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h2g2 is a UKmarker-based collaborative online encyclopedia project engaged in the construction of, in its own words, "an unconventional guide to life, the universe, and everything", in the spirit of the fictional publication The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy from the science fiction comedy series of the same name by Douglas Adams. It was founded by Adams in 1999 and has been run by the BBC since 2001. It is often compared to Wikipedia but there are differences between the sites.

The intent was to create an Earth-focused guide that would allow members to share information about their geographic area and the local sites, activities and businesses, to help people decide where they want to go and what they may find when they get there. It has grown to contain subjects from restaurants and recipes, to quantum theory and history. Explicit advertising of businesses is forbidden by the site owners, the BBC, but customer reviews are permitted.

The content of the project is written by registered "Researchers" on its website. Articles written by Researchers form the "Guide" as a whole, with an "Edited Guide" being steadily created out of factual articles that have been peer reviewed via the aptly-named "Peer Review". The Edited Guide includes both traditional encyclopaedic subjects and more idiosyncratic offerings, and while articles in the Edited Guide sometimes aim for a slightly humorous style, most are correct and well-written treatment of their subject matter by virtue of the Peer Review process. Every article has an associated discussion area which allows for multiple threads, called "Conversations".

History

h2g2 was founded on 28 April 1999 as the Earth edition of the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by the author of the series, Douglas Adams, and his friends and colleagues at The Digital Village. "h2g2" serves as a handy abbreviation for that rather lengthy title, with the advantage that most people are able to spell it. The site was a runner-up for Best Community Site in the Yell.com awards in 2000.

Like other dot-com companies, Adams' company TDV ran into financial difficulties towards the end of 2000 and eventually ceased operations. In January 2001, the management of the site was taken over by the BBC, and moved to bbc.co.uk (then known as BBCi). During this takeover there was a lengthy intermission during which the site was unavailable, which the community refers to as "Rupert" — a reference to the serendipitous naming of the fictional tenth planet in Adams' novel Mostly Harmless. Members created an alternative site, "n2g2", standing for "Nowhere To Go To", to maintain their community while the site was down, and to complain about changes implemented by the BBC.

21 April 2005 marked the launch of h2g2 Mobile, an edition of the guide produced specifically for PDA (Personal Digital Assistants) and some mobile phones that could access the internet, so that people could read h2g2 entries while on the move. This was done because people wanted h2g2 to be much like the Hitchhiker's Guide described in the books — a mobile, electronic device that anyone could read from anywhere. An earlier attempt at a WAP phone based version of h2g2 started in December 2000 only to end when the BBC took over the site in January 2001.

Edited Guide

Any h2g2 Researcher may write an article (known as an 'Entry') and then submit it to Peer Review for inclusion in the Edited Guide. Other users will review the Entry and suggest improvements, with the author making changes to their work as necessary. Following at least seven days' reviewing, Entries in Peer Review may be recommended by a volunteer Scout (see below) and accepted by the in-house team. When this happens, a copy of the Entry is passed to a volunteer Sub-editor (see below) for fact checking and general tidying, followed by a brief check by the in-house team. Entries appear on the site's home page on the day that they enter the Edited Guide.

As of July 21, 2009, there were 9,773 Entries in h2g2's Edited Guide. For comparison, Wikipedia had 2,565 and 7,050 on that day.

Peer Review

On h2g2, entries are peer reviewed by members of the community who feel like spending the time to read and comment. Reviewers may be specialists on the topic, but most are not and it soon becomes obvious whether the average Researcher can understand an Entry. While this has the advantage that Entries are generally written in terms that the layman can understand, it also means that mistakes can occasionally slip into the Edited Guide.

Once an Entry has been picked by a volunteer Scout (see below) and leaves Peer Review, a copy is made and editing rights are handed to a Sub-editor. After the Entry has its day on the Front Page of h2g2 and becomes part of the Edited Guide it can be modified or updated by its author either by requesting minor changes through the Editorial Feedback section of h2g2, or by following the Update Forum process if larger changes or a rewrite are needed. However, the author can still update the original, unedited version, which remains in the wider unedited guide. Alternatively, they may choose to delete the unedited version, so that it does not show up in search results.

