What is h2g2's Place in Internet-land?

3 Conversations

This question arose due to the release of the Government's Green Paper on the BBC. It may be of interest to read Extracts from the Government's Green Paper on the BBC - a personal view which sets out the main points raised. Part one may be accessed from
h2g2's Place in Internet-land

This is the second of four entries which look at our place in Internetland. Like the previous one, it is based on the following conversations:

The analysis is however a personal view though I have co-credited everyone as contributors to all four entries, regardless of where their
comments are included, because it is essentially a single piece in four


PART II - Content is no longer king: ways forward

In the early days of the Internet content was seen as king. It was
assumed that ever-changing content would bring people back to a site, but this was essentially a meme from broadcast and print media, and it missed out completely on the fact that the Internet is both realtime and

It is to the BBC's credit that they have never seen the Internet as a
broadcast medium, and it is can be assumed that one of the reasons they
bought h2g2 was in order to continue Douglas Adams' experiment in creating online communities. On the other hand the answers to the questions about 'what happens if you get a bunch of people together online' are fairly clear now, you can find most of them directly or by implication in the DNA hub.

What do we do that no other site does? Provide for possibilities. On h2 we can do almost anything; have serious debates, role play, write interactive stories, write encylopaedic entries, chat, visit virtual pubs and workshop poetry. It's all about learning, communicating, writing and exercising imagination. h2g2 gives us the space and tools to grow. - LLLWaz

If content is no longer king and the experiment has yielded its results, what comprises 'value' in a publicly funded website? Interaction? Collaboration? (We've discussed those already). Education?
Personal growth? Debate? International understanding? All of these sound pretty good, and h2g2 is pretty good at all of them, but what are they, and are they enough?

An education in itself

The site is educational in the very broadest sense. People here learn
through doing and participating:

I'm sure there are users out there, probably older ones, who
have learned to surf from the secure base of a BBC site. Some might even
have done some XML programming without realising it, now that's what you
call education. - Wandering
I can think of several researchers who are fairly new to the
internet, or were when they joined h2g2. Terri and Yoda for example, Ancient Brit, etc. We seem to be a far less tech savy crowd then we get at say, slashdot. - Z
I discovered this place through Babbelfish when I was still trying to figure out what the internet was, immediately wrote a
personal space and a journal entry, then started bouncing around raising
all sorts of hell. I think if I'd had any idea that such a thing as nettiquette existed I'd have been much more cautious. -Mother of
I hadn't realised quite how big h2g2 was & had no experience of any other chat room or message board. Reading the topic of
the week, I found I wanted to put my view & so joined. - Teasswill

There are other ways to learn and grow - h2g2 has fostered personal and even professional growth:

When I came to the site, I posted before I even knew what was going on. Some very opinionated posts followed before I sort of felt
myself integrated into h2g2, and realised what it was all about... In
fact these days I'm so much more of a lurker then I ever was, which is
wierd, as my confidence in RL has grown the less outspoken I have been on the internet. Not sure if thats me changing within h2g2, or just me
changing... - Bob the
Contributing the EG both as a writer and a brief spell as a
sub-editor has helped my career a lot... I use those skills in work now,
and without the EG I'd be a poorer person (both in skills, experiences and frankly money). - Mina

And less dramatically:

H2G2 has made me care about my spelling. Now when I see something that I've written and spelled badly I cringe. I hate the fact I can't tell if my own writting is spelled right or not. I can easily tell if someone elses is, but I can't tell my own. - Z

A site that will change the way you think

Time and again people have said that they return here because of the quality of the debate:

One strength of Hootoo's community is that however much a conversation or debate might go around in circles, progress really happens. - Bouncy in the Middle
... sharing ideas not insults. You could pick people brains
instead of picking on them."- abbi normal
I use h2g2 as a place to meet and talk to interesting people
who don't immediately ask me a/s/l1. - gorgeous kelli
...the lovely thing about h2g2 is that when people debate here people actually change their minds. ... Thinking about interesting things is one of my hobbies, and I get to do it a lot on h2g2. - Z
If you subscribe to "The Forum" then the likelihood is you are going to get involed in heated debate... On the other hand I for one have been informed several times and even (gasp) had my opinion changed on certain subjects. - Ferrettbadger
I would call this a place for *robust* discussion and interaction and on the whole everyone is fair to everyone else. I *try* to be. But I will not backdown on a subject if I think someone is talking rubbish - if they cannot come back with a good response and decide to go off to other threads fair enough. I would rather learn more about why they think the rubbish they are talking is correct than scare them off. Heck, I had my opinion changed on a subject late last year by giving over my well-founded beliefs re: voting and that is what I like about the site learning about others and yourself. Having your ideas challenged and challenging others but not putting up with rubbish... which is where the robust debate comes in. - Alfster

Hands across the water

One important part of h2g2 is its internationalism.

