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Posts Tagged ‘h2g2’

Well, the longest day of the year brings the best news imaginable for many friends of mine. Frequent visitors will have seen the large number of vintage movie reviews which have turned up here over the last four or five months, and attentive ones may even have read my thoughts on the travails of the h2g2 website where they originally appeared. Well, today it was announced that h2g2’s future is secure.

h2g2 is a site devoted to two things: encouraging great writing (of every kind), and building a sense of community between all the various readers and contributors who visit it. h2g2 probably kept me sane for a long while in the early 2000s, and got me started writing film reviews on a regular basis. As a result I saw many good films I probably would otherwise have missed (saw a lot of duds too, but never mind), engaged in a lot of rewarding discussions, and made some friends along the way. I only really think of myself as an associate member of the community these days, partly because nearly everything I contribute there turns up here first, but the news of its continued survival is still extremely welcome.

So what’s to happen to the site? Well, the BBC (who have, to be fair to them, done a good job of curating it in difficult circumstances) are passing it over to a consortium made up of Robbie Stamp, one of the co-founders of the original site with Douglas Adams, a group composed of key community members themselves, and a company specialising in this kind of website called Noesis.

Quite what the future holds at this point is obviously a little unclear, but I get a strong sense that the new maintainers of the site have as great an understanding of h2g2’s past, present, and future as anyone could hope for. Life without h2g2 would go on, but it would be a little colder and more boring, and I’m delighted that my days will continue to be warm and interesting for a while yet.

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A Blatant Plug for h2g2c2

It takes a big man to admit he may have been wrong. Or so they tell me; personally, I wouldn’t know (and don’t start going on about that review of The Bourne Identity, please). Last week I commented on the BBC’s unfortunate but understandable decision to ‘dispose of’ the h2g2 website and the associated community. My initial reaction was that this was the beginning of the end, and as you can probably tell my first response was to start exporting my material off h2g2 itself and start reposting it here – that’s the source of all the archive reviews that are making up the bulk of this blog right now (and will probably continue to do so for quite a few weeks if I see this through to completion).

However, I may have been a little too pessimistic about h2g2’s prospects as a live entity. The members of the community, both present and lapsed, have come together with the speed and resourcefulness one would have expected, and are doing their best to fight for the site’s survival. I think they need and deserve all the support and publicity they can get, and posting this is really just to make their profile a tiny a bit higher.

The guys of the h2g2 Community Consortium now have their own website and obviously I wish them all the best. The news that they’ve been offered free web hosting should they be forced to take over the running of the site itself removes my main concern about h2g2’s short-term viability, should it actually come to a community buy-out.

I still think there needs to be some reflection amongst members of the community as to what h2g2’s reason for being is, as opposed to it just being a place that people come to because they’ve been members for ages and really like the vibe. I think there needs to be a vision for what h2g2’s supposed to be, something distinct and attractive that will continue to draw new people to become part of the community. That’s the only way to guarantee the site’s future, long-term. Personally, I don’t think it’s there at the moment – or if it is, it’s not obvious what it is.

But that’s a discussion for the community itself to have, in conjunction with any third party that opts to take over responsibility for the site. In the meantime I am, cautiously, more hopeful about the future of what was once my favourite place on t’internet.

 

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Well, we had an election last year, and unfortunately people were in a selective-amnesia ‘ooh I feel like a bit of a change’ sort of mood and the Forces of Darkness got in. Depressing, certainly, and not likely to improve one’s view of one’s fellow citizens, but until today it never touched me personally – not in any real sense.

I was at a party with a senior BBC techie late last summer and we got to talking about the corporation’s future (I love the BBC – along with the NHS, which wouldn’t you know it is also in the crosshairs of the current mob, it’s one of the things that makes me most proud to be British). He assured me that whatever Chinless Dave might come out with in interviews, plans were in place to break the BBC and then hack it apart.

And the process seems to be starting, assisted by the succession of ‘BBC is morally-depraved/ ageist/irredeemably left-wing’ stories you can read in the Daily Mail every day at the moment – funding for BBC Online is being slashed by 25% and hundreds of websites are to be closed or ‘disposed of’.

So what, you might say. A fair question, but here’s why this stings just a bit more than it ought to. In the late 90s I had one of my occasional self-destruct moments and spent a few years just drifting about on autopilot. In this period I found and joined an engagingly odd website called h2g2. Chances are you’ve never heard of it. h2g2 was the typically-visionary creation of Douglas Adams, a few years before his untimely death. It was a reference resource consisting entirely of user-generated content, like Wikipedia (which didn’t even exist then). It was also, in a slightly eccentric way, a social networking site, like Facebook (ditto).

When I got myself together enough to decide to start writing again, it was h2g2 where I posted most of my work (by this point the site had been taken over by the BBC, as it hadn’t managed to support itself). Mostly I wrote film reviews for the site’s internal newspaper, weekly for three years and irregularly for another five, until the editors and I politely disagreed on a few points of policy and we parted company. I didn’t want to stop writing that kind of thing and so I got myself a blog. Which you are reading now.

Alas, the submissions process for the encyclopedia-side of h2g2 was so rigorous and convoluted that it was soon outpaced by Wikipedia (when it arrived) in both size and public awareness, while the nature of the site’s interface meant it couldn’t compete with the like of Facebook as a genuine social network. Being a BBC site meant it could cling on between those two stools.

Not any more, of course. h2g2 is to be ‘disposed of’ – sold on, if one believes the BBC. I wish I could believe it was possible, but the harsh facts are that this site couldn’t support itself even during the dotcom boom, even with Douglas Adams’s involvement to draw the crowds. The community attached to the site are tremendously loyal to and protective of it, but there simply aren’t that many of them in real terms: there’s no prospect of h2g2 ever turning a profit, which seems to be the only thing that matters any more.

For quite a few years now I’ve been quietly marvelling that the BBC were continuing to keep h2g2 ticking over, given that this basically involved them using UK taxpayer’s money to fund a small, culty, international community. But the news that they’re pulling the plug still came as a bit of a shock. I’m sympathetic to the BBC’s position, but still saddened. The site is still there for the time being, of course (currently in the middle of an unfortunately-timed and bug-ridden redesign). What will happen if they can’t find a buyer for it I don’t know – survival as a read-only resource for the database part, oblivion for the community areas, I would guess (the possibility of having to export 200-ish old reviews makes me blanch a bit, to be perfectly honest).

Such are the realities of 21st century life, I suppose. Money may be saved, objectives prioritised, and so on, but the world will be duller and less peculiar place. There may just be a chance of h2g2 clinging on somewhere in the online equivalent of one of those wildlife preserves for mad parrots or depressed primates (something Adams himself might have seen the irony of), and I know that there are no doubt future swings of the axe to look forward to that will cut deeper and hurt more people more painfully… but, anyway. So long, h2g2, and thanks for… well, much more than I can easily say.

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