Become a fan of h2g2
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. Parts one and two may be accessed from
h2g2's Place in Internet-land Archive
This is the third of four entries which look at our place in Internet-land. Like the previous ones, it is based on the following conversations:
- The Government's Green Paper about the BBC - and the present and future of h2g2
- What puts people off posting on h2g2?
- What's your metaphor for h2g2? No drifting!
- What is h2g2's place in Internet-Land?
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 parts.
PART III - Could do better...
All too intimidating
The Government wants the BBC to provide a safe and simple way for people can learn how to use the Internet, and h2g2's performance in these respects is decidedly patchy. H2G2 can seem intimidating, there can be no doubt about that.Blues Shark sums them up concisely:
Here's a few things I *know* have put people off in the past. I offer no opinion as to whether they are right or wrong, just that I have heard them said;
- Difficulty of use. The exact quote - 'How the **** do you find anything on there?'.
- Cliques. And massively judgmental cliques at that.
- A community that seems almost entirely self-contained and concerned only with itself.
- SSO1. What a monumental pain in the a**e that is.
For my own part, I think the community is overly aggressive, judgmental and entirely too fond of it's cleverness.
H2G2 does not always seem safe, and can turn into a mob.
An ... example of groupthink is something which was labeled 'synchronized jumping sessions'. You don't invent a term for something that's an isolated incident... But I do have to admit that, sometimes, this can be a very useful tool to keep the peace. Sometimes, angry mobs do lynch the right person. - Blatherskite the Mugwump
This might be even more sinister than it looks:
I loose hopes when this small, fairly well educated mini-world cannot get out of its own way at times. It can move towards its purpose or its downfall. If it takes a a village to raise a child may well take a village to raise a killer, an idiot or a gravely depressed person. We are the village. - abbi normal
* * We are a supportive community where close
friendships are formed * *
* * You are a strong forum for vigorous debate * *
* * They are an aggressive clique, full of in-jokes* *
The strongly cohesive nature of the site is both a good thing and a bad thing.
Doesn't the adversarial, aggressive slant make for a more robust and hence informed debate. - Wandering Albatross
What interests me hugely is how groups of people (particularly h2) deal with conflict. One of the things I love about the site is the complexity of relating. I doubt I would have been as interested in the community if it hadn't been for conflicts here. - kea
There is no doubt that, once you are on the inside p**sing out, h2g2 is a great place to be. However, it is also an intimidating community to join.
h2g2 can seem a bit cliquey when you join. I think there's a clique for everyone here but finding it can take a bit of doing. - Blackberry Cat
It probably behooves us all to remember that new members are our life-blood and our reputation. We need them more than they need us.
It's worth noting here that h2g2 does not always seem safe even to established users, although this is not stated in the threads this entry is based upon. One notable factor about h2g2 is that although it is explicitly not a support group for scarred or vulnerable people, the supportive nature of the site and the apparent anonymity of a browser interface mean that a lot of troubled people feel safe here. Or maybe we are all what Tom Lehrer called "just plain folks" but that some of us open up here more than we do in real life. Either way, people reveal themselves in ways which would be inconceivable in their day to day, face to face interactions.
This mixture of exposed vulnerabilities, sensitive souls, and the presumption of security means that when someone feels attacked, they can feel outraged or even violated. We are all careful around rottweilers, but we don't expect to be savaged by a lop-eared bunny rabbit. Ok, its a tenuous metaphor, but long-term hootizens can all remember occasions when the loudest sound was wailing and lamentation in the wilderness.
Additionally, the background noise here can be aggressive:
I've been here for just over two years now and... I've detected the smart a**e contingent has been gradually increasing in numbers over time - particularly in the past few months. H2 isn't the escape-from-the-real-world it once was. - spinks
The thing that has kept me away from large areas of hootoo recently has been a certain personal diagreement between certain researchers2 that was cropping up in almost every interesting thread for a while, derailing the discussion or changing its direction to topics that have been discussed many times before. This has calmed down a bit of late, but I think it added to the overall adversarial atmosphere and made the areas of the site where it happened feel very personally aggressive. - gorgeous kelli
That said, the background noise here can also be inaudible:
Wow, it is amazing to read about all these battles raging around h2g2. I tend to chat with my friends, give people hugs and talk about the weather. And annoy the bejasus out of people in Peer Review, of course. - Gnomon
... most of the disputes have passed me by, too. If I have read them, I usually wonder what everyone is getting so up tight about. - Trillian's Child
Easy does it
H2G2 most certainly is not simple.
