H2G2

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The correct title of this article is h2g2. The initial letter is shown capitalized due to technical restrictions.

h2g2 is an online community engaged in the construction of a guide to life, the universe, and everything. Much of it is encyclopedic, but the site also covers more idiosyncratic subjects, such as plastic bag bras, teaching cats to fetch, or using spoons. Although the site is owned and hosted by the BBC, many participants are from outside the United Kingdom.

The site takes its name from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a fictional publication found in the book, radio, television series, and film of the same name.

h2g2 has a strong community feel, with a largely helpful user base. The site is rich in graphics, which are designed by a volunteer team of community artists. The site is generally considered quite user-friendly, particularly towards new users who are usually welcomed by volunteers known as ACEs (see below). As in many such communities, discussion ranges from the friendly to the hostile, but for the most part Researchers work together well.

Entries typically aim for a slightly humorous, but correct and well-written treatment of their subject matter. Every entry has an associated discussion area, which allows for multiple threads, called Conversations.

Contents

[edit] History

h2g2 was founded in April 1999 as the Earth edition of 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.<ref>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</ref>

Like many 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 part of BBCi). During this takeover there was a lengthy intermission during which the site was unavailable, which the community refers to as "Rupert" — an obscure reference to the serendipitous naming of the fictional tenth planet in Adams' novel Mostly Harmless. Some members created an alternative site, "n2g2", standing for "Nowhere To Go To", in order to maintain their community while the site was down, and to complain about changes implemented by the BBC.

April 21, 2005 marked the launch of h2g2 Mobile, an edition of the guide produced specifically for PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) and some mobile phones that could access the internet, so that people could read h2g2 entries while on the move. [1] 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.[2]

On August 16, 2006, h2g2 added its 8,000th entry to the edited guide.

[edit] Terms and conditions

In order 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 do pretty much whatever it likes with them.

The House Rules prohibit various things, including racism, "hard-core" swearing, spamming, flooding, languages other than English, and "otherwise objectionable" material. The Terms and Conditions are more legalistic, and prohibit material that is not the submitter's own and original work, defamatory material, etc.

When the site became part of BBCi, the BBC insisted on moderating all 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 any posts they make are not displayed until they have been reviewed by a moderator.

Occasionally, there has been an issue that is particularly contentious, or that makes the BBC's libel lawyers particularly nervous, and discussion of this issue may be moderated differently. For example:

  • Political Discussions during any Elections in the United Kingdom are restricted to specific forums. These forums have all 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 and, for example, the username OBL was deemed unacceptable.
  • On 17 March 2003, h2g2 issued guidelines for discussions during the 2003 Iraq war, including saying that "Postings and Entries on the subject of the conflict posted to h2g2 will be removed".
  • In February 2006, various posts linking to the Muhammad cartoons were removed.

Additionally, several Entries have been deleted by the h2g2 Editors, at the behest of the BBC's "Editorial Policy" unit, headed by Stephen Wittle.

[edit] Editing process

h2g2 is really two separate but complementary Guides, one Edited and one Unedited. The Unedited Guide is described in a separate section below. The Edited Guide consists of articles (usually called 'Entries') which have passed through a peer review process, and then been checked and tidied up first by a volunteer sub-editor and then, more briefly, by an in-house editor. The 7,000th entry was added to the Edited Guide on April 8, 2005. [3]

[edit] Peer Review

On h2g2, entries are peer reviewed by any members of the community who feel like spending a little time reading and commenting. Some of these may be specialists on the topic, but generally most are not, and it soon becomes obvious, therefore, 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[4].

Once an entry has been picked by a Scout (see later) 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 only be modified or updated by its author either by requesting minor changes through the Editorial Feedback section of h2g2, or by submitting it to the Update Forum if larger changes or a rewrite are needed. However, the author can still update the unedited version, which remains in the wider unedited guide. Many authors choose to delete the original (unedited) version, so that it does not show up in search results.