Sub-editing

Sub-editors, likewise, are not generally experts on the material they are editing. While it involves a degree of fact checking, sub-editing mainly involves ensuring that articles are readable and conform to the h2g2 house style.

Sub-editors may discuss changes with the Researcher who wrote the Entry to make sure that they are correct in their information and written in the right manner, but this is generally at the individual sub-editor's discretion. h2g2 lacks an effective change control system, and this occasionally leads to errors creeping in at this stage.

Update Forum

To keep Edited Entries up-to-date, h2g2 has a formal update system. This consists of the Update Forum process, which allows for a new version of an existing Entry to be submitted to Peer Review. Once the update has been reviewed to a sufficient extent, the updater removes the update from Peer Review and uses the Editorial Feedback system (see below) to notify the Editors. Newly-updated Edited Entries commonly gain a further appearance on the Front Page and appear in a list of recently-updated Entries.

Editorial Feedback

Smaller changes to Edited Entries can be made by posting to the Editorial Feedback page, where the Editors and the Curators (a volunteer group) will attend to them. This can include typos, minor errors, and other small changes. It can also include the addition of extra information:

If the information is more than a few paragraphs, but less than a full reworking, the information can be submitted via Editorial Feedback. For us to accept the update, however, it must be presented with explicit directions as to why the update is required, as well as directions as to what goes where/replaces what and it should be in full GuideML, including links.


Edited Guide Writing Workshop

If an article is not yet ready for submission to Peer Review, there exists an Edited Guide Writing Workshop (EGWW), where other researchers can post suggestions and corrections, so that the author can improve their work and bring it up to the standard required of the Edited Guide. Researchers may also use the EGWW to arrange collaboration on an Entry.

Flea Market

Another review forum, the Flea Market, exists as a home for abandoned Entries. This allows other researchers to adopt wp:orphaned Entries and submit them to Peer Review, with the original author taking partial credit. Typically, an Entry is moved from Peer Review after its author leaves h2g2 (known as 'Elvising' after Elvis Presley).

Other content

The Edited Guide forms only a small part of h2g2 as a whole. Most of the site's 'cultural life' takes place in the far larger Unedited Guide, which contains, amongst other things, various clubs and societies, discussion areas, Researchers' h2g2 user pages (known as 'Personal Spaces'), and writing workshops. The Unedited Guide can also contain fiction, which as mentioned below may be submitted to the Alternative Writing Workshop.

If an article does not make it through the Peer Review process, the original (unedited) Entry can still be viewed, as before, in the Unedited Guide. It can, of course, also be rewritten and submitted again at a later date.

UnderGuide

There is also an Alternative Writing Workshop, where entries that do not adhere to the Writing Guidelines can be worked on. Entries from this workshop are candidates for the UnderGuide, and may also be accepted for publication in the h2g2 Post (see below).

The UnderGuide is h2g2's most ambitious attempt to bring the attention of the community to the best entries that fall outside of the Edited Guide's Writing Guidelines. The UnderGuide volunteers have a similar structure to the Edited Guide's volunteers - Miners have an equivalent role to Scouts, and Gem Polishers perform a similar task to Sub-editors (see below). Miners inhabit the Alternative Writing Workshop to comment on entries and pick them for the UnderGuide.

Volunteers

There are twelve different kinds of volunteer on the site, with varying responsibilities. Any researcher can apply to become a volunteer; if accepted, they gain a badge for their Personal Space, advertising their status as a member of that particular group. They are traditionally described in alphabetical order:

  • Aces are responsible for welcoming new users and assisting them in becoming active and experienced members of h2g2 (ACE is an acronym for Assistant Community Editor). No statistics are publicly available, but this approach ensures that a large proportion of initially active Researchers continue to contribute. Aces are also expected to take a responsible role within the community, encouraging discussion and debate.
  • Aviators create audiovisual (AV) content for h2g2. Video clips have been produced to accompany Edited Guide entries, and both video and audio content have been produced to accompany articles in The Post. The Aviators host their material on an external site, h2g2aviators.com.
  • Community Artists contribute the art that illustrates entries. The volunteer group provides graphics frequently to meet the requirement for a photo or illustration for one new Edited Entry each weekday. Artists are always credited on the pages they have illustrated.
  • Curators are responsible Researchers who have demonstrated a long-term commitment to the Edited Guide. They have been granted the power to edit Entries in the Edited Guide. They work with the Italics to keep the Edited Guide tidy and up-to-date. Their duties include correcting typos which have slipped through the editing process, cross-linking newer Entries to older ones and removing broken links, and taking care of requests for minor changes which have been posted to the Editorial Feedback forum.
  • Gurus help Researchers with technical issues, such as with GuideML, a custom markup language designed to allow additional features (such as formatting for headings and subheadings, and graphical emoticons), whilst removing unwanted HTML tags (such as JavaScript and embedded images and sounds).
  • Photographers work to provide photographs for older Edited Entries, which must be entirely their own work.
  • Post Reporters are those Researchers who have contributed regularly to h2g2's The Post (see below).
  • Scavengers are those Researchers who have 'rescued' at least five entries from the Flea Market (see above) and used them to produce Edited Entries.
  • Scouts are responsible for the running of Peer Review, and make sure that quality work does not languish there for too long. They keep an eye open for entries that have received a favourable response from other Researchers, and recommend two or three entries each month for inclusion in the Edited Guide. The picks are reviewed by the in-house team and then forwarded to a Sub-editor.
  • Sub-editors check and edit Entries to be added to the Edited Guide. Once they have finished working on an entry, they submit it for a final check by the in-house team, following which the Edited Entry is posted to the front page for a day. The Sub-editors were h2g2's first volunteers, were originally hand picked, and used to do the jobs of scouts as well as sub-editing prior to the creation of Peer Review.
  • University Field Researchers are Researcher who write groups of entries based around a common theme, aiming to provide a comprehensive guide to a specific subject. These projects often become quite involved and may take months to complete. Once finished, they are usually featured on the h2g2 home page for a whole weekend.
  • UnderGuide volunteers are responsible for the running of the UnderGuide, and include Miners and Gem Polishers. Miners are analogous to Scouts in that they recommend material from the Alternative Writing Workshop (see above); Gem Polishers are analogous to Sub-editors and are responsible for sub-editing material for inclusion in the UnderGuide.


Community

The bulk of site activity takes place in the United Kingdommarker (GMT/BST) daytime, which is when the in-house Londonmarker based team (known as 'The Italics', see below), is there. But at other times, the USmarker, Canadianmarker and Australian researchers are also very active.

Italics

The Italics (technically 'the Editors'), the in-house editors of h2g2, are the only people who are paid (by the BBC) to work on the site. They monitor the content of the Edited Guide and oversee the general development of community life. They are named for the way their names appear in conversation threads, in bold italics, to keep people from impersonating them. There are other informal nicknames for the editors such as 'The Powers That Be', 'The Towers', 'The Powers in the Towers' and 'Pisamarker People' (again, after the slanting nature of their on-screen nicknames).

The core personnel have changed considerably since h2g2 started in 1999. Of the original TDV team, only Technical Lead Jim Lynn remains working on the site., although much of his time is spent developing the DNA software base for other uses within the BBC; the first full-time editor, Mark Moxon, left in 2002. - [Mark Moxon] was previously the editor of BBC's groundbreaking community website h2g2 for the first three years of its being (h2g2 being the Earth Edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy).