... the structure of the site can put people off posting. When you go to a message board, it's all very clear what the topics are, and where you should post because you normally get presented with a nice table with heading, and a little blurb about what's to go in that section ... it's not so clear on h2g2 to a message board user, and I think there are more message boards out there than sites like h2g2. I don't think it's always obvious that the entries *are* the topics. - Mina
She says she finds it confusing and she never knows how to find the conversations she was reading the last time she was here.3 - Trillian's Child's friend
I had an interesting conversation with my flatmate today ... To quote him, because I couldn't persuade him to come online and actually post this himself... 'It seems cool I actually want to contribute, but once you log in and go to your page, where you actually find stuff? Where are the conversations that are happening?' ... Yeah you all say there's this cool stuff going on, but where *is* it? - Z's flatmate
Bells and whistles
This technological complexity is partly a by-product of just how powerful the DNA engine has become. It is understandable that people new to the Internet would be outfaced by the links and buttons and options and things, but an additional problem is that the DNA engine is proprietary, so things which people have come to expect as normal on other sites, such as avatars and the ability to request email-notifications of postings in threads, or to rate or vote for an entry, are simply not here. The site looks unfamiliar to experienced netizens.
We should remember that this is because the engine has lots of unique bells and whistles of course.
The thing that brings me back to h2g2 time and time again is the tools. The ability to have a journal... I like it that I can track my conversations easily and all in one place, and that I can see what my friends are chatting about, and find conversations I might otherwise have missed. I like it because I can see info about the people that I talk to..." - Mina
First impressions count
The thread What puts people off posting on h2g2? makes for depressing reading, and it makes many good points not included in this entry.
While maybe not 'intimidating', I'd imagine some of the repetitive in-jokes put people off. You know the stuff I mean - nighthoover etc. - King_Bomba
I imagine all the Nighthoover and Badger stuff could put off some people by confirming many peoples belief that the internet is full of weirdos. - Ged
I have only been on for about 1 month. I make lots of mistakes. I have tried to reply to an older thread but been told off for breaking the flow. - oldaardvark
There is no single experience, of course. Compare:
I joined up, did a coupla posts, then buggered off for 3 years because I couldn't get accepted by the clique. But now, there's no clique. I think. - Hoopy Frood
I joined in June 2001, and posted about July... It was a much more welcoming place then, but since, it's become almost hostile, from about the end of 2003, the beginning of 2004. - Vicky Adeleide
Let's face it, our ettiquette/nettiquette/threadiquette/hootiquette isn't always perfect:
... it is often possible to feel like all your posts are being ignored in a thread even when you have been here for a while. - Ferrettbadger
I had to get over the being invisible in some convo's as well. Not as bad as those who are rude because you have somehow interrupted a private convo(on a public site too)though. - Incognitas
One thing that concerns me though is that in RL I know that in groups with loud people, the quiet people often get missed. I wonder how much this happens on h2 and we don't see it because we are not physically present. Quiet people often have unique perspectives on things because they listen more. - kea
Mind you, being invisible is sometimes preferable to the alternative:
A ... newbie comes upon a thread that should be an intelligent discussion. And then so very quickly sees the discussion becoming a case of the arrogant and elitist few belittling, insulting and, not infrequently, personally attacking someone who had the nerve to enter 'their' domain. It's enough to make the newbie either run screaming, or wonder where the sign posts are decreeing this the domain of a select few. - *
The fact that some threads are noticeably more welcoming than others tends to be down to specific individuals. We can all follow azahar's lead in this:
I don't know how I managed to find the God Thread on my second day here, but I jumped in feet first (to mixed reactions). Because of this - once I felt less of a newbie - I took to welcoming every new person who posted something there and I'm happy to say that others began doing the same thing, so these days everyone at least gets acknowledged when they jump in there. - azahar