[edit] Sub-editing

Sub-editors, likewise, are not generally experts on the material they are editing, which is assigned on a more or less random basis. Sub-editing is mainly limited to ensuring readability and conformity to the h2g2 house style, though the amount of changes made varies from one Entry to another.

Some sub-editors tend to discuss changes with the Researcher who wrote the Entry to make sure that they are correct in their information and written in the right way. However, this is entirely at the individual sub-editor's discretion. h2g2 lacks an effective change control system, and this often leads to errors creeping in at this stage.

[edit] Updating

After years of discussion, h2g2 has now adopted a formal update system. This consists of an Update Forum, which works in the same way as Peer Review, allowing a new version of an existing entry to be submitted for full review.

Smaller changes to Edited Entries can be made by posting to the Editorial Feedback page. The Editors and the Curators (a volunteer group) will attend to them. This can include typos, minor errors, and other small changes.[5] [6] 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.[7]

[edit] The workshops

If an article is not yet ready for submission to Peer Review, there exists an Edited Guide Writing Workshop, 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. There is another review forum, the Flea Market, where abandoned Entries from Peer Review are moved, so that other researchers can adopt them. An Entry might be moved to the Flea Market if, for example, its author leaves h2g2 (called 'Elvising').

There is also an Alternative Writing Workshop, where entries that don't adhere to the Writing Guidelines can be worked on. Entries from this workshop are candidates for the UnderGuide (see below).

[edit] The Unedited Guide

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 homepages (known as their 'personal spaces'), and writing workshops. The Unedited Guide can also contain fiction, although this cannot be submitted for inclusion to the Edited Guide, which only contains factual information.

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 by the author(s) and submitted again at a later date.

[edit] The UnderGuide

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 Guidelines. The UnderGuide and its volunteers have a similar structure to the Edited Guide's volunteers. They have scouts, but call them Miners. They have sub editors, but their name is Gem Polishers. Miners inhabit the Alternative Writing Workshop to comment on entries and pick them for the UG.

[edit] The community

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

[edit] The Italics

The Italics (technically 'the Editors'), the inhouse editors of h2g2, are the only people on the site who get paid (by the BBC) for what they do. 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 conversations, in bold italics, to keep people from impersonating them. There are informal nicknames for the editors such as 'The Powers That Be', 'The Towers', 'The Powers in the Towers' and 'Pisa People'.

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 most 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, and with the exception of Community Editor Peta Haigh, all other Italics have moved on.

[edit] Volunteers

There are six 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:

  • Aces (the name is an acronym for Assistant Community Editor) are responsible for welcoming new users and assisting them in becoming active and experienced members of h2g2. 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.
  • Gurus help Researchers later on 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).
  • Scouts are responsible for making sure that quality work does not languish in Peer Review for too long. They keep an eye open for entries that have received a favourable response from other Researchers, and pick a few each month to recommend for inclusion in the Edited Guide. The picks are reviewed by the 'Italics' and then forwarded to a sub-editor.
  • Sub-editors check and edit Entries to be added to the Edited Guide. After that is done, the new Edited Entry is posted to the front page for a day and one in three articles is awarded its own professionally drawn picture. Once Edited, the original authors cannot change the articles anymore, although there is a small team of Curators who continuously trawl old edited entries repairing broken links, making updates, and so forth. These were the first volunteers, originally hand picked, who used to do the jobs of scouts as well prior to the creation of Peer Review.
  • Community Artists contribute the art that illustrates many of the entries. The volunteer group provides graphics frequently, in order to meet the one-in-three requirement mentioned above. They are always credited on the pages they have illustrated. Everyone on h2g2 has some respect for the artists.
  • University Field Researchers 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 take several months to complete. Once finished, they are usually featured on the h2g2 home page for a week. This scheme was discontinued on June 25, 2003, though previous Field Researchers retained their badges. [8] In late 2005, the scheme was reinstated and projects began to be featured on the Front Page again.
  • Curators are long-term responsible Researchers who have demonstrated a 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.

