wishing to share their ideas with others and incorporate feedback.

    Quality: The BBC editorial values are very consistent with the style and nature of content on h2g2. The collaborative nature of Edited Entries, the ability for free discussion and the presence of committed groups of official Volunteers lead to a broadly safe, enjoyable and tasteful environment.

    I'll leave the ten principles for now, as my lunch break is nearng its end. Many are covered elsewhere, but I'll return to some at another time.

    Technical, UX and accessibility standards are a bit of a sticking point, but the redesign that's underway should address these.

  • Comment number 3.

    Of course the place is full of Douglas Adams fans. The whole concept of the site was partly his idea, yes content base is narrower than other online encyclopedias, but it is also a community, which other online encyclopedias, do not have, admittedly its not so much of a community as it was a couple of years ago, think this is because of the closure of branches such as get writing, and a few others that member used to use Via the SSO. .I for one hope the site stays

  • Comment number 4.

    I've been a member of h2g2 since a week after its launch, and I've watched its development pretty closely.

    Its main problem, from the BBC's point of view, seems to be that no matter how much effort the BBC put into trying to force people to try to "participate" and make the whole thing an educational experience, some of us just go there to have fun.

    The BBC came along in 2002 and introduced heavy-handed moderation policies; they ruined the original and much-loved site "skin" ("Goo"); they banned us from using our own graphics on our "User Spaces". Yet still we come. Those of us who use our Journals, or choose to make "Articles" outwith the BBC category systems for our own amusement.

    I used to participate as a volunteer, when there were enough hosts to respond to queries, and before the announcements system was changed to close threads the moment they were posted so that nobody could question the "pronouncements from on high". But in the last 4 or 5 years I just write my Journal and keep myself to myself.

    I can see that it's hard to justify the site in terms of its "fit" with the BBC's programming output. But that's not h2g2's fault. The BBC could, at virtually no cost, ask producers to create an h2g2 page for upcoming programmes and series where discussion threads could be read and answered by them on an ongoing basis. But they don't.

    h2g2 has a very loyal following; sometimes I think more than it deserves considering how the BBC treat it. For example, the "Thread Search" function broke down sometime back in 2003, a year or so after the BBC took over. They said they were "working on fixing it". It's 2009 and it's still broken. Just getting basic functionality like that would be nice, but I won't hold my breath.

  • Comment number 5.

    # Strategic fit: Well it Educates, entertains and informs. If that's not enough I don't know what is.

    # Place in the market: It is a mix of the encyclopaedia that is wikipedia with the social networking and community feel of well I can't think of another site with such a community.

    # Audience: There's the fact and fiction writers, the poets, artists, musicians and readers. There is no one group that defines hootoo.

    # Quality: We keep to the BBC rules, and the facelift should bring us within the accessibility guidelines.


    These are just my answers to the questions though. I do nt think that this is the time for the end of hootoo. I think it's time for a new beginning.

  • Comment number 6.

    I´m a Spanish citizen. I´m 42. I joined h2 in 2007. I found the place in the BBC Schooletter, it was offering places where to develop your creativity. For me h2 is a place to improve my English and my knowledge about an amazing variety of topics. Besides, the fact that it´s a community is what I mostly enjoy of the place. I value inmensely the opportunity to meet people from all around the world, each one with their idiosincrasy.
    On the other hand, and talking from a very personal point of view I must say that it has help me a lot to improve my way of arguing and to have a more flexible attitude towards other people´s opinion. Also, because of a temporary health condition that has prevented me from going out much, the place and its people have become like a family for me. A place to expand and share my joys, to reassure and find confort for my sorrows and to be or at least feel creative. And I can say without doubt that the same is felt by many others.

    The Entries and other contributions are assorted, ones more interesting than others, but everything deserves to belong to the BBC.

    I don´t understand the ending sentence of the last post. I find such warmth in h2 that in case I couldn´t come anymore to the place my memories would still be positive. It would be a hard sad loss if the place got closed as the first post suggests.

    I think that it´s a great place specially for teenagers. It can help them in many ways. All of us, but teenagers in particular, need canals to express themselves and adults´ points of view about "the life , the universe and everything"; this place fits those needs perfectly.

    It´s a great place for communication in its more general concept and also, for personal development.
    It´s a virtual community, but feelings and experiences are indeed real and "nutritious".

    María

  • Comment number 7.

    Frankie, there is one problem about wikipedia, and it´s it being a purely open source thing, without any control. You can post whatever you want, lie your head off, follow your business agenda - all you need is half a dozen buddies who have been told what to add to your post. Anyone stumbling onto it will just see how many "experts" have contributed and take it as bare truth.

    I`m not always happy about hootoo professionals censoring my vocabulary in private conversations, but as everything I post can be seen by everyone - the lesser evil I´d say.

  • Comment number 8.

    Wikipedia is known to have errors in their guides where the information they have has found to be incorrect.

    The good thing about h2g2 is that is more than writing guides but sharing information and ideas through the various conversations.

    It has many styles of writing both informal and formal and there is a wide range of talent which is shown on the The post online newspaper.

  • Comment number 9.

    Get the search function sorted out and leave it at that.

    A thread on the site has already discussed this question and we are quite happy with how it is.

    We don't want the site to have a make over like the News Magazine site or the awful face-lift of the Radio 4 website.

    Possibly hidden technical stuff that us users don't really see might need up-dating but apart from that this classic car of a site is in perfect working order.

    We are not backward at coming forward on h2g2 and there's been no major moans for sometime...apart from the 'no under 16's' rule sometime ago.

  • Comment number 10.

    in my experience, anyone who enjoys the humour, current affairs and serious side of radio four and has half a mind in the 'what, where, why, how?' areas of life will enjoy H2G2.

    It's wide-ranging, the community is welcoming and open to new people coming along and asking questions (or answering them!) and the guides (edited and under) are places for creative, factual and moreover *interesting and accurate* writing.

    It has it's faults, but I see no good reason why the BBC shouldn't nurture this unique piece of the internet and be proud of having a place of interest for all types and most ages with a conversation thread on almost any theme you could possibly want, and an entry for all the things you didn't necessarily know you needed to know about and weren't sure whether or not to ask!

  • Comment number 11.

    Also - why no H2G2 links built into the blog?

    It's little things like this that the BBC should be looking at. Linking to the Edited Guide when things can be further explained by a nice little informative page from the researchers of the Hitch hikers' Guide to the Galaxy!

  • Comment number 12.

    I'll cover the "BBC's Public Principles" (funny how the cheap & cheerful h2g2 has to be MOT'd against this as opposed to the extremely expensive and boorish Top Gear team) here, as I agree entirely with Post 4 as far as other questions go.

    * Sustaining citizenship and civil society
    > It sustains civil society by promoting a close-knit, supportive and welcoming community not seen in many other BBC boards.

    * Promoting education and learning
    > The primary function of h2g2 is to be a "Guide to Life, The Universe & Everything" - seems 100% educational to me.

    * Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence
    > It's USER-CREATED content. That's reliant on creativity. If anything, more emphasis could and should be given on the cultural creativity apparent on the site (The Post, The UnderGuide, etc) to showcase the excellent fictional content.

    * Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities
    > There are a wealth of local sub-groups on h2g2, most of whom organise regular off-site meets.

    * Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK
    > A quick check of the demographic should help. The last post Editor was an American-Canadian, the current post assistant editor is German.

    * Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services
    > This is where h2g2 falls down somewhat. The community try desperately to embrace new communications technology (specifically AV content) and the BBC ignore them as far as possible. They can't even get the search function to work.


    At the moment, the Beeb's gotten far more out of h2g2 and the community than they've gotten out of the Beeb. "Free" hosting (well, I pay my license fee) in exchange for vibrant and unique content on a volunteer basis seems like a deal that the BBC come out best from.

    As an aside, it's nice to see this page is linked in to Social Bookmarking sites. This is something we're trying to do with the h2g2 post with (guess what??) zero aid from the BBC whatsoever.

  • Comment number 13.

    Seetha, DON`T PANIC -

    I´ll just react to the three question marks in the fourth paragraph - yes, yes, and yes.

    Not as quirky as DNA´s idea of the Guide, not as stuffed-shirt-conservative as BBC is believed to be by foreigners like me...walking the tightrope, as journalist´s daily nightmare ought to be.

    Whatever I need info about, and chop-chop...I usually scan hootoo. Not only do I find facts that have been scanned by experts (Thanks, Auntie Beeb), but usually a lively discussion amongst people with coalface experience.

    To quote DNA: "We have the first snowflake - now, let´s build a blizzard"

    H2G2 has liftoff - fly us to wherever you can as you now have the stick.

    Pit

  • Comment number 14.

    In terms of strategic fit, I think h2g2 meets most, if not all, of the criteria mentioned. Regular political and philosophical debates by well-informed and passionate researchers are a major feature of the site and these debates are crucial for a civil society.

    Education and creativity are the two pillars of h2g2 and it achieves them with commensurate ease. I may have learned more in my formal education, but I've never enjoyed learning anywhere else as much as I do while reading hootoo. The site is a great place to develop creativity and artistry which shows by the fact most of its content is generated by amateurs.

    We have researchers from all over the UK and indeed all over the world. One of my favourite things about h2g2 is the ability to discuss global issues with people from all over the world. It's broadened my horizons in ways I didn't think possible when I first signed up.

    As for delivering to the public the benefits of new technology and services, I think it's fair to say h2g2 was an example of Web 2.0 long before anyone had even coined that phrase. Am I right in also saying the dna servers were a testbed for many functions later integrated into BBCi/BBC Online as a whole? The only shame is that h2g2 has fallen behind of late and now does look outdated and lacks functionality common to most sites, but I think this can be relatively easily fixed.

    h2g2's place in the market is always going to be compared to Wikipedia, other wikis and open-source software, but that's not an accurate or fair comparison. To my knowledge the website is unique and the partnering of specialised knowledge and enthusiasm of the individual contributors with the thoroughness, support and editing skills of the community creates a guide that doesn't really have a peer in the wider web.

    As others have mentioned the site doesn't really have a target audience, it's open and accessible to all. There are researchers from all over the globe, of all ages, from all different walks of life and all with different specialties.

    h2g2 undoubtedly meets the standards of the BBC, every single article in the Guide is accurate, neutral, tasteful and decent, thanks to the large numbers of volunteers who work with each entry through each stage of a thorough process. The wider community is kept within those bounds by the massively under-acclaimed Italics.

    I think there's a less objective side to the site: it feels like nowhere else on the web, it feels like an electronic home. I've been a member for over 6 years and I've got a real affinity to the place. A lot of people feel the same way, the website is very sticky and most people who stay more than a few weeks end up staying for years.

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm with others on the search function. It really needs fixing, and while you are at it, can we have StumbleUpon and Digg type links at the bottom of edited entries please. What better way to gain more users? Oh yeah, we could have the occasional mention on the radio or TV. . . . Or is that too 'out there' for a little backwater website that the BBC would be happier to disown.

  • Comment number 16.

    Its the Rev Jackruss here, Been involved in HooToo (2003) for a while now, the place is just sooo coolio, welcoming for the newcomer, a nice safe place, like a pair of comphy slippers with a hole in the toe, the type of slipper you just can't throw out!

    So don't bl**dy change the place, just allow it to improve, also we need a 3 minute tv slot, around 22.00 on a tuesday! a HooToo plug!




    RJR "the living proof"

  • Comment number 17.

    Ben's articles on this page will cover everything I'd want to say I should imagine.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A3763965

    Except perhaps that the lack of a decent search on h2g2 and the lack of automatic inclusion of edited, approved articles in the BBC's main search is really, really ... odd.

    On a personal note I find h2g2 very creatively stimulating, have learnt a great deal from it, (not just facts, but about cultures (online and offline) and writing skills), it's broadened my horizens and views.

  • Comment number 18.

    I can't help feeling this article is pre-empting that h2g2 will fail it's MOT, though maybe I'm being a bit cynical. H2G2 strikes me as having been forgotten about my most of BBC Online, and in need of repair. For instance bbc.co.uk/topics was set up (though appears to have since gone), which surely overlapped at least a bit with H2G2's content. In addition I can't say I've really noticed revamped BBC Online sections making much use of H2G2 content, though that may be due to the infrastructure behind it.

  • Comment number 19.

    H2g2 is a wonderful site that is hard to define easily. It often has the wit quality of Monty Python humour or Stepehen Fry, along with often serious discussion about eg political or science matters. I feel it is a very very precious aspect of the BBC. It is by far and away my favourite site on the web. I'm a UK licence fee payer but I love interacting with many others all over the globe who also love this site.

    I also think the 'search' function needs looking at.

  • Comment number 20.

    To get back to the questions in the original post:
    Strategic fit: How does this site fit into the wider BBC Online service?

    I'll split this up, according to the declared Public Purposes.
    "In order for the BBC to fulfil its mission to inform, educate and entertain, the Royal Charter and Agreement sets out six public purposes."

    "Does it serve the BBC's public purposes clearly?"

    It very clearly does. There is a wealth of information on h2g2, its variety can't be beaten by any other website I've seen.

    The entertainment is granted through the various forums and the interaction of the community.
    As for the educational aspect: the Edited Guide Entries, UnderGuide Stories and Post articles see to that. Again, the articles are of a great variety, covering Geography, Astronomy, Wildlife, Tourist Information, and, and, and - you name it, h2g2 has it. The quality of writing is of a very high standard, which make the site perfect for non-native speakers wanting to improve their English.

    "Sustaining citizenship and civil society"

    The debates about anything and everything, usually, in a very civilised manner, definitely sustain the above.

    "Promoting education and learning"

    This is one of h2g2's strongest points. Although foreign languages were no longer allowed after the BBC had taken over, there is an area where people can still learn foreign languages, provided they translate everything into English within the same post. I've already mentioned education (which you can't really separate from learning anyway). There are Writing Workshops for everybody who wants to improve their writing. The attached conversations are very educative, and I for one have learnt a whole lot during the six years I've been an h2g2 member.