Mind you, as she points out elsewhere, we don't all have perfect threadiquette:
... when someone says 'that's not what I meant' makes me wonder why they didn't take more time to make sure their posting was clearer. I tend to think that when someone uses this as an excuse they are simply trying to switch the onus onto the reader. - azahar
Our threadiquette can strengthen or weaken our internationalism too:
One thing I find irritating is some of the parochialism on the site... Personally I appreciate the people that acknowledge this - some people put the term UK centric in their thread titles. Conversely there have been an increasing number of threads on The Forum lately where someone has posted a first posting with an opinion about something that is happening in the UK, but without any link or explanation. - kea
Putting on the bite
Of course disagreements and dramas draw people in when they see a statement so badly thought out or so contrary that they simply must post a reply:
I think it's interesting that so many people got into h2g2 as a result of events I would think of as 'negative'. - Z
I think having someone to DISagree with is at least as important a motivation for posting somewhere like this as agreement is. A newbie, finding the site for the first time, might be a bit reticent to post anodyne agreement with a bland statement like 'I love Buffy!'. They may be much more likely to weigh in with opposition to a statement like 'Babylon 5 is a big pile of crap!. - Hoo
So the heat in the debates is a good thing as well as a bad thing, which is confirmed here:
However at the moment we do as we please within the limits of the house rules, there is a problem for some but for others it is a case of 'where's the problem?' You can't please all of the people all of the time. - Blicky Badger
It is of course, up to each new member to make the effort. Yes, we can and should welcome them more, but equally, they should respect the fact that this place has history, relationships and baggage.
... I have seen newbies bounce into the middle of threads, yell hello, get in a fuss when we carry on with the conversation we were already having, tell us we're all boring or unfriendly and cliquey and leave in a huff. What on earth were they expecting us to do? We're still real people, we behave like real people. - Agapanthus
I've been here about a year and I still don't really feel 'part' of the place. I think that's just me though, not because of others' reactions. Doesn't everyone get ignored sometimes? - pedro7
How people experience the site is influenced by how they behave here when they first arrive:
I lurked for a small while (days not weeks) then I think I was browsing various PS (via Who's Online?)and left a few messages to friendly looking people. - JulesK
... the first week I put 'newbie' in my tagline. People were so nice to me. I didn't have any problems going into threads, and most people said hi or whatever. Maybe it's changed since then ... I hope not. - kea
Perhaps these approaches should be recommended on the Help pages, and by the ACEs when they welcome members.
I signed up and then said very, very little for a very long time ... I'd never been to anywhere like this before and I wasn't sure how to join in - I could tell there was some sort of etiquette, but I couldn't work it out, ... But I knew it was a place I wanted to be in. ... I think PR was what drew me in the end, and then suddenly somebody made me a Friend, and I felt a bit more involved. - Mol
I was still too shy to post for quite a while. I had never posted to any other internet site before and wasn't about to rush into anything. The internet is full of weirdos, you know! So I lurked for about a year between registration and first post. - Witty Moniker
I had never been in an internet forum before, so I lurked a bit, and read the complete house rules before signing in. I started on the word games thread, and after a while, some people came to my PS and left me messages, this way, I found the first friends on here. ... If I had right away come across some of the researchers I still find intimidating , I wonder if I had stayed - B'Elana
There is obviously a problem, but there is also, perhaps, a limit to how far we can in fact go to help new members, any new members:
... what mostly puts people off posting on h2g2 is their own insecurities ... are there other sites that pander to this more than h2g2? I don't think so. - azBunnyfrog's experience is worth quoting at length:
When I first signed up to h2g2 it took three tries because I was scared of the house rules and the (heh) rigorous checks needed to gain an account4. Then, I was awarded my own personal space and I thought, ooo what a nice feature, I wonder what happens if I...? Oh dear.
A day or so later I got a nice letter from an ACE offering help, which is possibly the best thing to happen to newbies anywhere on the internet. ...