[edit] Clubs and societies

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

  • The Musicians' Guild - self explanatory; this is a place for musicians to gather and discuss musical topics.
  • The Zaphodistas - Loosely based on Mexico's Zapatista rebels, the Zaphodistas campaign 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 - This is a group that campaigns (not yet successfully) to have the days of the week renamed (chiefly to rename 'Thursday' as 'Thing'). The group is also attempting (as yet also unsuccessfully) to have one of their threads ('No no no!!') recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the longest thread in any chat community in the world. (As of February, 2006, that particular thread had over 82,000 posts, so maybe they have a point.)
  • The Thursdayites - This group campaigns to have the days of the week as they are now
  • The Terranic Army - This virtual army used to have online battles on their own World War battlefield. The army is now in general disuse, although many copycat societies have emerged.
  • United Friends of h2g2space - One of the largest clubs at the site, United Friends is simply a celebration of the friendliness of h2g2. Membership is open to any researcher.

[edit] 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 many similar conversations to Ask, but they tend to be of a more serious nature.
  • SEx - Science Explained Forum - an area for Researchers to discuss all things scientific. Many of the Researchers are experts in particular fields, and so are able to provide explanations on a broad range of subjects.
  • Miscellaneous Chat - an area devoted to conversations about anything and everything
  • Talking heads of h2g2 - A place for general chatting.

[edit] The Post

The Post is h2g2's own virtual broadsheet newspaper, published weekly 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 a few 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.

The h2g2 community also investigates its own progress at times, for example in the h2g2 Reports, written by a varied group of Researchers on a relatively infrequent basis.

[edit] DNA

The software for h2g2 - and all of its related 'sister' communities in the BBC, such as "Film Network", "Action Network", "Comedy Soup" 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.

All of the BBC message boards moved onto the DNA engine in 2005.

Adams himself was rather involved in the website in its early days. His account name (of course) 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. Tributes and messages poured in at a rate of about one every two minutes.

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.

[edit] The skins

h2g2 has four different 'skins' which are different ways of viewing the site. Users can set their options menu to view the site in one or other of the skins when they are logged in. Some skins are more popular than others; some even have fanclubs. It is possible to switch between skins while not logged in by altering the URL, for example changing http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/classic/A918434 to http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/alabaster/A918434 would alter the skin from Classic Goo to Alabaster.

  • Classic Goo was the first skin. It has large white text on a blue background. The first programmers of h2g2 nicknamed it 'Goo' but it appears as /classic in the URL.
  • Alabaster was the second skin. Its layout is most like the rest of the internet, featuring small black text on a white background with chunks of orange and green. Originally called 'the corporate skin', its design was considered necessary to increase registrations from visitors who might previously have been intimidated by Goo. Launch editor Tim Browse suggested the name Alabaster to the development team, who were immediately delighted by the concept and suggested further possibilies along the lines of Porcelain, Ivory and China. It wasn't mentioned at the time that the suggestions, whilst reflecting the change to a white design from the classic blue, were also associated with toilets.
  • 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, and was designed to look more like the rest of the BBC. 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 changes its colour scheme with its content. This skin is generally considered as having the best layout, as it has several useful buttons that are not on the other skins.
  • Plain was designed for Digibox, Palm and Pocket PC users who can't load the more graphic alabaster, brunel or classic. The Plain skin is not officially supported on the site, so it has not undergone the same level of testing as the other skins and has a few small problems. Unlike the other site skins, plain allows registered site users to define and use their own Style Sheet if they so wish.
  • pda for mobile phones. Contains Edited Guide only. Articles are cut into sections at headers. Does not contain conversation fora.

[edit] Notes

<references/>

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

fr:H2g2 it:H2G2 nl:H2G2 ja:H2G2 pt:H2G2 tr:H2G2

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