What is h2g2's Place in Internet-land?

2 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. The first three articles may be accessed from
h2g2's Place in Internet-land

This is the last of four entries which look at our place in Internet-land. Like the previous ones, 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 IV - Someone Else's Problem?

Let's take it as a given that we all want the site to survive, and let's take it as another given that it is therefore in our best interests to make sure that decision-makers in the BBC see the survival of the site as a Good Thing in terms of them achieving their goals, fulfilling their remit, keeping the licence fee, keeping their jobs. What does this mean, in practical terms, for us as hootizens?

There are times when the site is - frankly - vulnerable. Mostly, these times are not only beyond our radar they are also completely outside our realm of influence.

In other organisations the sorts of things which cause this vulnerability to a group are:

  • Losing a senior sponsor
  • Adverse or unfair media publicity
  • Falling foul of internal turf wars or politics
  • Being wrong-footed by a change in the organisation's structure or strategic vision
  • Mis-management
  • Internal feuding
  • Failing to meet Key Performance Indicators1

H2G2 is clearly vulnerable to all of these, and most of them are rightly invisible to those of us who work outside the BBC. All we can do is trust the Italics to manage those risks for us, and do our part to make sure that the site is healthy.

However there have been events such as the brahoughah over the Editorial Policy decisions where it has been obvious that the site's profile has been raised above the parapet, and not in a good way. The clear message from those events was that there are ways and ways of expressing one's concern for the site, and spamming the inboxes of senior BBC officials with illiterate or vituperative hate-email is not the way to be seen as a jewel in the online crown. We should not bite the hand that feeds us.

The style of the Italics appears to have an influence on the heat or calm of the site:

I also can't imagine the current italics threatening a newbie (I'd been around for nine days, I think) who had not yet posted anything of any significance, with ... banishment, even if that newbie had a vested interest in one side of a divisive thread and was a self-proclaimed associate of the person(s) responsible for all that controversy. - Not Banned Yet

The beeb-eyed view

Our reputation, even within the BBC, does not reflect who and what we are, and this is concerning.

There was a post on another DNA site referring to us a 'galactic dictionary of sorts', we're also perceived as weird and geekish. I suspect that latter image is one the italics are trying hard to dispel. - LLL Waz
Remember we are talking about people [the BBC Board of Governors] who have probably next to no IT savvy and will look at what fellow 'media savvy' types tell them rather than loking into the thing themselves... - Blues Shark

Jimster tells us that much has been done to gain friends for the site within the BBC, but it is clear that there is more to do, and some of that is up to us.

The BBC is an opaque organisation. There are clearly stated routes into the BBC, (the site has details of some of them in the Contact Us section and the Feedback sections). There is of course no way of knowing whether or not one's views have made any difference. However, intelligent, well argued communications sent by snail mail giving clear examples drawn from one's own experience are always going to make a better impression than letters written in green ink on illustrated notelets or mis-spelled emails from '[email protected]'. One of the reasons for writing this entry, was to gather together the current collective wisdom about what makes h2g2 unique into a single place.

We don't have the technology

Despite the all-round fabulousness of the DNA engine, there are still ways in which it could be improved.

I'm not sure if anyone is saying that the EG should be the only focus for further development - it would be a shame if it were. We all know that the community is far more than just the EG. I'm talking about further development of the site in toto. What could be done, in general to bring more people to us, to enrichen the experience? - woodpigeon

There are numerous ways in which the DNA platform could serve us better. The search engine facility here is still, frankly, awful.

However if hootoo is set up to assist my research [into KerrAvon's entry on Jack in the Green], by pointing me to links to Morris Dancing or Celtic heritage and organising the results it is exploiting the available technology to best effect. - Wandering Albatross
... I'd be tempted to use Google for searching out h2g2 articles, rather than the internal search facilities, since starting a google search string with 'site:bbc.co.uk h2g2' would give results purely from within h2g2, along with pretty good hints as to whether any particular result may be the one I was looking for. - Potholer

There are other problems:

It would make sense that all the skins on offer here should have the same features. I didn't know until now that they didn't. - azahar
There are things that I think need updating about Hootoo though. Namely multimedia. Sounds, pictures, films. If we're trusted to self-moderate our words, why not those others? - Bouncy in the Middle

As has already been noted, h2g2 can be off-putting to new members, but it needn't be like that.