    "Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence"

    Another very strong point of h2g2. Everyone is encouraged to get creative, and the volunteer schemes like the h2g2 AViators or the h2g2 Post editors are very actively trying to get people involved - with fantastic results.
    The readership and contributors come from all over the world. They share their cultural experiences in various ways: be it in the Edited Guide, The Alternative Writing Workshop, The h2g2 Post, journals or conversations.


    "Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities"
    I'd guess that between 90 - 95% of h2g2's users are from the UK or its (former) colonies, and they represent it all in various ways.

    "Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK"

    See above. The remaining 5 to 10% of users bring the world to the UK.

    "Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services"

    There are very dedicated volunteers who are trying to do exactly this, but they have no or little support from the BBC.
    If it wasn't for our dedicated Editors who support the volunteers' attempts in any possible way, we'd never had audio-visual content on h2g2.

    Oh, and as a last word: name one other BBC website which would not only have survived, but even have improved with just one full-time editor and one temporary editor. h2g2 has done exactly that, not just for a few month, but for several years now!

  • Comment number 21.

    B'Elana has it right. This is an exceptionally civilised, welcoming site, at least those parts of it that I see. FrankieRoberto (post 1) is wrong to compare h2g2 with Wikipedia; I have put bits into Wiki, but wouldn't dream of attempting there the kind of discursive entry that hootoo inspires.

  • Comment number 22.

    <popcorn> Strategic fit: How does this site fit into the wider BBC Online service? Does it serve the BBC's public purposes clearly?

    Actually, I'm quite surprised at how well it does fit the Public Purposes. There is a strong case for h2g2 having made a better job of fulfilling those purposes than any other part of BBC, online or otherwise, and perhaps this should be a selling point.


    <popcorn> Place in the market: Where does it sit in the wider UK market? How does it relate to external sites covering similar themes?

    While there is no doubt that h2g2 hasn't fulfilled its initial remit (which was, more or less, to be what Wikipedia is now), perhaps it's time to play at one of its strengths. The general consensus is that it is getting far too difficult to get people writing for the guide and there are a whole host of pretty good reasons (not least a set-in-their-ways Peer Review system and the fact that the Guide is filling up on popular topics). But, and I say this as an Internet user of fifteen years, there is no other community out there that is as tight-knit, well-organised and coherent. Sometimes, logging onto h2g2 is like walking into a pub full of your friends, and IMHO there is no other website, forum-based or otherwise, that can do that. Perhaps if more time was spent playing on the community aspects of h2g2, then good writing would grow out of that. It used to be that someone with something intelligent to say was encouraged to write a Guide Entry; this is an activity that sadly seems to have stagnated.

    <popcorn> Audience: What is the key audience need that the site seeks to meet? What is the target demographic?

    Widely agreed on here in this thread. h2g2 is for everyone. I'm no Douglas Adams fan, and I've been a member for 7.5 years. Obviously, in the community sense, it does no harm to recruit anyone and everyone. In the sense of producing writing (and I say this through gritted teeth), we need more people like Psycorp (Post 12) was when he signed up - intelligent students with time on their hands who aspire to be journalists or writers one day and want to have work in the public domain. They don't all have to be Leeds United fans, mind.

    <popcorn> Quality: Does the site clearly display the BBC's editorial values of accuracy, independence, impartiality, taste and decency.? Does the sit adhere to our publisher principles? Does it meet best practice technical, UX and accessibility standards?

    I won't pretend to understand the second question. In response to the first, I ask you which other set of blog comments on this site would contain as many careful, educated, high-quality and thought-provoking comments? You won't find discourse like this in Ben Dirs blog, that's for sure.

  • Comment number 23.

    I've been a member of h2g2 for 8 years. I have learned more things about more topics than I would have ever thought possible. If it weren't for h2g2, I definitely would not have friends from 5 continents, so it's safe to say that h2g2 brings the world to the UK, and the UK to the world (I'm in the USA).

  • Comment number 24.

    Hi Seetha,

    I am sorry if this posts several times - I had problems with my broadband and couldn't tell if it had posted or not.

    Thank you for asking us to comment on the site and contribute to its MOT.

    You talk about quality, trust, and relevance, but do not then say how these values apply to the questions you ask about strategic fit, place in the market, audience and quality.

    However, I'll do my best.


    ****************************

    >> Strategic fit: How does this site fit into the wider BBC Online service? Does it serve the BBC's public purposes clearly?

    If the BBC still has the Reithian values to educate inform and entertain, then yes, yes and yes. It does all those and better than most of the BBC's other offerings. If it had a Web 2.0 Wiki-based multi-editorial model for entries it would inform more reliably, but that was a boat which was missed about 8 years ago. And a working search engine or open doors to google would enable it to educate and entertain more people more often.

    I worry about this issue of strategic fit because - as you say - "h2g2 is one of the BBC's few websites that has no broadcast equivalent on TV or radio". On the other hand, h2g2 certainly "clarifies [y]our point of differentiation in the market place". Let's face it: h2g2 is quirky, off-beat, original, and - though I'd resist the term - a bit cultish. But in a *good* way. It is grounded in intelligent playfulness. Think QI or 'The Mighty Boosh' rather than Wako and Kool-Aid here, please. If that is not "clarifying your point of differentiation in the marketplace" I fear to think what is.

    Which leads us neatly on to:


    ****************************


    >> Place in the market: Where does it sit in the wider UK market? How does it relate to external sites covering similar themes?

    Are there any external sites covering similar themes? Your difficulty with getting a check in this box is that h2g2 is not a single-subject single-demographic special-interest site. And what do you mean by "relate to"?

    If you mean "how does it compare with" other sites covering similar themes? - it's eclectic and unique. It should stand tall and be proud and self-confident. How does Shakespeare compare with other poets covering similar themes? No-one else has the breadth and scope and so no-one else comes close. To put that in a practical perspective: I've never found a place where one can have conversations on such a wide variety of topics, or ask such a friendly and informed group of people for constructive advice.

    One point here is that conversations are real conversations where people people post, read, respond and post again. (Repeat for a decade). In most other "communities" - eg those attmpted by the broadsheets - people post and p***-off. For example, I found myself posting in the same thread on the Guardian website as a fellow hootizen, but I had to tell them about it here, because neither of us goes back to Guardian threads.

    Or do you mean "what do other sites think of it"? - Most other sites don't know about h2g2. However, here is a list of published academic papers and books which have referenced h2g2 entries: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A54846840.

    Or do you mean "how does it reach out to"? - Well, there are many hootizens on facebook, and others have drifted off into Wikipedia, but that may not be the question you are asking.


    ****************************


    >> Audience: What is the key audience need that the site seeks to meet? What is the target demographic?

    Well only you can answer that one. Having met a LOT of h2g2 users in my time (and indeed married one) I can say that the typical hootizen is intelligent, passionate about the written language, playful, and probably interested in history, science, politics and SF. We range in age from 16 to well over 80, and we cover most of the anglo-phone world: the UK, Eire, the US, Oz, NZ and canada obviously. But Scandinavia, and Northern Europe are also well represented. We also have expats in Japan, and elsewhere. Those in employment may well be a professional (doctor, teacher, librarian, etc) or have have a white-collar and slightly technical job like engineering or IT. Many of us are retired; h2g2 is an intelligent and stimulating lifeline for those of us who are disabled or housebound; a lot of us are remarkably fragile or vulnerable one way or another: we're human. Is that a target demographic?


    Let's flip it around: H2G2 is one of the web's oldest, best established and most consistent browser-based communities. There are conversations on h2g2 which have been going over 10 years. Let me put that in perspective: there are friendships on h2g2 that go back a decade. Real, actual, honest-to-goodness, help-you-move-a-body friendships where people are godparents to each other's kids, bridesmaids at each others weddings, executors of each others wills. However, even the longest-established of those is welcoming and actively encouraging of new people. I don't know if that's unique, but I have not come across it elsewhere.


    ****************************

    >> Quality: Does the site clearly display the BBC's editorial values of accuracy, independence, impartiality, taste and decency?

    Well we were the first of the DNA platform to be self-policing, and we do still call each other on things like racism and homophobia, as well as invoking the moderators when necessary. But in the end, that is down to the editors and the mods. I think they do a pretty good job.


    >> Quality: Does the sit adhere to our publisher principles?

    I don't know what they are, so I cannot comment.


    >> Quality: Does it meet best practice technical, UX and accessibility standards?

    No. It sucks. Search is appalling, which is infuriating on a site with that much personal history. It doesn't even have a Web 1.0 publishing model, it's got a Paper 1.0 publishing model. You cannot subscribe to through content aggregators like Google or Technorati. The site and the skins are hard to navigate, unintuitive, over-complex. From a technical point of view (you can tell this is my subject, can't you) it's dire. It has the Morris Traveller of front ends, and the Austin Allegro of engines.

    I love it.


    ****************************

    Back to quality, trust, and relevance.

    Quality - Yes. The content's good and if the platform is quaintly rusty, the quality of the community is exceptional. It's hard for non-members to understand just how exceptional it is, though they'd find out if they joined. We are a welcoming commuity, and that is one way in which we are exceptional. But the the best I can come up with is that it's like a small town, a campus, or a community of colleagues.

    Trust - Absolutely. There are many groups of volunteers who focus on ensuring the accuracy and currency of the content. I've said enough to indicate the bonds of trust built up within the community, let's just add that I'd not hesitate to ask any of those I have met to babysit a two-year-old child.

    Relevance - Relevant to what? Relevant to whom? Is the London Eye relevant? Or an eclipse of the sun? Or Dali's version of the Mona Lisa? Or panne cotte? I would say it is gloriously, wondrously, magnificently irrelevant. And that's a virtue: if it were always relevant it would be just another bit of ephemara.


    ****************************

    Sorry to answer at such length. However, I hope that everything I have said has been to the point.

    Ben Warsop

  • Comment number 25.

    h2g2 has its weaknesses. Of this, we are all aware. But many of the shortcomings seem to me to be artificial, manufactured simply by the fact that the BBC appears to ignore the site.

    No, it doesn't meet the newest technical standards - but that is nothing its users and volunteers can change (though we've been creating elaborate workarounds.)

    No, it's not widely-known or accepted as the reliable and entertaining source of information it is - in part because other parts of the BBC prefer to link to external sites (or don't even bother looking on h2g2? Perhaps the fault of the bad search engine...) to explain things, and in part because of another technical issue: the nofollow tags mean that cross-links aren't visible to search engines, so h2g2 Entries come up low in the search rankings.

    And no, it doesn't seem to be attracting and keeping that many new Researchers lately - but then, it's certainly not being promoted, and we're severly lacking input otherwise as well! Though we'd be quite willing to work on our site, we aren't allowed to change things ourselves, but there also doesn't seem to be anyone willing to do it for us.

    I myself am involved in many of the volunteer schemes. We do our best to produce interesting, entertaining, and varied content, working around the narrow constraints as well as possible. But lately, I've gotten this feeling that our efforts are largely being ignored - volunteer group inquiries and e-mails go unanswered for days on end, the urgently-needed content (like new illustrations) is requested, but when it *is* produced in a hurry by harried volunteers, there's no response until it's almost too late... That kind of thing is discouraging. I sincerely hope that it's just because our otherwise helpful Eds are stretched thin working on the site redesign.

    But the tone of this whole blog post rather puts me in mind of a professor of mine. She increased her office space by declaring an empty room an "archive" for materials that students could work with. She kept it locked permanently and took the key with her (and was only present in the Uni one day per week, during which she was busy), and after half a year annexed it for her office "because the students don't use it..."


    *****

    As for "Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK" - I myself come from outside the UK, and have met many of the people that I truly consider real-life friends, both in the UK and worldwide, on h2g2 - in fact, I'm hoping to go on a tour of Europe just visiting h2g2 Researchers after graduation. How many other websites can boast that?

  • Comment number 26.

    The first thing NOT to do is to compare H2G2 with the likes of Wiki. H2G2 was never set up to become another dry encyclopedia, it does more than that. It educates, entertains and the best part is that it's written by the public for the public. You can get it all in hootoo, poetry, prose, fiction and non-fiction. Add to that mix the community spirit, the chat threads that range from formal to informal, the volunteers that help run the site, (less cost to the BBC for a start), I would say it covers exactly everything the BBC requires in terms of it's online output as well as meeting the standards required by it's charter. It doesn't need to become just another 'social network' site nor should it be another online encyclopedia. As well as meeting the BBC's aims it also strives to meet the aims of the original founder, Douglas Adams and that's something that makes H2G2 so unique. There just isn't anything on the whole of the WWW that comes anywhere near. The BBC should be proud of that distinction and should preserve it.

  • Comment number 27.

    As a US citizen, I probably shouldn't have an opinion. I'm a guest here.

    But I've been a proud member of the h2g2 community for about 4 years now, and I'd like to defend it a little bit.

    If the BBC's mission includes the desire to provide accurate information and informed discussion on a variety of topics - h2g2 does that.

    If the BBC's mission includes the desire to provide online communities where people of all ages and from a wide variety of backgrounds can meet and share their thoughts - h2g2 does that.

    If the BBC's mission includes the desire to educate by providing quality content that has been well researched - it does that. (Google awhile: pretend you're a student looking for information for a term paper.)

    If the BBC's mission includes the desire to entertain, to display the sort of wit and humour for which the British are famous - h2g2 does that.

    Of course I have a vested interest in this - I've got a fair amount of writing out there. I also have friends I like to talk to online. But I modestly think we pay our way in information and goodwill. A recent google search revealed that one of my articles had been quoted in its entirety on a DIY forum - hilarious, because the entry was about turnspit dogs. Another entry of mine was being used as fuel for an argument on religious history.

    I think of h2g2 as the website for people with long attention spans - not a given in a world of instant online gratification. Hootooers are pretty thoughtful and don't respond in sound bites.

    They are also flexible - come up with changes, they will adapt.

    I hope that BBC Online will find that there is room for h2g2 in its future plans for a long time to come.

  • Comment number 28.

    Psycorp Six-Oh-Three - hands off the Top Gar team they are the other reason I pay my license fee.

    They are the equivalent of H2G2...un-PC, go for any subject, irreverent and knowingly so.