Clubs and societies

h2g2 is large enough to have numerous unofficial clubs and societies, set up and maintained by Researchers. Examples include:

  • The Musicians' Guild - a place for musicians to gather and discuss musical topics.
  • The Zaphodistas - Loosely based on Mexicomarker's Zapatista rebels, but named after Zaphod Beeblebrox, the Zaphodistas campaigned for researcher rights, for example, to include external images on h2g2 pages.
  • The Freedom from Faith Foundation - An organization of free-thinkers, the FFFF is a forum for non-dogmatic discussion of philosophical and religious issues.
  • The Society for the Addition of a Towel Smiley - This is a group that campaigned successfully to have a graphic representing a towel added to the extensive list of h2g2 smileys.
  • The Thingites - a group that began as a campaign for Thursday, a day that they find particularly woeful, to be renamed 'Thing'. They have since broadened their scope and now aim to have the days of the week renamed in their entirety. One of the group's threads, 'No no no!!', reached 95,900 posts during June 2009.
  • United Friends of h2g2space - One of the largest clubs at the site, United Friends is simply a celebration of the friendliness of h2g2.


Talk forums

Among the most popular Talk Forums on the site are:

  • Ask the h2g2 Community - usually abbreviated to Ask. This is a general forum where Researchers can ask members of the community questions on various subjects. It also contains long-running conversations such as "My penis and I - what do women think of penises?", "What Films have you seen recently?" and "(The Return of) What book are you reading at this time?".


  • The Forum - The Forum contains similar conversations to Ask, but they tend to be of a more serious nature.


  • SEx - Science Explained Forum - an area for Researchers to discuss scientific matters. Researchers are often experts in particular fields and are able to provide explanations on a broad range of subjects.


  • The Quite Interesting Society - an area where Researchers can ask questions after the style of the TV quiz show, QI.


  • Miscellaneous Chat - an area devoted to conversations about anything and everything, including the odd 'last post wins' thread.


  • Lil's Atelier - often home to h2g2's busiest conversation, the Atelier features both polite discussion and a degree of role-play.


The Post

The Post is h2g2's own virtual broadsheet newspaper, published fortnightly by a team of community members. It includes cartoons, regular columns, fiction, poetry and feature stories written and submitted by the h2g2 Researchers. It is edited by dedicated h2g2 Researchers, not paid in-house editors. The Post provides an outlet for comment and for sharing experiences, and often features content that is not intended to form a part of the Edited Guide.

Skins

Image:H2g2Classicskin.PNG|h2g2's Classic Goo skinImage:H2g2Alabasterskin.PNG|h2g2's Alabaster skinImage:H2g2Brunelskin.PNG|h2g2's Brunel skinImage:H2g2Plainskin.PNG|h2g2's Plain skin

h2g2 has different skins that may be used to view the site. Users can set a preference to view the site in one or other of the skins when they are logged in.

  • Classic Goo was the first skin. It has large white text on a blue background.
  • Alabaster was the second skin. It features small black text on a white background with chunks of orange and green.
  • Brunel is the newest official skin, and consequently it is the default format for visitors who are not logged in. It has black text on white backgrounds. The border colours vary depending on what type of Entry is being viewed, and can be determined by creators of Entries by using special GuideML tags; the h2g2 Front Page in Brunel changes its colour scheme with its content.
  • Plain was designed for Digibox, Palm and Pocket PC users who cannot load the graphic-laden alabaster, brunel or classic skins. It consists of a white background with minimal graphics.
  • pda is intended for mobile phones and pda on the mobile internet. This skin contains the Edited Guide, the Search function and a page noting that the BBC does not charge for use of the mobile site, but phone companies may do. The skin is graphic-light and articles are cut into sections at headers so that only the desired content may be downloaded. The pda skin does not allow registration with the site, and does not contain unedited entries or conversation fora.


Site redesign

The site is currently looking forward to a major redesign to bring it in line with the general appearance of BBC sites, while maintaining a degree of the site's old character. The current skins (see above), the newest of which was created in 2002, will be retired.

Terms and conditions

To contribute to the site it is necessary to register and to agree to the h2g2 "House Rules" and the general BBC Terms and Conditions. Registered users are called Researchers. Researchers retain the copyright to their articles, but grant the BBC a non-exclusive license to reproduce their work in all formats.

The House Rules prohibit various things, including racism, "hard-core" swearing, spamming, flooding, "otherwise objectionable" material, and spitting. Codes and languages other than English may only be used sparingly and with an accompanying translation. The Terms and Conditions are more legalistic, and prohibit breach of copyright and defamatory material.