It is nearly the only DNA site with any possibility for people outside of the UK to use it - collective, Ican - all UK specific. - sprout
One of the things that the BBC has here is an international
small town. It could be a forum for English-Speaking people of all nations to come together, and once it nearly was. ... those of you who were here on the 9th September 2001 will remember having your boundaries blown by the shared inter-national shock of the thing, as we came out of our h2g2 ghettos and shared our fear in the public spaces. - B

It is, however, a ball that we are dropping, and dropping rather badly.

... the original 'Whats wrong with America' thread ... quickly descend[ed] into vituperative back-biting and personal slanging matches. ... 2Bit quite openly tells all new users from the states that the site has an anti-US bias, which while I don't believe it to be true is certainly a perception that could be gained. - Blues
I'm used to being ignored when I start talking about New Zealand, but a newbie coming in from here might give up fairly quickly
because of the need to be UK focussed. I know that this is a chicken and
egg thing (more kiwis would give new kiwis a place to talk). ... My sense is that this site isn't sticky for people from outside the UK and the US. - kea

It isn't helped that sometimes simple geography is against us:

Living down here in GMT + 10, there is always backlog
when I get online in the morning; Europe's had an entire day of frantic
posting while I've slept. By the time I catch up, everyone's moved on,
leaving me responding to something that's buried under hundreds of posts
on other matters... - Ivan the
Terribly Average

All of human life

There is no doubt that here one has the chance to meet people one would not come across at work, or in one's own local:

... talking, as we were earlier of Justin, i kind of miss the fruitcakes on this site. I can't remember all their names, but we had the one recently who was onsite for a few weeks trying to recruit people to a new utopian country that he was about to form2. Then there was Liam, and the bloke who was
continually forming new 'advice' pages all over the bleedin' place ... -

Branding irons

However, the site does not only need to be valuable to the people who
use it. In order to continue to exist, it also needs to be valuable to the BBC and to support the BBC brand. [Quote from Mina]. We also have to
adhere to various internal guidelines, not only for Editorial Policy, which affects all of the BBC's broadcast and print output as well as the
online presence, but also the internal guidelines for the BBC's Internet

It is, of course, tricky to find out what these are but Brits, at least, have an instinctive understanding of what the BBC is in comparison with Channel 4, say, or the Guardian, or
Wikipedia. The simplest way of looking at what constitutes giving good
Beeb is probably to look at what the Government want from the BBC.

He who pays the piper calls the tune

The Government are the BBC's pay-masters, and regardless of whether or not the site strengthens the BBC's brand, it has ultimately to comply with the Government's requirements of the BBC's online content.

The Green Paper
was published on the 2nd March 2005 set out an
interesting mission for the BBC Online Content:

In addition, that review noted that BBC Online plays a valuable role in the development of the web itself: using the BBC's
position as a trusted guide to bring new users to the internet; encouraging users to try new interactive technology; and setting a benchmark of innovation and creativity.

We've already seen that, to some extent, we do that. It is not explicit though, and perhaps it should be made more obvious.

The public service objectives of the New Media within the BBC are to act as an essential resource offering wide-ranging, unique
content; to use the internet to forge a new relationship with licence fee payers and strengthen accountability; and to provide a home for licence fee payers on the internet and act as a trusted guide to the new media environment.

H2G2's commercial failure and publicly-funded success, as well as the
nature of what we have become, suggests that we do that.

It also said that Ofcom
requires that BBC programming, (and by stated inference its online content), should meet the following criteria.

  • of high quality
  • challenging
  • original
  • innovative
  • engaging

H2G2 arguably meets all of these criteria.

There is comfort here:

There are no plans to require the BBC to shut down or privatise any of these services. New governance and accountability arrangements should ensure that they are focused on public purposes and on the public interest.

And a warning here:

While committing to focus resources on content that has
educational and democratic value, the service must continue to cater for
the tastes of all licence fee payers. It should play a key role as a
benchmark of innovation and quality, developing original and engaging
content to attract new users and give those with more experience the
opportunity to engage creatively with the site.

So it isn't just me banging on about being seen to be good. An
invisible benchmark is a contradiction in terms3.

The BBC will also have to continue to monitor the balance
of content and services on the site to ensure that they remain in keeping with the principles and purposes of the Corporation eventually enshrined in the new Charter next year.

Once again, not merely do good Beeb, but be seen to do good Beeb.

We expect the service licence developed for bbc.co.uk to
provide a high level of clarity, for all interested parties, about the
boundaries of the site.

So the BBC's days of putting up a community and seeing what happens are over. The lights are going off in the laboratory. It is more important than ever that we identify our strengths and our purposes and play to them.

None of this of course is within our remit to address. That is the job of the Italics. However, it is still a direct challenge to each of us to help them.

The problem is not that we don't satisfy these
criteria - we do. The problem is that we must be able to demonstrate
quickly and easily that we satisfy them.

h2g2's Place in Internet-land

a broad called Ben/a girl called Ben

17.03.05 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1Age/Sex/Location - in fact one of the attractions of h2g2 is that one can get to know people
surprisingly well, without knowing any of those things about them.
2That would be GiGaBaNe3"Why do you sing the praises of h2g2?"
"The Government made me do it!"

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