  • Comment number 29.

    I've been on h2g2 since September 2000. I'm from Sweden.
    This site has brought me friends, fun and lots of interesting articles. It helped me through divorce and depression, and I've seen other "hootizens" marry, help eachother, met them in person (and staff too!), and am about to meet a few of them again in about a week. It's family, almost.

    # Strategic fit: How does this site fit into the wider BBC Online service? Does it serve the BBC's public purposes clearly?
    * It's not about journalism as such, but current topics are constantly brought up in the forums, and discussed with insight and intelligence, and yes, silliness, for example when someone gets on a horse too high. There are always things to learn.
    It really, really encourages creativity. The factual entries are always a joy to read, and explain in terms most people can understand, even the complex topics. The forums bring even deeper knowledge to me.
    It informs in a light way without assuming a stupid or academic audience.

    # Place in the market: Where does it sit in the wider UK market? How does it relate to external sites covering similar themes?
    It combines so many features into one site! There are factual entries, there are forums for discussion (everywhere!) and there are bloggish features (Journal and message center) on each researchers page. Think Wikipedia, facebook and a blog site combined into one. And it came before all of them!
    I think, with just a bit more marketing, it could be a place for so many more people!

    # Audience: What is the key audience need that the site seeks to meet? What is the target demographic?
    *Diversity would be the key word. The Researchers are of a wide range of ages, religions, nationalities and sexual orientations. I would say that this is the ultimate audience. It doesn't exclude, it doesn't restrict. It is open to all sorts of discussion - although I have to admit, that people who use text speak are kindly requested to use capitals and punctuation for ease of reading. Then again, some of our community are dyslectic, and get the support they need for that, in order to communicate. Inclusion and diversity, again. Sure, many came because they have read Douglas Adams, but far from all! And the fraction of fan content is very low, if you look at it. It's about describing our world, not DNA's fiction, after all.

    # Quality: Does the site clearly display the BBC's editorial values of accuracy, independence, impartiality, taste and decency.? Does the sit adhere to our publisher principles? Does it meet best practice technical, UX and accessibility standards?

    *Editorial quality is high. I think it fulfills all the requirements, including taste and decency - we do have moderators, and we do call on inappropriate behaviour, as mentioned elsewhere in the comments to this post.
    Technical quality isn't state of the art yet, but at least some AV material can be included. With an improved search function, casual visitors might have a much better chance at finding what they search for, and the community wouldn't have to rely on those of us that actually remember lots of the content by heart.

    I'm not sure why BBC bought h2g2, but I realise that h2g2 needed support at the time. I gather that the h2g2 "engine" is used on many other BBC sites now, and I wonder if the cost of h2g2 can really be so high that it can't be balanced against the other sites? I don't think we ask very much, really, than to be allowed to continue, and to be searchable. (OK, I can probably suggest a couple of features, but in essence, I like what is there).

    All in all, h2g2 is where I spend online time daily. It's where many of my friends are, not only online friends but real, flesh and blood friends. It's where I read about topics I thought would never interest me, and I do it with joy. It's where I get and give support, play, learn and rest. I wouldn't have it any other way.

    Can you tell I want it to remain? I know I'm really repeating a lot that's been said already, but h2g2 is important to me.

    thanks for listening,
    Maria

  • Comment number 30.

    Well, since you paid for the software, you had better use it!

  • Comment number 31.

    It might help raise h2g2's profile if the BBC search team didn't deliberately exclude valid search results pointing to h2g2. It's almost as if the BBC is ashamed of producing high-quality content. Perhaps we don't truly trust our audience (despite them being 'at the heart of what we do').

    Of course, I am somewhat biased in my opinion of h2g2...

  • Comment number 32.

    Hi Seetha. There is little I can add to what has already been posted. Some of the posts are wonderful. Thanks everyone for saying things better than I would have done.

    Plus, as another American, I'm not sure you want my input. But, I feel obliged to comment because h2g2 has literally changed my life. It has given me a place to practice my writing skills, publish some poetry and a few short stories, share ideas on favorite subjects and meet people from around the world. h2g2 is wonderfully diverse. Show me another online community where you can be educated and entertained in such a creative manner. The people on h2g2, especially in Lil's Atelier, have kept me sane during some extremely trying times and celebrated good times with me, as well. Friends from h2g2 have encouraged me to travel, welcomed me into their homes and provided me with many experiences I would never have had if I hadn't discovered the site.

    I've been a member since 2002, so not as long as some. But I've made friendships that will last a lifetime. h2g2 is unique because of this diversity. I think that is also our strength. We have members from all walks of life and educational backgrounds. Doctors, lawyers, educators, students, accountants, environmentalists, librarians, actors, musicians, artists, journalists, sales reps, prison guards, tour guides, historians, mathematicians, brewers, golfers, chefs, engineers, architects, homemakers, nurses, dental hygenists, bartenders. Have a question? Post it on ASK or in your journal. You'll get an answer. From a person, not a search engine. From someone you can talk to to clarify a point if necessary. Then from someone else with a different take on the matter. Not just static information. Real people discussing real subjects in a usually intelligent manner.

  • Comment number 33.

    I would just like to add my voice to saying that the H2G2 site is the friendlist, most open, engaging, intellectual, embracing site I have ever been on.

    Yes we fight, we squabble, we disagree but on the whole we support each other. There are a number of threads about why we love H2G2 and why we stick with it.

    If the editors could find those and hand them in for the 'MOT' hopefully the 'testers' will see that there isn't much to change.

    There are so many areas of the site that different people populate and probably never cross paths much but that's the joy of the site.

    It has evolved through the interests of the people who use the site.

    It gives people different things and yet we all come back to it even if we flounce for a while which most of us do.

    But the people, the different ideas that one is exposed to...the open-ness in what one can say to people and what people are willing to reveal about themselves is something special.

    For me this site is unique...unique on the BBC site...unique on the web...and is the personification of what Lord Reith wanted from the BBC 'to educate, inform and entertain'.

    To change the very nature of the site would change this feel of it and not improve it.

    It's comfortable, snuggly, worldy-wise, infuriating sometimes...we argue with each other. we sometimes hate each other but we are here for each other and no matter what we have said to each other we come to each others aid when required.

    Some sites I have seen come close but there is nothing like the H2G2 site.

    And if we are MOT'ing it...once the MOT has happened the site should feel exactly like it did when it first came off the production line...if it runs smoother even better.


  • Comment number 34.

    To quote Mar

    "I think that it´s a great place specially for teenagers. It can help them in many ways. All of us, but teenagers in particular, need canals to express themselves and adults´ points of view about "the life , the universe and everything"; this place fits those needs perfectly."

    I couldn't agree more.
    I'm 16 and h2g2 has been great for meeting other people and interacting with them. It's been a great place for advice, to relax, to chat to do what you want to really.

    When asking questions on h2g2 other hootoo responses help you to actually think about the inforamtion you are given and to anlyse things in a way you might not have done before.

    Most importantly hootoo is a community and that is what it is good at. Ask H2G2 is a good place for information and more info is passed around in ask h2g2 than anywhere else i've seen. I've certainly learnt a lot using h2g2 and most importantly its a fun place to be.

  • Comment number 35.

    As a contributor to h2g2 for the past eight years I have seen it steadily grow in content.
    I have also seen curators who are trying hard to keep it up to date and often succeed.
    I personally like reading in the skin classic goo. I have not seen anything like it in wikipedia.

  • Comment number 36.

    Hallo Seetha. I would like to address your post from the viewpoint of some of the community at h2g2. I'm American, by the way, and have been with h2g2 since September 1999.

    This must be the first time I've spoken to an Italic in years. The original owners of this site, The Digital Village, were rather surprised when they opened HooToo for the writing of entries and found people were bringing virtual pizzas to the comment sections, but they adapted, they participated, and they had fun. I still remember the day that they all showed up at what was then allowed to be called The Aroma Cafe, to test the thread update function by having a bun fight.

    They were concerned about what h2g2 was and how we contributed. And they expressed that concern by being there.

    When H2G2 passed into the BBC's hands, we were grateful that we would continue to survive, but the new rules were hard -- as Peet described, we lost graphics capability, many of our punnish names were forbidden out of copyright concerns, and the like. But we still came back and contributed, except that now, with very few exceptions, we were on our own.

    As the hostess of one of the longest-running forums on Hootoo, the Atelier, I have learned that the only way to run a successful internet place is to BE THERE. If the site seems to you to be drifting, it's because you haven't been there to give direction, like Mark and Peta and Jim used to do. Nothing stimulates participation like attention from the host. Go look at the atelier, A304354 -- we just had three new people join us this past week. If I didn't show up except to make administrative announcements, or censor other posts, I don't think the forum would be there today.

    I attend the atelier: I interact and react, I give salonistas a sense of their environment (structure), I suggest things and I plead for a high standard of netiquette and discourse, as much as one can in an open forum. The salonistas are a heterogenous, intelligent, and creative group; I've known some of them for 10 years now, through h2g2, and I don't know where we would go to duplicate the special environment you've given us, if the place had to close.

    We began as a bunch of DNA fans, but we've become more than that. I think h2g2 may be the closest thing the BBC has to The Well.

    You give us web space and technical support, for which we are grateful, and a banner with a fish on a bicycle, but where are you on site? I am surprised at the BBC's decision to give h2g2 an MOT without first driving it around town a little bit.

  • Comment number 37.

    Briefly - H2G2 is informative. It is entertaining. It is funny. It is thought provoking. It has provided me with motivation, and, to me, most importantly, it has introduced me to a community who have become very good friends both online and in "real life" - it is a website that actually comes out of the web and buys you a pint!
    I was very disappointed when the BBC banned under-16's from the site. Through the moderation - and the community I have just mentioned - I trusted my children with H2G2 - and I trusted H2G2 with my children.
    Since joining H2G2 I have read poetry - and written some; I have read about subjects I would never have dreamed about; I have learned; I have laughed; I have made friends around the world.

    As for the MOT -

    The BBC's Public Purposes:
    Sustaining citizenship and civil society - Yes, it does.

    Promoting education and learning - Yes, it has.

    Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence - Most certainly!

    Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities - No - it represents *everyone*!

    Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK - Yes - see above!

    Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services - Possibly not. I think H2G2 would benefit from more investment. Come on, help us out here!

    Place in the market: Where does it sit in the wider UK market? How does it relate to external sites covering similar themes? - I think it's unique. Many people have mentioned the Wiki - H2G2 clash, but I think Wiki is becoming much as Douglas saw the Hitch Hiker's Guide - Wiki "has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate..."

    Audience - Anyone seeking knowledge, perhaps a certain amount of humour in a Douglas Adams style, and possibly a sense of community. It hits the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned.

    Quality - There is a mixture - some work is lightly done, tongue in cheek, but much is very well researched, and usually well written - and there is much opportunity for help, guidance and support along the way. I feel the site is let down by the poor graphic nature - again, the BBC seems to be strangling the site by limiting what can be shown. This isn't the site's fault, it's the support it receives from the powers above!

    Look at the picture you provide on this blog - a battered Citroen 2CV. But look inside at the wonders we've filled it with!

  • Comment number 38.

    Hello again Seetha

    Reading this thread and the Internetland entries which Waz linked to in her comment has pointed out a couple of things I'd like to amplify.

    H2G2 is remarkably supportive (morally, practically, sometimes even financially) when somone has real problems in their life. Many members have commented how much difference their friendships here have made when they have faced disability, illness, unemployment, the death of a partner, miscarriage, and so on. People care in practical ways.

    The second thing is that H2H2 is regularly mentioned as being a lifeline to people who are isolated either because they are housebound, or because they work unsociable hours, travel, are going through complex life changes, are in situations where they cannot meet likeminded people, or are not able to keep up existing face-to-face friendships for some reason, or to create new ones. H2G2 provides real encounters in an online space in a way in which other sites do not.

    Many years ago, blind people did not have to pay a wireless licence, when such a thing existed, because of the BBC's public service remit. H2G2 provides just such a life-transforming service, unsung and unnoticed. It's astonishing.

    Here is why I think it is unique:

    I am currently reading 'Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom' (which is by a couple of INSEAD professors so it reasonable academic and business credentials). They list four main kinds of online networks:

    * egocentric networks (profile sites like MySpace and Facebook);
    * community networks (replicating communities that exist in the real world and focused around a particular belief, demographic or location);
    * opportunistic networks (which people join for personal gain like LinkedIn) and
    * passion-centric networks (communities of interest which are focused on hobbies, activities, or a particular life experience).

    It is easy to confuse us with a passion-centric network and we may have started there, but we've transcended that. The first three kinds of community extend existing relationships. Only the fourth takes strangers and has the potential to turn them into friends but - and this is the key - they *already have something in common*.

    H2G2 is unique because it pulls this trick off with people who don't have much in common, and who certainly don't form a single demographic or share a passion. And I have only come across two general communities which have turned strangers into a long-lasting community of face-to-face friends. These are h2g2 and The Well, though the Cix forums may have done it too. I've not been on Second Life, but that seems to be premised on deception turning on the twin axes of money and sex; by contrast h2g2 members are basically honest, they behave decently to each other, and the community is underpinned by creativity.

    The h2g2 difference - if I may call it that - is that it is full of people you want to get to know personally.

  • Comment number 39.

    I hope that the MOT of h2g2 reveals that although a few bits and pieces, such as the oft-mentioned search function, may be getting a bit rusty, the basic components are in good working order, and most importantly they hold together very well. The joy, the benefit, the unique selling point of h2g2 is the community aspect. New Entries get commented on by people who know a lot about the subject in question and by people who know nothing and can thus point out any gaps where they don't quite 'get' it. People are willing to help with linguistic issues. And the forums are full of people having fun, asking and answering everything you could ever dream of and educating each other.

    Whether we are creating somewhat alternative identities for ourselves (I sing and I'm a librarian, but I can't honestly claim to be an owl) or not, we exchange information from the ephemeral (what's the weather like around the world right now) to the practical (I have so many courgettes - does anyone have any good recipes?) and from the sciences to the arts crossing every potential discipline in between. At various times, my experiences on the amateur stage, my professional skills and knowledge as a librarian and my studies in literature and language have proved useful to other members, and I have drawn upon them for practical, real-world information on issues outside my own comfort zones.

