A Conversation for h2g2 Announcements

2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 1

Researcher5

Dear Researchers

Robbie Stamp here. I have been meaning to write a New Year’s message, since, well since the New Year. But something serious got in the way. So this has come much much later than I had originally planned.

The reason for my delay was this.

It became clear to us a fair few months ago now that the site had effectively been hacked by a Researcher of long standing who has caused us countless hours in work tidying up after them. It looked to all intents and purposes as if an endless “supply” of sock puppet accounts was being created and that the attack was malicious. Passwords and emails on dormant accounts were changed on a massive scale, and when we restored those to the state they were in before the attack, and secured the weakness exploited in the login system, the Resarcher carried on using a different approach to breach the systems and alter yet more accounts.

Eventually this Researcher wrote to us ( about four months after the activity began) to claim that they had been “poking around” and trying in some way to “help”. For the period between our discovering the breach and their email, we assumed that the attack was intended to cause the site harm. We had no reason to believe anything else. This Researcher could have dropped us an email right at the beginning to say, "Hey, I’ve noticed a real problem, a vulnerability with old accounts. Here is what it is. Thought you’d want to know.” But they didn’t. Instead they tied up precious resource for weeks and weeks dealing with the problem. Faced with what looked like a malicious attack we needed without alerting the Researcher first, to redesign the login system to seal off the weaknesses they exploited.

We have now completely revised the log in system. Work that undoubtedly needed doing but which was actually held up and made more complex by the actions of the Researcher. As of today, this Researcher has been suspended for a significant period of time and some very clear conditions attached to their eventual return. If anything like this ever happens again we will ban them for life. No recourse.

This episode gives me an opportunity to make a few important points.

The site is no longer run by the deep pockets of the BBC, nor even by the slightly less deep pockets of my original team at The Digital Village. It is now owned by the Larholms and myself at Not Panicking Ltd. And I assure you none of us three has deep pockets either.

h2g2.com makes next to no advertising revenue. A small but very dedicated team of volunteers give up a great deal of time to keep the gates to this big rambly old house and garden open. A small moderation team now works directly to the Board of NPL and we all do our best to leave space for the best of the site’s tradition of robust conversation. Compared to what was and wasn’t OK under the BBC, the moderation policies here are pretty liberal and we’d like to keep it that way.

If a Researcher is in Pre Moderation, there is a reason and if the pre-moderation has been in place for a while, then the decision will have been approved by Aly Larholm and if needs be by the Directors of Not Panicking Ltd. ( that’s me and Brian Larholm). Although it is rare for a decision about pre-moderation to be escalated that far, it has happened on occasion. So everybody can assume that if somebody is in pre-moderation it is neither an accident, not an oversight. There is a reason and it has been discussed by the relevant people reporting to the Board of Not Panicking Ltd.

Since Not Panicking Ltd bought back the shares from Field Researchers Ltd last autumn, we have built a requirements list of things we want to fix to make it easier for volunteers to do their work and for Researchers to write for the Guide. We know what needs fixing and we want to fix it. Instead we have had months of login issues to sort out and it turns out that much of the problem was caused deliberately. So the things that we wanted to do, didn’t get done.

So let me make a request. The heart of the site is writing for the Guide. We want to make that easier. It is remarkable considering how fast the ecosystem of the web changes that we are still here at all and that we are here is down to the dedication of people who really love this place. I am more aware than anybody of just how much we need to do to modernise the site and who knows, maybe we will find that it is a task simply beyond the resources at our disposal. But we are going to keep trying.

I know I posted along the following lines not that long ago, but it is worth saying again. For every volunteer who has at any stage worked so hard on the site, I want to say again thank you. I underestimated just how hard it was going to be when we took the site back under our wing and it continues to be challenging. I know that many people have been pretty badly bruised by the volunteer experience and to each and every one of you I would like to say sorry it worked out that way.