When the site became part of BBCi, the BBC insisted on moderating contributions to the site soon after they were made. However, they were eventually persuaded that the h2g2 Community could be trusted to a system of "reactive moderation", in which posts are not checked by moderators unless a complaint is made. Individual user accounts are sometimes put on "pre-moderation", meaning that posts they make are not displayed until they have been reviewed by a moderator.

Particularly contentious major issues may lead to discussion being moderated differently. For example:
  • Political Discussions during Elections in the United Kingdom are restricted to specific forums. These forums have posts read by moderators to ensure that the BBC cannot be seen to break the tight rules that govern the UK media during such elections.
  • During the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, extra rules were put in place.
  • On 17 March 2003, h2g2 issued guidelines for discussions during the 2003 Iraq war, including a statement that "All new postings and articles relating to the conflict in Iraq posted to h2g2 will now be failed". This policy was lifted on 24 April 2003.


Occasionally, more contentious Entries submitted for review are hidden pending moderation, with two articles about the Nestlé boycott having been pulled in the past.

DNA

The software for h2g2 - and of its related 'sister' communities in the BBC, such as "606", "Film Network", "Action Network", "Comedy Soup", "Memoryshare" and "Collective" – is affectionately known as DNA, after the initials of author and site founder Douglas Noel Adams. The DNA technology was introduced a few months after the BBC takeover. Before this technology, there was "Ripley", which was named after the character from the film Aliens, in homage to the quote "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure." Before that there was a technology with no particular name, which subsequently gained the retronym Llama, due to the code holding the site together being written mostly in Perl, the handbook for which had a picture of a llama on the front cover.

Adams himself was rather involved in the website in its early days. His account name was DNA, and his user number was 42, a reference to the famous joke in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is 42. When Adams died in May 2001, his personal space was the focus for a huge reaction from the community. Adams' legacy is still felt on h2g2, and naturally the site is peppered with references to the Hitchhiker books; it is, however, not a fan site, and was never intended as such.

See also



References

  1. - We've never allowed Researchers to advertise on h2g2, but being a part of the BBC makes it even more important that the editorial independence of the Guide is not threatened by people filling the Guide with adverts. Writing entries that review or criticise commercial products are obviously fine, as long as they're balanced, but adverts aren't.
  2. - Another site, created by Douglas Adams, comes at the encyclopedia idea from a different, funnier angle.
  3. - At the bottom of most pages on h2g2 you'll find a conversation area.
  4. Bird is a word we use quite often, which is why it's such an easy word to say ... If birds were called "migratories" rather than "birds," we probably wouldn't talk about them nearly so much. We'd all say, "Look, there's a dog!" or "There's a cat!" but if a migratory went by, we'd probably just say, "Is it teatime yet?" and not even mention it, however nifty it looked.Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
  5. - Here are links to all the h2g2 volunteer schemes... in alphabetical order, because all our volunteers are equally dear to us.
  6. BBC h2g2 Personal Space: Jim Lynn
  7. - The most important new feature for h2g2 is the addition of a new skin, Brunel. [....] Brunel will become the default skin for h2g2.
  8. - As we've already mentioned we're now in the process of redesigning h2g2.
  9. - The lawyers wanted to know what rules we needed, and we said 'The usual ones, plus "No spitting" please.' So there you go: no spitting.
  10. - An example of a forum created for discussion of the 2009 elections.
  11. - Now that the frequency and intensity of the military exchanges have diminished, message board users and DNA Community members may resume discussion of the issue in their preferred communities.
  12. - Conversation thread for first Nestlé boycott Entry.
  13. - Conversation thread for second Nestlé boycott Entry.
  14. - Since Ripley was a complete rewrite of h2g2 in C++, we felt this quote rather summed up what we were doing. It makes a great slogan, too: Ripley: It's the only way to be sure.
  15. - The first versions of the h2g2 site were written in Perl, and the cover of O'Reilly's excellent book Learning Perl has a llama on the front.


Further reading




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