    Fellow members of h2g2 are my friends, and I value their friendship. h2g2 makes me smile. h2g2 offers Entries on topics you simply will not find elsewhere on the web (believe me, in many cases I've looked!). The house style of the Edited Guide is, or tries to be, more approachable and readable than sites such as wikipedia or citizendium. The Alternative Writing Workshop encourages and develops creative writing. In short, the benefits of the site are many.

    David Bedford, Kent

  • Comment number 40.

    h2g2 is a nice place. It could do with a facelift, some contemporary forum functionality and a way of making entries more real time, as was originally envisioned (we are in a world of mobile phone internet access), even if that would require a separate part of the guide.)

    h2g2 was my introduction to the internet. I've moved on and don't post as much on h2g2 as I once did but I see h2g2 as a great community, a great source of information and a great source of interesting writing, let down only by the BBC's lack of commitment.

    Bring h2g2 in to the 21st century. Build on what you've got. What you've got is great.

  • Comment number 41.

  • Comment number 42.

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

  • Comment number 43.

    Hi Seetha. Lots of people have commented here, and I really do think the passion for the website is evident. That said, I'm still going to throw in my two cents.

    I joined h2g2 back in 2002. At the time, I lived in Montana, and the people I met on the site were invaluable as a sounding board for me in many ways. I even met one of my best friends though the site. When I announced I had been accepted to graduate school, one of my fellow 'researchers' popped up with 'hey, I live there.' We met in person a couple of months later, and we are dear, dear friends to this day. I have met many wonderful people, some only online, others in person, through h2g2.

    But it's been more than that. As an academic historian, my writing is, well, academic. But on h2g2, I've been able to write entries that are just as informative, but not nearly as dry. Other researchers have had their entries cited IN academic papers. I figure that meets the BBC's mission, yes? In addition, I've learned the rules of cricket, had discussions about football (both American and not), discussed politics with people from across the world, and more.

    But more than that, this place is a community. It is people coming together, for disparate reasons and from all across the world (where else can a Brit travel to China and then talk to people in the US about it?!), who are supportive. When people get jobs, lose jobs, have children, have issues with their kids, their parents, their friends, their very lives...

    I get that the BBC, like every other business in this economy, has to look at the bottom line. But not everything should be about the bottom line all the time. Jim Lynn and Natalie (and others before them) have done wonders with shoestrings. I want to express to you how seriously I feel about this. Currently, I use several BBC websites in my lectures on pre-modern World History. If h2g2 were shut down, I would feel ...betrayed. And though it might not matter, me being just one American, I would have to reconsider my use of BBC material in my classrooms if h2g2 were to be shut down.

  • Comment number 44.

    I'm a long-time h2g2 user, living in the United States. Others have addressed the MOT aspect much better than I could have (and I'm not sure if it would be appropriate for me to, anyway, as I am not a license-fee payer). So I'd like to offer some thoughts about what makes h2g2 a great, valuable site.

    I've been there for more than six years. In that time, I've become involved in many of the site's various aspects - most notably in the Edited Guide and in creative writing. I've personally matured greatly and my interests have been affected by what I've come into contact with on h2g2. I'd venture to say that it's made me a better person. I'm even starting to watch football (the one with the feet, despite my being an American). I've even been watching BBC America.
    h2g2 has affected me profoundly. I think that I'm only just starting to appreciate how much. I am by no means the most affected member, either. I've seen friends who met on the site marry. Some friends have died, and some have mourned their own losses with us. We've found friendships; we've lost them. Some people really live their lives on h2g2. It's their way of participating in the sharing that is what makes up the site.

    There's one phenomenon that really speaks to what h2g2 means to some of us. I activated my h2g2 account on 26 January, 2003. I can say that from memory, because the 26th of January each year is my h2g2-birthday. Many of h2g2's users celebrate their own h2g2-birthdays every year, with a journal entry and a general feeling of "I can't believe it's been three years... four years... eight years!" I can't think of another site where people celebrate the exact day that they joined up. The facebooks, myspaces and common messageboards of the world don't see that kind of celebration. That's because so many virtual communication sites are just hollow tubes of communication, whereas our site is an open pasture where the horizon doesn't dip down.

    I think that it's an amazing symbol of the strength of h2g2 that it has managed to survive despite so little support from the BBC. And I don't mean that as an indictment of the BBC - while most h2g2 denizens would love to have more staff members, internal recognition and things like the search function fixed, I think we recognize that we are, as of now, a small fish in the larger BBC pond. The resilience of the community on h2g2 since the staff was reduced from around six or seven (I forget exactly) when I joined to a low point of just one (now two) has been amazing. The output has slowed, but that's not something that you can blame on h2g2's community. If the BBC news reporters were reduced to one seventh their current number, output would shrink also.

    I don't think that there can be a question that h2g2 is a wonderful site. If it lacks value to the BBC, it is only because the BBC has not used it and supported it to its full potential. With more support from the BBC, h2g2 can become something for the larger corporation to be proud of. It could be a real celebration of shared experience. You see how the people writing here have almost unanimously praised the site. You would expect that sort of reaction for a niche site, but h2g2 is not that. It's a site for sharing. Someone above me put it best - that h2g2's target demographic is human beings. If h2g2 was exposed to a wider audience, I think that more of those "humans" would make a new home on h2g2, and it would do an even better job at what it does now.

  • Comment number 45.

    John Fulton, who uses h2g2 with his initials ~jwf~, has posted as follows internally:

    ... it wants me to 'register'. I can't.
    So perhaps someone here might pass on this thot:

    There is but one criteria for determining the future of h2g2.
    Call it History, call it Legacy, but in plain English it's
    the simple fact that h2g2 is probably the only web destination
    that survived the burst of the Internet bubble back in 2000. Yes,
    it was saved by the BBC in 2001. And perhaps the traditional liberal-
    arts bent of the Public Broadcaster has allowed it to grow wild in the
    wastes in of Cyberspace. The BBC mandate of 'Be kind to culture,
    respect History and promote Creativity' has also allowed it to continue
    with no over-arching policy of direction other than that originally set by
    Douglas Adams. And so it has grown, in basically its original format.
    It is the Model A of the 21st Century. It works.
    If it works, don't fux it.
    Or as they say in the USofA
    "Don't crush 'em, restore 'em." *

    peace
    ~jwf~

    * slugline from this program:
    http://www.myclassiccar.com/

  • Comment number 46.


    I am a newcomer to h2g2 and would be happy to share my feelings with you.
    I live outside the UK. Thus, when I access the BBC homepage I get the version with ads. I don't pay the BBC licence fee but, taken together, I and all the other non-UK-residants attract advertising revenue for the BBC. I look at BBC online news most days via h2G2. With no h2g2 to visit, I certainly wouldn't look at the Beeb pages (and the ads thereon) so frequently.
    The BBC can congratulate itself on the 'uniqueness' of h2g2 (I've never come across anything quite like it). The users come from all walks of life and are of all ages. There are also a significant number of users with disabilities from the mild (a case of age-related memory loss comes to mind) to the severe. This is where the community aspect comes into full force. The researchers who choose to reveal their health problems have support from many others in the community: no, not some kind of helpline, 'real' community values such as sharing a joke, having a chat.
    This is no time for modesty. I think that the 'average intelligence' of h2g2 users is rather high, irrespective of formal education. This is shown by the questioning attitude of many. Questions vary from the extremely mundane to the exceedingly tough, and the answers are just as wide-ranging, from apparently silly comments to thought-provoking observations (plus some hard facts). The amazing thing is that many such answers appear on almost all threads no matter how the original post was phrased.
    Guide entries. The development of entries to get them guide-ready can be as instructive as the entries themselves. I don't understand the comparisons with Wiki, h2g2 is a guide and will guide most readers to thinking for themselves. Surely an aim of education.
    At the bottom of the BBC homepage, there is an invitation to 'Explore the BBC': 'Archives', 'Arts & Culture', 'Business & Money', "Children"... all the way through to "Weather". h2g2 has similar breadth but the topics are treated in a very specific user-friendly way (the people on h2g2 are generally friendly, site functionalities are another matter).
    If the BBC is assessing h2g2 future, I'm not so sure that the 'but we've been here for ages and we - the users - love it' argument will hold much sway. The h2g2 should be maintained because of the intergenerational links and the thought-provoking environment it has achieved.
    Yes, teenagers and nonagenarians (and all the people in between) do have things to share and h2g2 is one of the rare places they can do it. h2g2 is not a standardised product easy to fit into a nicely categorised box, it is its very diversity that makes it what it is.




  • Comment number 47.

    Hiya Seetha,

    As an addendum to my post yesterday you might want to check out this thread: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/alabaster/F1900573?thread=6630297. It really shows the sort of community h2g2 is and I really don't think there's anywhere else on the internet.

    The BBC is also getting some fantastically written pieces for very little money. Unlike Wikipedia these can't be altered or deleted and the BBC has the rights to use them for whatever purpose it sees fit. I was really pleased when the 'Weird and Wonderful' section of the BBC Front Page was created and it included links to our Entries. We are weird and wonderful and the BBC gets to harness our talents while we don't ask for much in return (although an edit function would be heavenly).

  • Comment number 48.

    Wow, the length and passion of this thread shows that h2g2 still has an active and engaged community - probably the biggest thing it has going for it.

    However, I'd still fear for it in passing a MOT (in the same way you might for a dear old car, which is much loved, but clearly no longer fit for the road).

    The best thing for h2g2 might be for the BBC to hand it over to the community completely, so that it can run as a completely independent external community site. It'd probably be need to move onto a different technical platform, but I'm sure the community could handle this (and the BBC could give the community the rights to the content, so that articles and the Edited Guide could be copied over too).

    This outcome would, I think, work best for everyone - even if some initial pain was involved.

    If you compare h2g2 against the BBC's 10 Publishing Principles (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2009/03/ten_publishing_principles_for.html), it's clear that h2g2 doesn't meet "a clearly-defined audience need" (it meets peoples' needs, sure, but there's none that are clearly-defined), it doesn't do "one thing, really well" (it does lots of different things: a community, an encyclopaedia, fiction, advice, etc). Finally, and perhaps most damningly, it ends up "attempting to do everything", rather than linking out and belonging to the wider web.


    I was part of the h2g2 community for many years, and I reach this conclusion with nothing but fondness for the site and what it's achieved (not least 9787 peer-reviewed encyclopaedia articles). I'd love if it the BBC were able to truly put the resources and thought into making it the community-driven mass encyclopaedia that was always envisaged. However, with the presence of a more successful alternative (Wikipedia), the BBC being resource-constrained, and needing a clear public purpose behind each of its websites, I think you can only conclude that it'd be best for all round if h2g2 was able to go forward independently of the BBC.


    P.S It was commented on Twitter that the fact that this blog post links to Wikipedia from 'MOT' rather than h2g2 (which does have an entry - http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A12921581) shows how h2g2 has failed. However, I think it only shows that h2g2 itself failed to become the mass-marked community-edited online encyclopaedia. The presence of Wikipedia in some ways is a massive success for h2g2. The internet has achieved the vision that h2g2 originally set out (remember that h2g2 pre-dates Wikipedia by some years), and we should celebrate that. I think Douglas Adams would be proud.

  • Comment number 49.

    H2G2 is the only reason i visit the BBC website
    its unique nature means i can post on the conversations when i am most active, all through the night, unlike the message boards which close down and are dead space half the time

    the comunity are eclectic, and a valuable resourse, as you can get the answer to any question there, each question provokes debate and the answer is well discused and thaught through and is the best answer that can be given, un like other on line information sources, which give one answer as gospel, wheather its right or wrong

    if it were not for H2G2 my life would be a darker duller place

  • Comment number 50.

    To pick up something FR just said:
    "P.S It was commented on Twitter that the fact that this blog post links to Wikipedia from 'MOT' rather than h2g2 (which does have an entry - http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A12921581) shows how h2g2 has failed. However, I think it only shows that h2g2 itself failed to become the mass-marked community-edited online encyclopaedia."

    We've complained about that to the editors time and time again, and the explanation was, that the BBC *has* to link to non-BBC websites as often as possible.

    I can't imagine why h2g2 wouldn't pass the MOT. It has so much more to offer - content and community-wise than all other BBC message boards. It makes me wonder: do the other message boards have to pass a MOT, too?

    None of the many BBC message boards are of any interest to me. They're just too specific and UK centric. h2g2 encompasses the whole globe and doesn't exclude anyone.

    Academic papers reference to h2g2 entries, see:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A46972182

    There's a lot more, not least the volunteers who spend a good amount of their free time to improve h2g2.

    If you have a target audience for a specific topic, the input will be limited. You'll not experience that on h2g2.

  • Comment number 51.

    To simply compare H2G2 to Wikipedia misses the point. H2G2 has evolved into something that may not have been the original vision but like many great things become something different which works and continues to work even in a more harsh budget driven environment.

    And as Douglas Adams was a great advocate of rationality and his great friend Richard Dawkins one of the most emminent evolutionary biologists one has to wonder what he would think of the way the site has evolved into something different but more enveloping and diverse than it originally was thought to be.

    The wonderful organic nature of the site lends for more ideas than Wikipedia which has a more narrow and controlled purview.

    If I go to Wikipedia via a search engine, it is simply for a piece of information and then I leave.

    H2G2 is so much more than that. It is unique, it shows what can be done with 'the internet'.

    To say Wikipedia does 'it better' misses the point.

    Wikipedia is simply a tool, a receptacle of information. H2G2 is a community...it lives, it breathes, it grows, it changes...it's loss would be...well...it would be like losing family members...the internet world would become a smaller place, and friends I have made through this site would be further away than ever.

  • Comment number 52.


    "what is the key audience need that the site seeks to meet? What is the target demographic?"

