|This article relies on references to primary sources or sources affiliated with the subject. (June 2010)|
h2g2's front page on 19 October 2011
|Slogan||The Guide to Life, The Universe and Everything.|
|Type of site||Internet encyclopedia project|
|Content license||Authors retained copyright but granted BBC a non-exclusive licence to distribute|
|Created by||Douglas Adams|
|Launched||28 April 1999|
h2g2 is a British-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 was run by the BBC between 2001 and 2011. 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 was forbidden when the site was run by the BBC, but customer reviews were 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".
h2g2 was founded on 28 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. 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 PDAs (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.
On 24 January 2011, the BBC announced cuts of 25% to its online budget, resulting in a £34 million less investment into the site. A number of sites are to be closed including BBC Switch, BBC Blast and 6-0-6. As part of this exercise, the BBC chose to "dispose of" h2g2 by selling it to someone else.
On 21 June 2011, it was announced the winning bid was a joint bid put together by three parties: Robbie Stamp, h2g2c2 ('The h2g2 Community Consortium') and the owners of Noesis Systems Ltd (Brian Larholm and Alyson Larholm) 
On 3 October 2011 at approximately 09:30 local time, the BBC incarnation of h2g2 officially closed, leaving only an announcement reading "H2G2 has now left the BBC. The new owners of H2G2 are currently preparing the site for relaunch. Soon you will find The Guide to Life, the Universe and Everything at www.h2g2.com."
The post-BBC version of the site went live again on 16 October 2011. The 13 days of downtime leading up to this have been named by the community as "The Foop".
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 25 December 2010, there were 10,027 Entries in h2g2's Edited Guide, every one of which is an original work. For comparison, Wikipedia had 3,123 Featured Articles and 10,602 Good Articles on that day. Since Wikipedia does not allow original research, all of these were derivative works.
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-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.
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.
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.—
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.
Another review forum, the Flea Market, exists as a home for abandoned Entries. This allows other researchers to adopt 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's 'Elvis has left the building' tannoy announcements, which would be broadcast to fans at the end of his concerts).
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.
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 operate within the Alternative Writing Workshop, to comment on entries and pick them for the UnderGuide.
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:
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.
The Italics (technically 'the Editors'), the in-house editors of h2g2, are the only people who are paid 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 'Pisa People' (again, after the slanting nature of their on-screen nicknames).
The core personnel have completely changed since h2g2 started in 1999; since 2010, none of the original TDV team have worked on the site.
Among the most popular Talk Forums on the site are:
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 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.
|This section relies on references to primary sources or sources affiliated with the subject. (July 2009)|
The site was recently redesigned by Aerian Studios, and was launched in 2011, bringing it in line with the general appearance BBC sites, while maintaining a degree of the site's old character.
To contribute to the site it is necessary to register and to agree to the h2g2 "House Rules" and the general Not Panicking Ltd Terms and Conditions. Registered users are called Researchers. Researchers retain the copyright to their articles, but grant Not Panicking Ltd 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 were not checked by moderators unless a complaint was made. On leaving the BBC, the moderation guidelines under Not Panicking Ltd have remained much the same. 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.
During their time with the BBC, particularly contentious major issues often led to discussion being moderated differently. For example:
The software for h2g2—and of its related 'sister' communities in the BBC (now all closed), 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 and is still used for BBC blogs, messageboards and commenting systems. 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 standard introductory textbook for which, Learning Perl, has 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.
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