When I saw volunteers sometimes struggling to work effectively together and indeed sometimes falling out with each other ( happens in any work place, any where, not just h2g2!), the one thing I could always say was that people had the best interests of the site at heart. There may have been disagreement about what that meant in terms of this or that way of working and sometimes people expressed themselves in a tone that was not ideal, but I did not feel for one moment, however painful some of those disagreements were, that any single Volunteer ever had anything but genuine care and concern for the site. Some Volunteers felt that as things weren’t being done the way they thought they should be, they did not wish to engage any more and I respect that. In any “work” environment, decisions sometimes go in another direction from the one would have chosen oneself. I was always sorry when that happened, but I understood.

For all this ebb and flow, we have managed somehow to keep the site going.

In the world beyond h2g2 of intemperance, of name calling and the harm that is done everywhere by people who feel that they and they alone know what is “right”, in the world of the twitter mob and of trolling, h2g2 has for the most part avoided that fate. Anybody who has been involved a long time knows that we have had our moments, but h2g2 is a remarkable place, truly one of the forgotten gems of the internet.

I was glad when the video interview with Douglas on Tomorrow’s World on the night of our launch, was rediscovered and posted on the anniversary of Douglas’ death. I had not seen it for some years and it brought back memories of one of the most exciting night’s of my life when I watched thousands of Researchers joining h2g2 in “real time” back in my office in Maiden Lane. The video is also very clear about what excited Douglas about what we could do back then and thoughts he had for the future.

I still would like to build on what Douglas and I and the team started out to do back in the late 1990’s and here is my request, if you want to contribute positively and write great things for h2g2.com and talk and invent crazy memes that last for years and share and support each other then you are more than welcome.

However I want to be very very clear about something. The Volunteers who run the site, do so with the explicit authority of Not Panicking Ltd. Field Researchers Ltd no longer exists, as we announced last year. We constantly review what we are getting right and getting wrong and we feel more keenly than maybe anybody just how frustrating many of the legacy issues we are dealing with are. Believe me, I know just how much pressure sits on the Core Team and the Volunteer’s shoulders. We are in touch pretty much on a daily basis. We want to make it work better for everybody but we do so on slender resource and the goodwill of the Volunteers and of course the continued enthusiasm of Researchers.

If you have great suggestions and ways to really help, please let us know. Once we are over this particular hurdle which has been a very high one ( indeed to push the metaphor it has been what feels like an endless series of hurdles!) we hope to run that wider consultation I talked about in a post back in November last year. I haven’t forgotten! But please do keep in mind how limited our financial, technical and time resources are. I do not want to create any unrealistic expectations about what we can do by when, but constructive ideas, delivered without sarcasm or a little kick in the shins or the endless picking at past grievance and the fanning of feuds that go back to goodness when, are genuinely welcome. The kicks in the shins and the fanning of feuds, not so much.

The site runs on glue and sticking plaster and dedication and in many ways it has no right to exist any more. That’s not a threat to shut down the site, just a very public reminder that we are only still here thanks to the work of a small number of people who care very much and to the people who still write for and illustrate the Guide and the Post.

The site is wholly free to use. Nobody has ever been charged a penny to use it and nobody is entitled to it lasting for ever. It has grown and become a source of information about Life the Universe and Everything, in its endearingly random way, thanks to countless people, who have given up their time to write and illustrate Guide Entries and to write for the Post. It has been for the most part a truly creative relationship.

So, let us get on with trying to improve what we have and let us focus on building the Guide.

Stay if you want to help us and if you don’t want to do that, that’s fine too, I get that, I really do. Patience has been tried almost to breaking point for all of us, but just leave those folks who do want to do the best they can, alone. The unglamorous but essential work of the Moderators, the Core Team and the Volunteers, the glories of the Post Team and of an Editorial and Art team who still manage to get Guide Entries out there, they are all to be celebrated. If we get things wrong, and we absolutely do get things wrong sometimes and will continue no doubt to do so from time to time, it also has to be said that on a scale of crimes against humanity the mistakes really do rank pretty low, so please keep some perspective. For the most part all anybody is trying to do is keep the site going because they love it.