    According to FR "it doesn´t meet a clearly-defined audience need"

    I want to answer to that from my profesional field, Education.
    H2 contents are educative. YOu know that educative can be objects, people, circunstances, etc. that may or not have the intention of being educative or that doesn´t fit the formal school process of teaching-learning. Family, mass media, the group of friends... all is educative in different ways.
    The educative value of h2 is high quality. It´s based on creativity and in a holistic approach about knowledge, which is precisely the current and most appreciate trend or paradigm among educators -those who write the theory of education, those who investigate and those who are near the educables.
    Why creative and why holistic? and finally, what is the key audience need that the site seeks to meet?

    Creativity can be found not only in the contributions in form of Entries, contests, etc. It is seen easily in something apparently flippant as a Where are the missing socks or what is the chaos frozen button in a microwave, or a strapline for h2? People show fluidity, flexibility in the answers which are quick, diverse and funny. Creativity is learnt when there´s a space that allows it to put it into practice. That is a must for any teacher or any educative institution.
    But why such emphasis in creativity, in promote creativity in school and society? Because we need it. We have problems, old and new ones that need flexible minds that without prejudices see and try to solve it from differents points of views. A creative mind see, relate what others don´t (check how Guttenberg invented the print). To do that it´s needed perseverance, a lot of effort, self-motivation... People insist because in the process there´s enrichment, personal and colective.
    So, educate in creativity implies that it can´t be taught directly,it must be promoted. That´s why I said that h2 is a great place for teenagers.
    Why holistic?
    I won´t kill you talking about the educative paradigms derived from Idealism and Rationalism, although it is good to check how we, in the 21rst century still haven´t reconciliate those stream of thought that clearly affect fields other than Education.
    Briefly: H2 reconcile those trends because the content is based in the mentioned dicotomy Idealism/Rationalism. You can find this in the Entries and contributions:
    -quantitative and qualitative methodology to write and research about the content.
    -Things are explained scientifically, other are interpretations or show a more personal approach to the object of knowledge.
    H2 content belong to the Post-Positivist trend that accept the epistemologic diversity and a broad range of topics to be investigated and or written about.
    Diversity is the key word to define H2. And that seems what confuses some like FR when he says that "it doesn´t meet a clearly-defined audience need"
    A Positivist mind wants final products that can be mesurable, that fit into a pre-determined cathegory of objectives. It seems that BBC needs a label for H2 to feel comfortable. There´s no label. They must accept its idiosincrasy, investigate the place and appreciate the great value it offers to society in terms of Education. It meets also the need of communication in a broad sense. H2 reflects society, which is diverse and which is affected nowadays by globalization.
    BBC can miss an excellent oportunity if they look at H2 with the intention of labeling to see if it fits their aims. It not only meets them it goes far beyond of them. H2 is not a fan club, it epitomizes what is happening in a world that is changing quickly in the way people relate and share information, in brief: in the way of communicating among ourselves.

  • Comment number 53.

    I said in my earlier post that the thing NOT to do was compare with Wiki. To emphasise that point, I'm currently studying with the Open University and in their student information re. getting information from the web, they advise NOT using Wiki as a source for coursework. Whilst Wiki has a lot of info it's not always accurate and is easily altered by anyone with an account there. It doesn't have a Peer Review process as such, there's no overall control on whats published. I've tested it several times and found loads of inaccuracies, ranging from dates to places.
    The Peer Review process on H2G2 ensures that articles written for the factual Edited Guide are just that, factual, correct in the data/info given. The curator system and editorial feedback ensures articles can't be altered at will by anyone. That's a good safeguard to have.

    As an aside, was watching Lenny Henry Live at The Apollo last night and he had a 2/3 minute 'skit' on Wiki. Apparently they had got his birth date wrong, where he was born, wrong, the school he went to, wrong. He ended by saying quote 'why don't they call it wrongapedia and have done with it?' unquote.

  • Comment number 54.

    ST. MKII

    You suggested not comparing it to Wikipedia, but then did just that!

    Whilst Wikipedia does contain some mistakes, as you've pointed out, overall it has been found to be pretty accurate, and just as importantly, pretty up-to-date and incredibly comprehensive. By contrast, h2g2's peer review process dramatically limits the rate at which it can grow, and makes it much harder for articles to stay up-to-date. Plus I bet there are still mistakes that make it through anyway. Wikipedia's model still has "peer review", it's just that this review happens after an article has been published, rather than before - a model which has proved to be highly successful.

    Others have pointed out that h2g2 isn't just an encyclopaedia, it's a community (3Dots suggested that it had even evolved into something different). If that's the case, then perhaps it's time to drop the focus on building an encyclopaedia to Life, the Universe and Everything, and instead concentrate on just being a supportive community. There's no shame in doing this at all (it's arguably a harder this to achieve) - however there's also no reason why this can't be done outside of the BBC.

    P.S I think it's a little disingenuous to suggest that there's no community on Wikipedia. There is in fact a highly developed community on Wikipedia, with mailing lists, roles and responsibilities, a community newspaper, meetups, and even an annual international conference (see http://wikimania2009.wikimedia.org). It's just that the community is different from h2g2's (perhaps less full of humour, and more focused on encyclopaedia-building).

  • Comment number 55.

    Quote from FR's post **it's time to drop the focus on building an encyclopaedia to Life, the Universe and Everything**

    FR obviously has his allegiance to wiki which is fine but his comment above shows how inaccuracies occur.
    H2G2 has never been an 'Encyclopedia to Life, The Universe and Everything'
    Its always been 'THE GUIDE to Life, The Universe and everything' A major difference, one that is unique to H2G2.

  • Comment number 56.

    If h2g2, as a website, is to do one thing well I would say it is the community. Many posts here have spoken to how well we do that. But that doesn't make the Edited Guide redundant. Those two aspects of h2g2 are so inextricably entwined it makes no sense to talk about them existing separately.

    It's easy to compare h2 and wiki but the limitations of that are reached very quickly - apples and oranges. I too see h2g2 as a GUIDE rather than an encyclopedia. Inherent in the entries is the idea that reading them will be informative but more than that. It will also be a pleasure.

  • Comment number 57.

    Although I respect the 'do one thing really well' statement in regard to the general MOT process I think that it might be a bit of a red herring in relation to this unique site. (I should point out here that I'm the Producer of h2g2).

    The reason I say that is because I think h2g2's greatest asset is its community. However, a strong community can't exist without a common purpose. To have a strong community, you have to do at least one other thing really well – otherwise the community doesn't have a reason to hang around. h2g2's common purpose is the creation of the Edited Guide. Though much of activity on the site appears unrelated to this central aim, that central editorial proposition is the engine that drives the site. It's properly symbiotic: the Edited Guide exists because of the community and the community because of the Edited Guide. Even the users who don't create Entries for the Guide take part in discussions that are populated by people with inquiring and curious minds - people drawn to a site that inspires them to share their knowledge and learn something new in the creation of the Edited Guide. It's a properly collaborative enterprise: users don't just post scraps of information in relative anonymity but get to know each other and learn from one another. You can see this process in action and it strikes me as precisely the sort of thing that the BBC wants to achieve.

    So, as far as community creation goes, this central proposition proved far more powerful than the more standard approach of saying 'Here's a product...please go and have a chat about it - and behave yourselves!' It's why h2g2 continues to succeed where many other communities have failed.

    I'm not that convinced that h2g2 could exist in anything like its current form as a 'completely independent external community site'. Even Wikipedia (which I use an example purely because of the central idea of content creation - I believe they've evolved into substantially different sites but as I've explained, the central process of content creation is key to h2g2) has a central organisational structure and is backed by the Wikimedia foundation (powered by public donations).

    So, out of necessity, h2g2 does more than one thing really well. It produces distinctive, quality content *and* has a proper community in a very meaningful sense: one that collaborates, teaches and learns, creates large amounts of quality content of different types, interacts intelligently, and, to a large extent, self-moderates. It's precisely the sort of community many companies would give their eye-teeth for – a community of a type that the BBC has struggled to develop elsewhere.

  • Comment number 58.

    FrankieRoberto.

    I am trying to work out why you keep suggesting the BBC lets go of the H2G2 site and put it outside of the BBC. Although, in your first post you did say maybe it's time to close the door on it.

    It used to be outside the BBC and they, luckily, brought it in to the fold and it has grown ever since. Why bother changing it back to what it was?

    I also believe that the feel of the site would change a lot. We are given a lot of lee-way on the site, more than other sites I have been on which is why it is such a strong community and a community that is able to speak up when required.

    You also say:

    "...perhaps it's time to drop the focus on building an encyclopaedia to Life, the Universe and Everything, and instead concentrate on just being a supportive community."

    As it has been mentioned before it is not 'just' a supportive community...any community has different facets to it, some areas are totally divorced from other areas, some overlap, some people are on first name terms, others you may just nod to as you travel through the Hootoo areas, some you may never meet.

    Communities require a certain amount of diversity to thrive and grow.

    The 'guide' part of it is merely one facet of the community. To continue would merely repeat what ST. MKII has said.

  • Comment number 59.

    I'm afraid that I cannot agree with the Wikipedia proponents gathering here.
    First: I believe that the advantage of the H2G2 compendium is that it has a Peer Review process that keeps some of the idiocy, that I find on Wiki, right out.
    There is a U.S. comedian, named Stephen Colbert, who has (several times) solved the problem with the low elephant population by simply increasing it on the Wiki entry.
    Recently, another show had a son telling his father that Wiki said Xxxxx, to which the father replied, "We'll change that as soon as we get home.'
    Second: The original concept was for the H2G2 site was to be a travel guide, not an encyclopaedia. Researchers were supposed to give first hand insight into those things that their area had to offer to citizens or tourists. Which are the best bars to visit on a Friday night? Where do I find dancing with/without Regae music? What do local museums have to offer? What areas to avoid if you are fond of your spleen?
    Wiki has made it clear that they cannot corroborate statements made about small-time stuff. And, I've found that I have to occasionally correct misinformation I've found there.
    I notice that their entry on the concept of a Gravity Train actually references my piece called "The Amazing 42-minute Gravity Sled" on H2G2.
    Then, there are the uncerainties. There entry on the Cuban Sandwich begins: 'A Cuban sandwich is a variation of a ham and cheese originally created by Cuban workers, either in Cuba or in the immigrant community of Ybor City in Tampa, Florida.'
    While my entry clearly states that it did, indeed, begin in Cuba. I know because the Cuban restaurant owner, from whom I got my information, brought the recipe (Wiki has no recipe) over from Cuba when Castro took over. It had been a local tradition long before they appeared in Florida.
    Their entry on the Glass Sponge is sketchy compared to mine. Their entries on Spotted Dick and HP Brown Sauce may be informative, but do not include recipes.
    Their medical advice on Glossodynia (Burning Mouth Syndrom) is not as complete as mine, and some subjects that I've covered do not appear at all!
    They have an entry on Theatrical Properties, but no advice to someone wanting to make stage props.
    I'm only using my entries as an example. You can see from this list (I haven't checked all of my entries) that we have significant advantages in content.
    Are all of my entries superior to those on Wiki? Decidedly not. For example, their entry on 'The Monkees' seems more exhaustive, but does not contain all of the information that mine has.
    I believe that there is not only room for H2G2, but a need for it.
    FordsTowel

  • Comment number 60.

    I think we shouldn't rise to the bait called wikipedia. It only distracts from what this is all about.
    Like 3Dots, I wonder what FrankieRoberto's motivation is to repeatedly suggest that the BBC should drop h2g2. He is not involved in h2g2 any more, and hasn't been so for years, according to his very own statement.
    It makes me wonder what would happen if I went and suggested that, say, 606 should be shut down.
    I don't think that h2g2 would fare well without the BBC. Like Natalie said, it would lack its purpose (the Edited Guide) and probably soon become 'just another message board' - and there really are more than enough out there already. In addition, even if a few dedicated researchers kept the Edited Guide going, adhering to the very same rules as now, I don't think it would be trusted any more the way it is being trusted now. To know that the BBC stands behind the content of the Edited Guide makes all the difference, of that I am convinced.

  • Comment number 61.

    There are a lot of well thought out posts above about the famous Reith statement - educate, entertain and inform (which h2g2 fits like a glove), about the strong community, and about the vast array of original content created by the public. I'm not going to repeat what has gone before.

    Really, though, I think the BBC would be doing itself a disservice if it got rid of h2g2. It has on its hands a unique product, which has shown that it appeals to people all over the world, of every age, and every walk of life.

    With this little box in front of me, I can access the state broadcaster of almost every country on Earth. I can read the leading newspapers of many nations, or dip into feeds from Reuters and the Press Association. What does the BBC offer to set itself apart?

    H2g2 offers originality, creativity, education and entertainment. With proper promotion and support, it could be a very powerful string in the BBC's bow.

    Think not about what h2g2 is - think about what it has the potential to become.

  • Comment number 62.

    Dear Seetha,

    I joined the H2G2 website in October 2007, when I happened to stumble upon it. I had been a regular visitor of the BBC website for a few years, but had never heard of it before.
    Being French, I do not know if I am allowed a say, so I will post my answers just in case...

    Here are my answers to your questions.


    STRATEGIC FIT :

    Does it fit the BBC’s public purposes clearly?
    Yes, it does. And to develop on those public purposes :

    - Sustaining citizenship and civil society :
    Yes, it does. The people I have met on HooToo have always seemed very civil (and civilised), and the community is welcoming and unprejudiced.

    - Promoting education and learning :
    Yes, it does. The Guide is a very good tool, which I have used when I gave English lessons. It contains clear, reliable, and interesting information, and the humour doesn’t spoil anything.

    - Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence :
    Yes it does. I’m afraid I am not very familiar with the Underguide, but I consult the Edited Guide quite often. The fact that people can write their own articles following the guidelines (especially about the quality of the English), definitely stimulates creativity and cultural excellence. Also, I would think that encouraging people to learn something new every day would be considered to stimulate cultural excellence.

    - Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities :
    Yes, it does.

    - Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK :
    Yes, it does. I for one am French… I know some Germans, Americans, Spanish, Canadians, one Sri Lankan... Come on, do I really need to make the list exhaustive? The Guide enables us to write about our own countries, our lives, etc, and to learn about the UK, life in the UK etc ; the conversations enable us to actually chat to people and interact with them and, in that way, to learn! What more could we want? (Yes, that's right, more Researchers.)

    - Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communication technologies and services :
    Well, as I wrote just above, HooToo enables us to communicate with people we could not have met otherwise. Isn’t that a benefit?


    FIT IN THE MARKET :

    I do not know enough about the UK market to tell, but what I do know is, as others have already pointed out, thanks to all the Volunteers and Peer Review, the Guide is reliable, which is more than can be said about Wikipedia. The fact that HooToo is a community, and that you can actually ask questions about Guide Entries, is also more than can be said about Wikipedia.


    AUDIENCE :

    Yes, there are a lot of Douglas Adams fans.
    There are also people who didn’t even know there had once been a man called Douglas Adams. I was one of those. I think the audience of HooToo is mainly curious people, and people who like to share what they know, and to learn new things. There are also a number of groups like the QI society, the Language Thing, etc ; so I don’t think there is *one* type of target.


    QUALITY :

    Accuracy, impartiality, taste and decency : Well, as in all communities, there can be some debate and obviously conversation forum posts are not always impartial. Apart from that, yes, those values are clearly defended.
    Edited Guide Entries are checked by the Volunteers, and the moderation system seems to work (possibly a little too well, though).

    Now, about the Publisher principles :
    1. "meet a clearly-defined audience need" : I would think the audience does indeed need a reliable source of information on life, the universe and everything.
    2. "do less, keep it simple, execute perfectly" : Other posters have mentioned the non-working thread search engine ; I didn’t even know there was such a thing! HooToo is not perfect, but it still works, and maybe it just needs a little help and support from the BBC?
    3. "ensure there is nothing similar already published on BBC Online" : Not that I am aware of. Or did I miss something? Is there another encyclopaedia-community?
    4. "Any website is only as good as its worst page" : I might be repeating myself here, but there are people who check what’s written in the Guide, so I would say the quality is pretty good.
    5. "Accessibility is not an optional extra, your site should, where appropriate, easily translate into other languages" : Well, I think there’s a rule somewhere about HooToo being English only ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/HouseRules ), so I suppose it is one case where it is not appropriate?
    Yet, we do have the Language Thing, where there used to be foreign language conversation threads (we would translate our own posts into English, so as not to break the Rule); although those seem to have fallen into disuse, now. Pity.
    6. "Maximise routes to content" : I’m not sure how that works, not being very technical myself, so I won’t develop on it.
    7. "free up your content for consumers to take away" : Same as number 6, really.
    8. "Do not attempt to do everything yourself" : I think it’s the whole point of things like Peer Review, isn’t it? You write about what you know, and then, others comment on it if something isn’t quite clear enough or if your English is not too good, and we all help one another, and get better at what we do.
    9. "Consistent design and navigation needn’t mean one-size-fits-all, users should always know they're on a BBC website" : There is the BBC banner thingy at the top of all pages, and the big “explore the BBC” button too, so that looks pretty clear to me...
    10. "Personalisation should be unobtrusive, elegant and transparent" : I’m not sure if this means personalisation as in 'personal spaces', or personalisation as in 'the HooToo site as opposed to another BBC site', so I won’t develop.

    Well, I think I’ve covered everything I possibly could. Sorry if that was a bit lengthy, but I suppose you want as much information as your can get, for the MOT to be really as effective as it can be.

    Stunningfrenchie.

  • Comment number 63.

    I've been in H2G2 since October 2005, I do not go to any other chat sites as H2G2 is home .I have many friends here, some who have become real life friends,adding to the many I have. There are people on H2G2 that for various reasons, are unable to get out in to the world/area where they live, therefore H2G2 is in itself a reality town, where you can call on a friend/neighbour basically any time. It is a lifeline to acquiring new interesting facts and knowledge from the encyclopaedia side and above all, increasing friendships that span the world(the strength of well-being given and received can not be matched anywhere else on the net)- H2G2 can adapt to modern technology and grow and will do, but it's basic format must be preserved.
    To the Editors, Moderators, all the other staff in the background and foremost,the technicians/programmers who keep H2G2 running - I thank you! and I think that I speak for many in that

    Prof...

  • Comment number 64.


    I'd suggest a good future direction to take the site would be to focus in sharing ideas, experiences and information. This would enable the Edited Guide to gain extra distinctiveness from Wikipedia. For example, Wiki tells you the history of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but h2g2 gives a visitor guide and handy hints and tips from shared community experience.

    "Ask the h2g2 community" should be promoted as a 'ask the world a question' resource. While yahoo answers, which does something similar, closes comments quickly, we have preserved resources and discussion threads. What we'd need to support this, as others have said, is a working search function so that people can find, read, and (if neccesary) continue or add to the discussion on that topic.

  • Comment number 65.

    Oh, one last thing: I don't allow my students to use Wikipedia as a cited source in papers. I do, however, allow them to use h2g2 entries. Just saying.

  • Comment number 66.

    Interesting picture you chose to illustrate this blog with, Seetha.

    That old 2CV may or may not pass its MOT, but even if it does it needs a bit of work. A bit of welding around that rear wheel-arch, for example. Fix the door that doesn't quite close properly. I'll bet you anything you like that there's an old tape player in there with a radio that doesn't pick up FM any more; it needs replacing with one of them new-fangled CD player thingies.

    When I get my car MOTed, I usually get it serviced as well. Correcting the wheel alignment saves tyre wear; a clean oil tank improves the car's efficiency; a few touch-ups on the bodywork save the chassis from developing major structural flaws. Any major problems are anticipated in good time. A bit of love goes a long way - our car's previous owner was a diligent as I am, and our 20-year-old Escort is still in fine fettle.

    So I'm hoping that, as part of this process, you'll give h2g2 a service as well as just checking it passes the MOT.

    My perception, shared by many Researchers, is that h2g2 hasn't had a service from the BBC for a while. We are blessed with a producer who is hard-working and passionate about the site, but she needs some support from the people upstairs. Perhaps FM&T haven't yet realised, or have forgotten about, the beauties of h2g2, and there are plenty of reasons up above why it should. The fact is that this exceptional - nay, unique - site needs someone to say not just 'what is h2g2's role in the BBC?', but also 'what can the BBC do to support h2g2?'

    Ask any Researcher and they'll easily think of aspects of the site that they'd like to see improved. The near-useless search facility is one we can all agree on - if I can build a search for my own website, why can't h2g2? Other suggestions would include greater promotion of the site as a whole, tools for collaborating on works or better functionality (for example maps, more capacity for user-created graphics and a wider use of AV).

    A proper service would help to flag up ways that h2g2 and the rest of the BBC site could help each other, too. Take Video Nation - there's a process already in place where users of the BBC website can create their own videos and have them shown in a pop-up window. On h2g2, the Aviators create videos and audio content to supplement Guide Entries, but these have to be hosted on YouTube and added with a special tag that only the Editors can use. So the idea of each part of the BBC website conforming to the same style and design standards isn't working, because the same technology can't be used in different areas. To me, the solution to this isn't to wonder about the future of h2g2, but to consider how the VN technology could be migrated over to h2g2.

    That's just one example, and one that I hold a candle for. Many people around these parts have other, and probably better, suggestions for ways the site could be improved. I guess it all comes down to priorities, but it's at least one way the site could be improved considerably using technology that the BBC already uses.

    And if you were in any doubt about how much affection h2g2's users have for it, we even set up http://www.h2g2aviators.com to host our AV content when we couldn't display AV on site at all. I don't think you'd find that kind of passion anywhere else on the web.

    This has turned into a bit of an Aviators rant, and I didn't mean it to. I guess I'm just trying to give you a practical illustration of the above posts. We could say as much about the work that goes into writing and reviewing Entries, welcoming new Researchers, providing photographs and illustrations for h2g2 Entries, the fortnightly editing of The Post, the instigation and continuing work on the alternative Guide, the UnderGuide, the new idea of promoting h2g2 on other sites, and all the dozens of hours of essential work that's put in by volunteers with a huge range of skills and talents who give up their time for h2g2.

    In short, because you have enough to read here already, please make sure you ask the producers of h2g2 what support they need to make the site better and to fix existing issues and please, please, please give them that support. I worry that you'll only look at the surface of this place and check it against a list of criteria and miss the real value it holds.

    If you analysed the atoms in a diamond, you'd probably conclude that it was just coal.

  • Comment number 67.

    Well this is quite fascinating. I would quite clearly be devastated if h2g2 were to close - however I fear it may because it meets a need that is very difficult to define. Perhaps it is better defined by experience - which is essentially how all the best things develop.

    My initial experience of h2g2 is probably very similar to a great many who still use the site, one day you stumble across the site, and you see you have the opportunity to contribute. When I joined in 2002 I was barely aware of online encyclopedias, however I have since tried to get involved in Wikipedia, and although I probably have a few words here and there, egads perhaps even a coherent string of words - I feel no affinity to the site. The community, if you can call it that, which exists there is somewhat elite. I can only speak for myself, but I wasn't drawn in to Wikipedia in the way that I was drawn to h2g2.

    You see from the outside that's all h2g2 seems to be also. Perhaps even to many who work in the BBC. But it is far more than that. It is a living organism.

    When I first joined I was greeted by someone called an ACE, a wonderful cheerful young woman very keen out of the goodness of her own heart to tell me all the wonderful places on h2g2. This was far more than just an encyclopedia - it was better! It was a village, a city, a world. Never in all my travels through cyberspace, have I ever come across a true place that I felt I could actually put a post code to.

    It has a wonderful newspaper that goes out fortnightly - I had the honour to oversee that newspaper for a week. I still hold that as one of my greatest achievements.

    I've ran community groups! And that group spawned other groups! I've challenged my religious beliefs, found out scientific facts I would never have done without this site. And most importantly, the thing that I thank h2g2 more than anything else - it has introduced me to writing. Both in a non-fiction and a fiction sense.

    I've written so many stories and poems now because I was motivated to by the community, I've lost count. I've contributed to so many groups and conversations... and really I genuinely could go on forever, but you would truely be bored to tears - but only because I couldn't possibly capture what it means to me. Oh and one other thing before I move on - I've been proud to be involved in the Aviators project. A fantastic, completely community based project to create visual and audio works for h2g2, in which I have been honoured to be able to provide the voice for an audio book of a story I wrote!

    There have been good and bads times of course. Just as there have been busy and quiet times. What we really just need is the ability to help the site flourish. I've had so much sympathy with the Itallics over the years, because the resources just seemed to be being cut and cut, until fairly recently. Perhaps thats just a perception, but certainly I know we've fewer staff than when I first started. I too have thought about the idea of letting the community "run" itself to an extent, to allow people to actually develop the site. But we really just need a sign from above that we're still loved! As sad as that sounds. And perhaps some more promotion. Particularly as it has given birth to a number of DNA based forums used across the BBC.

    I understand that as a public service the BBC has a duty to the public, but I think the thing with h2g2 is... well that it is the public in a way. Its perhaps a island (or at least one of its coastal villages - nice people tipping their caps to you as you walk past) in the middle of cyberspace. But still an island under the BBC's remit.

    So how does this site fit into the wider BBC Online service?
    - It complements it. It gives a community to feed in to those other services. It quite literally can complement any other part of the BBC you can mention.

    Does it serve the BBC's public purposes clearly?
    In the sense that members of the public use it, yes.

    Where does it sit in the wider UK market?

    A unique position. Where people can meet anyone on any topic from anywhere in the world. With the potential to be one of the most important sites on the Internet, with the right promotion and attention.

    How does it relate to external sites covering similar themes?

    Wikipedia? That offers a different service altogether, and the purpose of its entries, not only educate, but inspire other writers in a much more intimate way, in fiction and non-fiction.

    What is the key audience need that the site seeks to meet?

    Anyone with a thirst for knowledge, and the will to do something about it.

    What is the target demographic?

    Anyone with a PC and an Internet connection.

    Does the site clearly display the BBC's editorial values of accuracy, independence, impartiality, taste and decency.?

    I can say everything I have typed accurately represents what I wanted to type (unless I misspelled the word, then I probably corrected myself - then it accurately represented it). For everyone else, you'd struggle to find more dedicated people to getting the right stuff in to the Guide. It is clearly independant and impartial, as there are some quite interesting debates at times around the BBC. And decent, yep the moderators haven't done us wrong yet.

    Does the sit adhere to our publisher principles? Does it meet best practice technical, UX and accessibility standards?

    Now on the technical side, we could maybe do with some improvements... please fix the search engine! But this side of things the community can't really control, and we'd love your help!

    So that's probably rediculously long, but I hope it shows how much the site means to me. Previous posters have probably said far better things than I, and I've probably missed out lots that I would like to say, I just hope that this is in someway useful, and that we can continue to improve the guide, and take it to its rightful place - right at the heart of the Internet. Where its inspiration, Douglas Adams, belongs.

  • Comment number 68.

    "Wikipedia? That offers a different service altogether, and the purpose of its entries, not only educate, but inspire other writers in a much more intimate way, in fiction and non-fiction."

    I should add that I mean that it is h2g2 that I feel inspires more than Wikipedia

  • Comment number 69.

    Some decades ago the BBC thought it was good policy to wipe video tapes and reuse them. Today people are lamenting that policy and trying to rebuild collections of classic BBC series. Result - the BBC no longer wipes tapes (or whatever it might use these days to store its output). It would be a great shame if, 20 years from now, we had to use the patchy memory of the Wayback Machine to view sketchy and incomplete sections of h2g2.

    This http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/content/images/2007/03/19/1_440x330.jpg would be a far more appropriate image to use than the picture above. It's better looked after, more practical, carries more people and when it's gone forever a lot of folks are going to lament its passing, look at the alternatives and know that what came before had so much more warmth and friendliness.

    And let's eschew the marketing speak, shall we? There is no target demographic for h2g2 - it appeals to everyone from 16-year olds in California to 80-year olds in Holland. There are no external sites covering similar themes - h2g2 is unique because (like it or not) of the character who inspired its original incarnation and its purpose, although it's grown in ways that I doubt he ever foresaw.