... one of the things that could be done is to take a long hard look at the information provided for new users. Lets see the site as a newbie and see what information is provided, which of it needs up dating and which of it. That could make it easier for new internet users to stick around. - Z
Do you think h2g2 should have a feedback questionnaire for visitors, so we can find out what really puts people off? - Teasswill
Just to take up autumnrue's point about classing people - while I think that classing people into categories is against the general ethos of the site, and probably a task the off-vertical ones could do without, the help section could perhaps be beefed up to help direct newcomers to forums that meet their interest. - Woodpigeon
Perhaps in the sign up process much more of a song and dance [could be] made about the various hootoo clubs. - Ferrettbadger

Some of the ideas are more challenging, and deserve more debate:

I think management should look at developing how personal spaces can best be utilised for research and learning. IMHO looking at collaborative online working is a far better direction than content. - Wandering Albatross

What can hootizens do to make changes?

Visionaries needed - this means you2!

Many people care about the future of the community, but there is no single vision, and that is part of the problem.

Seriously - I don't know what is wanted of Hootizens anymore. - LLLWaz
I agree, I don't thing this site will be under threat from the charter review- *this* time. However the uncertainity has made me think that it would be a damn good idea to come up with a short way of describing just what we are, lest the bean counters with their clipboards show up. - KerrAvon
In terms of a vision or dynamic plan, is there any reason that in the first instance the community couldn't do the ground work? Does anyone want to start an A page where we can do those brainstorming processes? ... It would need some organising though, and someone with the skills to facilitate it3. - kea
One thing which my Big Brother noted ... was how passionate ... we are, about the quality of the written word, about spelling and grammar, about communicating clearly and accurately ... So maybe one part of our place in Internet-Land is to be somewhere where people can communicate articulately and intelligently using the written word. - B
To ensure h2g2 comes out fighting, if it has to, maybe you4 should start gathering ideas from everybody as to how h2g2: Promotes Citizenship, Stimulates creativity, Is representative of the whole of UK, it's nations and regions, Takes the BBC to the rest of the world and Leads in building a digital Britain. Wandering Albatross

The write way to grow - this means you5, too!

Write entries - that's probably the best way of 'de-culting' the site, attracting more users and becoming the jewel in the BBC's crown - the more links to hootoo entries there are out there in internet land the more people are going to run across the site and become hooked... - Whisky
Eventually I got around to setting up the Geographical Institute to try and encourage people to write the kinds of entries about places that I came to the Guide to read in the first place. It's over at A1286886... I'm hoping this can be a way - not THE way, but A way - forward for the Guide, whether Edited or not, especially in terms of getting people to contribute to it. - Number Six

The things we can do which will make the most difference in the long run are to play to the site's strengths, and compensate for its weaknesses. Contribute to the guide if you want to by contributing to the processes of the guide. Don't just write entries - comment in Peer Review and the Alternative Writing Workshop, or by joining one of the volunteer groups. But over and above contributing to the guide, you should explore the place, debate complex issues, join the clubs and societies, participate, collaborate, join in, and welcome newcomers.

Perhaps the last word on what has been done and what we can do should go to the Italics.

h2g2's position within the BBC has taken a while to settle. When I first joined the Beeb we were pretty much in what might be called 'splendid isolation' ... but we've worked very hard to improve things on that front. The main bbc.co.uk page links to us more regularly now, thanks to our chums on the Homepage team, and we're linked to from a few other places within the BBC now. We've even had two very sexy promos shaped around the site recently, and we suspect they won't be the only ones to come. ... I would imagine ... that questions like the ones being asked here are raised out of concern for the future of h2g2. ... Nothing is set in stone of course, but the movie is undoubtedly a major factor in our survival, as is the fact that we've already cut a lot of our overheads. Personally though, I genuinely believe the best way to assure h2g2's future is to write entries for the Edited Guide, or collaborate with other people to write them. But then I would say that, and if that's not your bag then no worries. - Jimster

So this entry is a challenge to all members of h2g2, and a call to arms. There are many ways in which we can help ourselves, it is up to us to do so. Our future is at our finger-tips.

h2g2's Place in Internet-land

a broad called Ben/a girl called Ben

31.03.05 Front Page

20.08.09 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1KPIs for websites tend to be things like: number of hits, number of returning visitors, number of new visitors, number of times particular utilities are used or functions called, number of external sites linking in h2g2, google ranking, mentions in print or broadcast media, and so on.23>Don't look at me darlin'. - B4Not me! Someone else can pick up this one! - B5

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