Next, another couple of days later I leafed through some entries and fiddled with the search box5 and to my delight I found things which I could read about that actually taught me new things. Then I made my fatal mistake. I clicked on "The Manifesto for the Campaign to Rename Thursday 'thing'" I managed to get through a few hundred posts before my brain broke and I put the N3 thread to the use for which it was intended. The responses were not helpful, the elitist bunch of goits.
Much later I had discovered the joys of Mornington Cresent and limerick pages and various other diversions I could read and giggle at. ...
The point of this is, I realised what a lot of newbies never realise, the H2G2 community is so vast, that even if one section is all about spouting poop, there are hundreds of other sections where learning and avid discussion can take place. .... There really is something for everyone.
It takes time...
I think I was here about two years before I stopped feeling like a newbie. - Z
I still sometimes feel like a fish out of water, after two years here! - SMURFLES
... and space:
Whenever I've come across a thread that felt 'cliquey' I just tended to give up after having a few postings ignored and went elsewhere - no pasa nada. There never seems to be a lack of interesting threads happening so if one doesn't work out then it's quite easy just to go somewhere else. - azahar
It is probable that a lot depends on where people first land here. Since the problems with Google have been sorted out people will once again be landing in edited entries, which is probably the best place to arrive, because the nature of the Edited Guide is immediately demonstrated.
Before the BBC bought the site, we were advertised alongside the babelfish translation utility in Alta-Vista, which brought a large number of English-writing Europeans here. It is in fact noticeable that almost all of the non-native speakers of English arrived before the BBC took the site over. Several have since left.
We are now significantly harder to stumble across us, though the recent changes so that we can be Googled will help considerably.
It is more concerning that despite recent promotions within the BBC, we are still hard to identify and to find within the BBC site.
Where would you find h2g2 if you were looking for an online chatroom or community or knowledge base? I linked back from here to the BBC homepage. I tried Science and Lifestyle and then about five or six clicks in came across h2g2 under the alphabetical index. But I knew what I was looking for. - Wandering Albatross
The Front Page is a trickier route in to the site.
...the Front Page could perhaps have more content, especially now that they've dropped the rule that only Edited Entries or staff articles can be linked to from there. ... and get some technology to pull in the conversation from those entries .... so that people can see where conversation is already going on. - Mina
I am sure if people get involved in the clubs then they are more likely to stay here. Perhaps there should be something about them on the front page? - Ferrettbadger
The multifaceted nature of the site can dazzle the eyes and make the site seem opaque, and it is hard to get your bearings here. The search engine quite frankly sucks. So if you land here from a promotional link of some sort your first impressions depend on how willing you are to click at random, and on what is on the Front Page at the time.
i think the eyes can freak people out (i have seen people think that because they can see that someone is online it means that they Must be reading the same thing you have contributed to (earlier )and can get quite shirty that you haven't spoken to them - pdante'
The Front Page matters because it is the traditional landing place for people who arrive as a result of specific events such as the death of Douglas Adams, the publication of The Salmon of Doubt or the imminent release of the Hitch Hikers' film. Although the movie will bring in new members, and although it is certain that they will be as varied a demographic as the rest of us, there is no doubt that the release of the movie is a two-edged sword. This is because h2g2 can be seen as a cult site.
Cultured or culty?
My one fear is that with the forthcoming release of the h2g2 movie that we will be innundated with the movie's fans. This for a period of time could give the impression to an outside observer that we are in some way a fan site, with all the negative connotations that that delivers. - GreyDesk
This is a danger, not only because it limits our appeal in Internet-Land as a whole, but also because the BBC is not very favourable to Cult Sites in the long term.
How is the licence payer well served by something which another site does better? This was, after all, the reason that all the cult sites were axed. The BBC running a Buffy site when the US owners of the show can do it soooo much better... - Blues Shark
It is probably wise that we should make it clear that we are not a cult site, even though the BBC were the original owners of the show.
Part VI of this entry will look at what could be done technically to improve the site, and at what we as individual hootizens can do to ensure that we are safe up to Charter Renewal and beyond.