    There are many more things worth keeping than can be justified with talk of demographics, markets and audiences. They're like little dots in a newspaper photo. On their own they don't mean anything, but put them together and pull back... you have a picture. Take out enough of the dots and the picture fades.

  • Comment number 70.

    Morning Sheetha, morning everyone.

    I didn't mean to post again, but some of the things posted here have sparked ideas in my morning brain.


    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


    It's a radical thought, I know, but why not go Open Source on the software?

    This is why I think that would help:

    1 - H2G2 is a Web 2.0 community sitting on a Web 1.5 platform - let's make it Web 1.9 eh?

    2 - The BBC is constrained for funds

    3 - Community members understand how contributing works - hey we *invented* community contribution - and members like to help out in any way we can

    4 - We have a good amount of technical skills, both professional and amateur

    Let's face it - the reason h2g2 creaks a bit is because it has not had the loving technical attention that Skankyrich mentions for a lo-o-ong lo-o-o-o-ong time.


    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


    Promote h2g2 based on the one thing no-one can take away from us: our age. It is our USP, and we are untouchable for it. No-one else has it. No-one at all. We were Web 2.0ing before the term was invented in 2005: http://oreilly.com/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html

    As ~jwf~ and Gosho have said, h2g2 is almost a 'heritage' website: this is a strength to build on, not an embarrasment to hide from. By now, surely, we understand our differnces from Wikipedia well enough to actively promote them - we are more careful and thus more authoritative *and have a decade of PR conversations to prove it* and we are a guide not a fact-sheet.

    Promote us in BBC searches. Promote us in Google Searches. Permit and encourage BBC staff to link to our entries *as well as* Wikipedia. Say it loud and say it proud.

    In the days when h2g2 entries popped up high in Google searches we

    1 - got a lot of members who had never heard of Douglas Adams - making us less of a cult site

    2 - got a lot of members from outside the UK - helping nation speak unto nation and improving our bredth, depth, relevance and coverage

    3 - were cited in a larger number of student essays and - yes - in academic papers - giving us greater kudos

    Even so, we never got the recognition we deserve - how ironic and sad is it that a search for +h2g2 and +"Throwing Sheep" is this particular googlewhack: http://sambrook.typepad.com/sacredfacts/2006/12/reuters_continu_1.html


    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


    So here are my suggestions:

    Go open-source on the software within the community - it's a proven and workable model both within and outwith h2g2.

    Reposition us: Move us off BBC4, and put us on BBC2! Actively promote us as an accessable, joinable, authoritative user-created site - this would help h2g2 to step out of the shadows and nearer the light. We could be that very BBC thing: the overnight success that took 10 years to happen.

    Either would help - both would be best.

    Ben

  • Comment number 71.

    Wikipedia for nerds, then?

  • Comment number 72.

    :-)

    Not entirely fair, BigBadDaveB! I much preferred the days when people who had no idea who Douglas Adams was ambled in off Google and joined us. It happens less now, and the community and Guide are poorer for it.

  • Comment number 73.

    I've noticed that more and more programmes on TV and radio are asking for viewer or listener feedback. I like that people can comment on the news, current affairs or even subjects like what is their view on such and such fashion.
    However the agenda is very rarely a free one. You comment on what you have heard and that is it. There are lots of topics over the week, so I'm not complaining but H2G2 is very different to this. We can raise topics that other people have not heard of. There have been several entries on H2G2 that I would never have heard of unless I had picked books randomly from the library.
    The content is consumer led on Hootoo and I really love that.
    It isn't anywhere near reflected anywhere else on the BBC.

  • Comment number 74.

    Hi Seetha and all
    Being Danish, 56, freelance journalist and researcher in H2G2 since December 2001 I will put my oar in to show the diversity and inclusion of H2G2.
    BenWarsop (UK) posts 24 and 38, Milla (Sweden) post 29, Hypatia (USA) post 32, stunningfrenchie (France) post 62 are some among the commentators here who sum up my views on H2G2, and Skankyrich post 66 and BenWarsop post 70 present interesting ideas, I find.
    I have discussed education with a 16 year old in USA (and we are friends on Facebook) and philosophy with an 80 year old UK-citizen. An Estonian researcher I've met on H2G2 has via our knowledge of each other arranged meetings for a journalitic course in Estonia, and right now an Australian researcher provides me with contacts for a reporting tour to Melbourne.
    Knowledgeable, helpful, friendly, fun, intelligent, passionate and overall inclusive are the keywords I will give H2G2.
    I know, I know. 'Inclusion' (and 'inclusive') is/are the new buzzword(s) - but still.
    Greetings
    Anja Dybris




  • Comment number 75.

    i wholeheartedly agree with tartaronne and all others who speak in favour of h2g2

    minichessemouse says "I don't think that this is the time for the end of hootoo. I think it's time for a new beginning". i could not have said it any better myself

    pierce, researcher since january 200

  • Comment number 76.

    Hi Seetha.

    I've been a member of h2g2 for... actually I can't remember. 9 years I think. I must admit to being a little worried by the requirement to do _one_ thing really really well. However, it then occurred to me that that one thing is, as Natalie has pointed out, being a community. But, as Natalie has also pointed out, you wouldn't get the community without the breadth of other interests, purposes and functions found on the site. I'll try to explain why I think h2g2 meets your other objectives _because of this diversity._

    Take the strategic objective of sustaining citizenship and civil society. Of course, there will be many Guide entries, and underguide entries, which cover these topics. There are also frequent debates, well reasoned and largely respectful debates, within the community in areas such as Ask... about current affairs or perennial topics such as http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/F19585?thread=6817637 (which is simply the _first_ one I came across today).

    The ability to debate such matters with a measure of maturity, incidentally, is _dependant_ on their being a community. Community members cannot afford to just flame and run. This is why I am posting under my community name, by the way. My RL name means nothing here.

    Not that the occasional hockey game doesn't occasionally break out. But in discussing what behaviour is acceptable within a community, in the frequent debates about what rights and responsibilities hootooers have towards h2g2, and towards its host the BBC, surely this is how h2g2 is really fulfilling its citizenship remit. Extremely well.

    I found your comment about h2g2 being the only part of the BBC which is wholly an online entity interesting. And a bit shocking really. But then I was also shocked recently to discover that none of my RL friends have online presences in any of the communities in which I dabble: blogs, Facebook, twitter etc etc. People from h2g2, however, are frequently found there, or, it turns out, have decided not to use one or another of these platforms after giving them a thorough test drive.

    Which, I think, answers your question about who is the target audience and what the audience need is: it is a website for people who are comfortable with exploring what the Internet has to offer beyond functions which rather pedestrianly mirror those of RL functions (eg email/ mail or Wikipedia/ encyclopedias).

    It also, then, must be the only one of your sites which is really trying to target 'Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services'. Although could I also add a plea for some of the creakier technology to be updated under this heading?

    Mind you, the fact that the users have to wrestle with GuideML to an extent has been one of the most useful learning experiences for me. The blog service I use lets me upload content without having to tackle the tags myself, which I must confess I find helpful. But when things go wrong, I find the fact that I have some basic understanding of how these things work extremely helpful and I wouldn't have that without h2g2.

    I, of course, also agree with all the other people who have talked about how h2g2 fulfils the learning/education and creativity and cultural excellence criteria in other ways. One of the focuses it has, one of the reasons why people keep coming back and become part of the community is because it is a writing site afterall, not just an information portal. Personally, I was incredibly excited by and proud of the (community member inspired and run) Stretcher: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/A45104906 Which, incidentally, also shows just how mature the h2g2 community's understanding of what the Guide (Edited and Under) is and what it is for.

    The fact that the community is, to an extent, an international one greatly enhances all of the other areas. There are topics included that British people might not have thought of, perspectives in the debates which are beyond the narrow British understanding of how the world and communities should work and so on. There is a distinct British slant to hootoo, but it does interact with the outside world in the way that your strategic objectives would suggest is desirable.

    I, also, love it.

    Sort the search engine function out though, yeah? That most certainly doesn't fit your publishers guidelines of maximising routes to content. I am rather worried about this. I know the BBC likes to think of itself as uber balanced and objective and would therefore probably prefer to be associated with a (seemingly) totally factual encyclopedia project such as Wikipedia. But aside from my own personal irritation with such a pose, it is clear that entities such as academics can be comfortable with the entries we produce and, as a result of Peer Review and the possibility of responding to the writer once the entry is published, it is also clear that our interpretations are defendable.

    And that's really all I have to say...

  • Comment number 77.

    I would just like to add as well that I do not use Facebook/Twitter or other such sites as they have no interest to me at all. I see them as a 'product'. I have never seen H2G2 as 'a product'.

    I would also say that H2G2 is by no means a 'wholly on-line entity'. Being involved in this site led me to spend 8days a few years ago driving one of our American researchers around the UK visiting other Hootooers. I had never met her before that time but knew from all the discussions and interactions on the site that I would happily spend that amount of time with her with no problem at all.

    I have no doubt that people on other 'forums' do the same thing, I know the 'Froggers' on the PM blog meet up...but it was due to the original nature of H2G2 that one can see many different facets of people and how they interact differently.

    In much the same way that a person can act differently at work and in social situations, people on Hootoo show their different faces on different parts of the site warts and all. This again is something unique that people are able to express themselves openly.

    I have made a point not to go through the MOT check list as I do not think it is relevant or indeed useful but then I am a practical engineering type of person and if I see something is fulfilling it's job and is fit-for-purpose I might see if we can change a few bits for more modern ones but I will not mess about with what the machine does.

    The H2G2 machine is very fit-for-purpose. We just need to drop in a new engine and a sat-nav to help us get around better.

  • Comment number 78.

    Hi Seetha..me again...I posted something on to the H2G2 thread about the MOT which it has been suggested should be put on here.

    It is a straight "cut and paste" so apologies if it a bit terse and paraphrased:

    "I think the 'doing one thing well' is typical KPI (key personal indicator), benchmarking stuff.

    People may be thinking we do loads of things but not 'that' well due to the technology and lack of resources that the Beeb have given us.

    However, sit the MOT people down for 2 or 3 hours and take them through ALL the things we do and they will realise that the one thing we do VERY WELL is keep a lot of balls in the air at one time, rarely dropping any but when we do the others stay up."

    Thanks!

  • Comment number 79.

    I'd like to be able to assure anyone reading this, that h2g2 is the best site on the www, but since it's the only site (apart from a few retailers) that I use, I've really got nothing to compare it with. It would distress me if the BBC decided to close it. I've learned more on h2g2 than I ever learned at school. (That's probably a bit of an understatement, since the one thing my various schools did very efficiently, was put me off learning.) 'Ask' is indispensable when I have any technical questions. AWW is as good as a college for teaching and improving writing skills. The Post is the only magazine I ever read. The whole site feels like virtual home to me. If it closes, I don't expect to find another place anywhere near as good. I'll be shivering on the internet street - a homeless vagrant. It would be very sad. And I might start to resent the price I pay for my BBC licence fee (which I currently regard as worth every penny).

    Those bulleted questions in post one, (strategic fit, market, do people want to be able to fit it nasally and so on), have 'Golgafrinchans' written all over them. DNA had the measure of those people. The BBC obviously needs h2g2.

  • Comment number 80.

    I meant that h2g2 is wholly online in that it doesn't have any connection to TV or radio actually, but your point is a good one of course, 3Dots.

    Actually, though, in terms of learning and delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services, h2g2 isn't just a writing site, it's a masterclass in how to write for the Internet. Not just the trick of interracting in text without monumentally annoying your interlocuter, but also in constructing articles designed to be read on screen. It's a whole different approach to paragraphing, I'll tell you that much.

    And on a related note, while it might be argued that the look of the site is a bit dated, can we please avoid an overhaul that mirrors some of the other BBC sites too closely? The other place on the BBC I visit regularly is the Formula One bit and my but that is busy busy busy. Just because it's possible to cram so much onto one page doesn't make it desirable. And that's from the point of view of someone who is, as a result of trotting round h2g2, confident navigating around websites and reading off a screen. The 'white space' on h2g2 is fine. In contrast, I go to the f1 site as little as possible, and that's a shame as in other respects the BBC's f1 coverage this year is great.

  • Comment number 81.

    Zendevil Terri here, chucking in her ten penn'orth.

    *Said the apple to the orange:
    "Oh I wanted you to come
    Close to me and kiss me to the core
    Then you might know me like no other orange
    Has ever done before"*

    'Copyright: Al Stewart, A small fruit song'

    Now, that is because i went on hootoo, as i do most nights, to add to my journal, browse around,see what's on Front Page,, check in on my dear fiends, see if any newbies need ACEing, wonder about doing another regular column for The Post but i also wished to find this song; had to Google it, the Search function on h2g2 is basically where the site falls down in my opinion. If i am frustrated with it, rarely even bother & am a long term Researcher, how on Earth do newbies feel?

    As to the new Moderation policy; words fail me that won't get yikesed!!!!!

    Please, during the M.O.T, do something to improve this. You (Auntie Beeb!) have a vast network of willing, unpaid, talented, creative people at your disposal. We use the site as a community, in the spirit that Douglas Adams (RIP) would have wished.

    If it came to a decision solely on the grounds of finace to close the site, have you ever tried Googling some obscure topic? h2g2 is always on the first page as a link, Wiki sometimes only. If that isn't generating publicity & accessibility for the BBC, my dog is actually a cat & i have ordered her to eat my hat.

    Zen Devil Terri & Yoda (currently eying up berets, panama hats etc.)

  • Comment number 82.

    To me, h2g2 is a modern-day Mundaneum (about which I just happen to have written an Entry at http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/A36163901 )

    The Mundaneum, founded in 1910, was not a "proper" encyclopaedia. It was an ongoing effort to catalogue the entire world's knowledge, or at least those parts of it that its creators knew about and found interesting, but with new pieces being submitted constantly, and by anyone. The documents it collated were all created by different authors coming from different backgrounds, each allowed to work in his own voice. And it wasn't just writing - the collection encompassed drawings, sculptures, even audio. These could also be updated and annotated at the suggestion of people who came across them in their research, as it was a scholarly resource.

    It did one thing better than h2g2. It allowed the addition of keywords to the huge index card catalogue with which it was organised, to make it easier to find connections and relevant documents, something that the nofollow tags for search robots prevent on h2g2. (hint, hint) Of course, its search function was *even worse* than ours, consisting of a lot of women sat around a table trying to find the relevant documents for you...

    But what also made it unique was its users, who had more passion for it than anyone should rightly have for an encyclopaedia. They even tried to build a city around it, to be designed by Le Corbusier - a utopian place of learning and discourse by people of many nations, a "Universal City" of libraries, universities, and more mundane things like organisations for promoting world peace and understanding. Of course, that didn't work out. What it had instead was a corner of an abandoned universety anatomy building, no funding, and only a single man to run it with the help of a few volunteers - who still kept updating it nonetheless.

    Sound familiar?

    Despite its impassioned supporters, and the great advances in information technology made by its creators, Henri LaFontaine and especially Paul Otlet, it was eventually forgotten (mainly for want of a single person to oversee the project) and scattered to the winds, many tons of material thrown away while "tidying up". Those parts that can still be found are now being painstakingly reconstructed, not only for the information contained in it but also for its unique take on how information could be shared. But much has been lost forever.

    We wouldn't want that to happen to h2g2, would we?

  • Comment number 83.

    I can't add much to the sensible comments made here about how well hootoo fits into BBC policy/strategy without repeating them.

    Isn't an MOT (and accompanying service, as Skanks points out) to make sure that a car works effectively and safely? Surely that means that the BBC has no intention of ditching hootoo? Some reassurance seems to be needed on that score please...

    I too only visit hootoo and don't use any other social networking site. Hootoo is not only about the social side though: it has a more concrete role in being the most querky, informative and querky travel and general info site I've yet seen. (I check out hootoo before going away on holiday anywhere.)

    Since 2002 the site has been a source of inspiration, literary satisfaction, friendships (real and online), adventure, challenge and support. We are a community in all senses of that word: we provide and seek a whole variety of things for and from each other.

    On several occasions, when real life has been all-consuming, I've decided to leave hootoo. Each time I've come back. I know I'm not alone in that. It speaks volumes: there is something in hootoo which appeals to all levels of my life.

    I hope the MOT will sort out some of the operational glitches that have been talked about above. If the BBC is proposing anything more dramatic, I think the volume of responses to this blog probably demonstrate that we're thriving, passionate and vocal ;-)

  • Comment number 84.

    I think the harshest thing you can say about bbc.co.uk/h2g2 is that it NEVER appears in Google searches, which makes it very "uncompetitive" with Wikipedia.

  • Comment number 85.


    "Place in the market: Where does it sit in the wider UK market? How does it relate to external sites covering similar themes? "

    One suggestion - stop thinking of it as a 'market', a market is where people buy and sell things. Surely the word that should be there is 'community', and h2g2 fits even better when you use that definition for the audience and participants, rather than one with a built-in 'financial value' bias....

  • Comment number 86.

    I came to h2g2 relatively recently, (in February of this year) and since then have learnt all sorts of things that I wouldn't have been motivated to do so anywhere else. I have read so many different types of interesting entries into the Guide - my sphere of knowledge has been widened.

    I have also been amused and entertained, and had the opportunity to debate with others late into the night - when other boards are closed. Because h2g2's members are from all parts of the world, this gives an opportunity to talk to your friends from other time zones.

    I have been given the confidence to write and research, and to take an active part in the Peer Review process.

    If I am confronted with an insoluble problem I would be certain to find someone here, on 'Ask', who could help.

    I still feel a newcomer to h2g2, but have found it to be the most eclectic and wondrous place. There are an abundance of thoughtful and intelligent people gathered here together, producing something that defies conventional categorisation. I have been trying to put my finger on something that has not already been said, to support our dear hootoo through this review, but all I can add is that it has reached parts of my brain that in all the past decade have never been touched by other online media.

    It is a gem beyond price in my opinion.

    Lanzababy.

  • Comment number 87.

    When the BBC took over h2g2 the question was asked. Why ?
    Were they attracted by DNA the communications language or did they feel some obligation towards DNA the man ?
    Before taking any action this is something to 'Think About'
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A1074962
    About h2g2 DNA the man wrote:-
    " The more people who use the Guide, the more useful it will become, and the more useful it becomes, the more people will use it. We have the first snowflake. Now let's build a blizzard. "
    Is there any reason for this aspiration to die ?

  • Comment number 88.

    I'm absolutely nothing to do with H2G2, other than an occasional browser of the site. (I admit that I think I may have once signed up for an account in the first half of this decade, and then taken that no further.) Despite this, I'd be sad to see the site disappear. I even like its look, which is now perhaps politely described as 'somewhat retro', and always made me think of Ceefax/Teletext. Which is another thing I'll be sad to see disappear, while I think of it!

  • Comment number 89.

    majabl, that is lovely to hear. We hootooers get very passionate about something that has been a part of our lives for so many years, but it's good to have someone who has less emotion vested in the site take the time to comment. If you ever wanted to be part of the site, you know where we are... ;)

    One question I'd like to ask is this: why did BBC take the time and effort to take over h2g2 in the first place? Aunty must have seen something worthwhile in the first place, and I bet that hasn't changed.

    I can't add much I'm afraid. h2g2 has changed from it's initial remit all those years ago, but it's turned into something quite unique and beautiful. Let's work together to keep what we like (the feel and the people, including our wonderful Italics) and get rid of what we don't (broken search engines etc.).

    Here's to another ten years!

    Vip

  • Comment number 90.

    I agree with the earlier comments that h2g2 is under-utilised by the BBC.

    I think the structure of h2g2 design enables community in ways that I haven't seen elsewhere on places like Facebook or forums run on phpBB. The Personal Space, plus the ability to create pages, plus the ability to create pages and have them be the focus for other researchers to write and talk and run projects, as well as the official forums etc, all that means that there is an actual community rather than merely an ability to network or post messages (which is a different thing).

    One of the great aspects of the community is the place it's given people with disabilities to meet. I know the bbc has Ouch, but that's different, that's a focus on disability. On h2g2 people with disabilities get to work and play and hang out and give each other support, it's not just about the disability. I've seen incredible peer support given by and to people who would otherwise be isolated because of physical or mental/emotional limits. That support may be in the form of dealing with hard stuff, or it may simply be that people know they can turn up each day and see familiar faces and have a laugh.

    The internet in general has revolutionised the lives of many people who would otherwise be isolated by disability (myself included), and h2g2 does something particularly important because of the way the design enables the community to function.

    This is another way in which the bbc seems to under-utilising h2g2. If the community side was being promoted and encouraged and supported, there would be a lot more people writing for the Edited Guide. I love what Natalie said earlier:

    ***
    It's properly symbiotic: the Edited Guide exists because of the community and the community because of the Edited Guide. Even the users who don't create Entries for the Guide take part in discussions that are populated by people with inquiring and curious minds - people drawn to a site that inspires them to share their knowledge and learn something new in the creation of the Edited Guide. It's a properly collaborative enterprise: users don't just post scraps of information in relative anonymity but get to know each other and learn from one another. You can see this process in action and it strikes me as precisely the sort of thing that the BBC wants to achieve.
    ***

    Or, in the words of the inestimable Kiwi comedian John Clarke (refering to his university days I think):

    "We didn't talk in order to express what we thought, we talked in order to find out what we thought"

    H2g2 enables that. It doesn't just educate people with facts, it teaches them how to learn and think.

    I think h2g2 is still a pretty cool place even though it's quieter than when I joined 6 years ago. And it seems like there is still large untapped potential in the proper symbiosis that Natalie is talking about.



    Speaking of comedians, as a New Zealander raised on British humour, I'd like to point out that h2g2 is one of the funniest places on the internet. You have both a lot of cultural referencing (linking to python sketches in the middle of conversations is big at the moment), and you have the kind of humour expressed by the researchers themselves. I regularly get to laugh out loud. The humour is uniquely British and it's something I think the Brits should be very proud of (except they get all weird when anyone starts talking about cultural pride).

  • Comment number 91.

    Just a thought while it occurs to me. Whilst many people, including myself, have included references to wikipedia, I would also add to the point that h2g2 was facebook/myspace...etc long before those things came in to existence. Perhaps I do h2g2 an injustice by these comparisons, because even they don't give the scale of the potential of h2g2. The BBC has on it's hands something far better than Wikipedia/Facebook combined. And I've thought for so long that it would be criminal if the BBC didn't do something about it.

  • Comment number 92.

    And I also fear that there is almost a similarity between Doctor Who of the 80's (before the BBC saw the light in 2003), and h2g2, in that perhaps they don't quite know what to do with it. Just please don't leave it 16 years this time before you realise what you've got!

  • Comment number 93.

    Well, if we are going to compare H2G2 to Dr Who, I think the advice of the Daleks would be:

    "Aggrandise! Aggrandise!"

  • Comment number 94.

    Comparing h2g2 to something like Wikipedia is not just unfair but also very silly.

    Whether it was the original intention or not I do not know as I wasnt involved back then but today h2g2 is much more about providing a range of interesting articles rather than a vast encyclopedic knowledge base.

    It could do with more attention, certainly the current rate of article publiching is rather slow, albeit the quality as of late has been high. However if it were to end up with 30-40 entries a day then it would break out of it's niche and into the world of wikipedia which would not be good.

    Better placement would be a jey factor in improving it as a service. At the moment it is hidden away on the 'wierd' tab that not many people bother to include on the beeb home page, perhaps it could instead be tagged along with the blogs section?

  • Comment number 95.

    I have spent bleary eyed days trying to find an answer on G**gle. Now I just go to the HooToo. Better than the answers I get are the questions that lead to discussions that answer questions that I would never have thought to have asked.

    I have a pet theory that Rupert Murdoch is an alien sent to earth to destroy it. He not only owns half of the media in the world but he has moles planted in the other half. This is what I think of when someone mentions that the Beeb is thinking of ending h2g2.

  • Comment number 96.

    I've been a h2g2 researcher since 2001, a lot of what keeps me coming to the site is the community. I love the community, I'm married to a girl (called Ben) who I met on h2g2.

    I'm aware that there are other online communities, though h2g2 is perhaps the only one I feel comfortable in at the moment.

    There's lots of places on the internet that you can publish your writting. But who reads them? I can blog any day I want - but I don't have an audience. The thing h2g2 gives me is feedback and an audience.

    The building of a 'guide' is a common purpose and pulls us all together. Read the medical articles on Wikipedia they're usually very dry, aimed at medical proffessionals, and written by medical proffessionals. I'm a Doctor in real life and often I write 'medical things' for h2g2. If I wrote a dry article on h2g2 full of jargon someone would say 'that doesn't make sense' and I'd alter it.

    Every single h2g2 entry I've written is much better for going through the Peer Review process. I can't get that at another site, not on Wiki nor wordpress.

    The other thing that you only get on h2g2 is the volunteer schemes, Scouting and subediting are chances for people to take responsiblity and take part in the process. The Subediting is a really great chance to do some proofreading work that you wouldn't get in your day to day life. The Scouting is a way of giving feedback - again you wouldn't get it in your h2g2 life.

    Another unique part of h2g2 is the fact that entries are 'edited' and drawn to attention on the front page - this gives them an added status. Just recently I submitted a proposal for a feature I intended to write to a magazine, and I included my h2g2 entries as examples of writting. I wouldn't have done that with wiki or a blog.

    Just my thoughts.

    Z

  • Comment number 97.

    Seetha

    Having spent a long time reading the above posts, I can't add more to what everyone else has said except...

    ...we have all made friends on this site in addition to the educational and creative work that everyone has done (me included...I used to be a volunteer on this site but due to work commitments I can no longer do this).

    We have also lost friends on this site. A friend who was there for me from day one on this site passed away recently. To loose hootoo would be to loose his memory. I pray that this doesn't happen.

    Finally...now that you have read all the posts above, could we have some feedback from you? We're all sat reading these posts with baited breath.

    vv

  • Comment number 98.

    Seetha,
    like VV above, i'd like to see some feedback on this blog - isn't that what blogs are about, a discussion between the blogger and those reading and commenting?
    Maybe I'm too used to hootoo, where the discussions, whether they are about an entry, in Peer Review or in one of the discussion fora blossom -at the moment this blog feels more like participating in a vote to keep h2g2 in the BBC online version of an X factor style show.
    Hootoo is unique, for the many reasons detailed above (often with more panache and clarity than I'll manage). It educates, it informs, it entertains. It GUIDES. It is more web 2.0 than many things that have that label splashed across them. It is a community, a forum, a social network in that via that user-generated content friendships are formed, ideas discussed and ideals shared. It would, if the search was fixed and BBC rather than resolutely ONLY linking to external sites ALSO linked to h2g2 be a great resource. It works precisely because it doesn't have a tv or radio equivalent, it is greater than that.
    It has been underfunded and ignored.
    Are BBC online going to treat the slightly battered E-type jag of Hootoo as:
    a) something to get rid of as part of the scrappage scheme?
    or
    b) something worthy of an Eagle type fix up, marrying the best of what it has done in the past, with the evolutions of the engineering of today?

  • Comment number 99.

    I don't know that I can add anything new to the passionate and well thought out comments of the above, most of whom I would count as friends.

    The one word that keeps coming around is "community", and I think if you're looking for the one thing that hootoo does well, much better than any similar site, it's that.

    For me, it's been hugely important in improving my writing and editing skills, including learning a bit of ML along the way.

    Educate, inform and entertain? You betcha.

    Now, while you're under the bonnet, sort out that Search function, give us an edit button, and let us be able to post pictures and video clips.

  • Comment number 100.

    I like the fact that we can't post pictures and videos. I hope that doesn't change. Possibly those technical limitations mean we have to talk to each other more, take more time over words, which keeps language alive. I would certainly hate to see images being posted in the conversation threads.

 

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