The Guide’s the thing, what Douglas always wanted us to be about and I thank every person who has written for the Guide and the Post, every fabulous Artist who has raised the quality of the Art Work on site, everybody who started one of those groups that has gone on and on, or one of those wonderful memes that just keeps on giving, and indeed everybody who has supported other Researchers through difficult times IRL and shared in each others’ joys and achievements too.

I am still immensely proud to have played a part in starting h2g2.com and I very much still want to play a part in somehow getting us all out of our own particular version of Groundhog Day and to build on what we have achieved, so that we are still around in another fifteen years time.

That’s it really - “ no spitting and beware the leopard” - good advice I feel.

Robbie Stamp

p.s I am the leopard in this!!


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 2

Galaxy Babe - spaghettified editor

smiley - towel and smiley - pggb here's to another 17 years! (I enjoyed the Douglas interview video too)smiley - hug

GB
smiley - galaxysmiley - dontpanic


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 3

paulh, scolding the squirrels in the park

Thanks so much for all that you are doing!

Coming here is still the high point of my day. smiley - blush


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 4

coelacanth

smiley - spacesmiley - space"...h2g2 is a remarkable place, truly one of the forgotten gems of the internet."

Indeed it is. Thank you for this Robbie. smiley - applause
smiley - bluefish


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 5

Superfrenchie - new-ish ACE

Thank you Robbie. smiley - smiley
smiley - pggb


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 6

Jackruss a Grand Master of Tea and Toast, Keeper of the comfy chair, who is spending a year dead for tax reasons! DNA!

Ta! Bobbie smiley - biggrin


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 7

Dmitri Gheorgheni

Hear, hear. smiley - ok And if you want to find a place to express your views about the growth and activities of h2g2 over the years, please smiley - run take a look at this week's issue of smiley - thepost, because Beeblefish is back with an invitation to help update his academic study of us.

Us. Academic. Study.

See? We're not just a bunch of loonies who provide ephemeral internet phenomena...we're serious subjects for academic study. smiley - winkeye


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 8

Gnomon - time to move on

smiley - cheers Thanks Robbie.


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 9

paulh, scolding the squirrels in the park

What [or who] is Beeblefish? If a researcher, I don't think I ever met him/her. smiley - huh


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 10

Dmitri Gheorgheni

Just follow the handy link at the bottom of A87872872, and you can meet Beeblefish. smiley - winkeye


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 11

Prof Animal Chaos.C.E.O..err! C.E.Idiot of H2G2 Fools Guild (Official).... A recipient of S.F.L and S.S.J.A.D.D...plus...S.N.A.F.U.

how about name and shame ? to let his/she/their friends know who they call friend


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 12

Feisor - -0- Generix I made it back - sortof ...

I would just like to express my gratitude to Robbie and all who have worked so hard to keep this place going.

I have been here almost from the start (May, 1999)and cannot tell you how much it has meant to me, especially over the past few years which have been so difficult for me. While I may not participate as much as I used to I lurk all the time and look on h2g2 as my bolt-hole of (in)sanity during this time. It has often "got me through" and continues to do so.

Thank you again - please continue the good work and know that you are ALL very much appreciated. smiley - hug


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 13

Pastey

Naming and shaming isn't really the h2g2 way smiley - winkeye


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 14

Jackruss a Grand Master of Tea and Toast, Keeper of the comfy chair, who is spending a year dead for tax reasons! DNA!

smiley - bigeyes








2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 15

Researcher5

It was very nostalgic!


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 16

Researcher5

Thank you everybody - supportive messages for a Bank Holiday weekend! Most of all it is the Volunteers, the Researchers who write and create, the terrific team who led the project to take back control of the site from the BBC and of course the Core Team. We've all contributed.

Re the name and shame. We discussed this but decided against. It does not feel right as Pastry says.

However if the Researcher poses an ongoing threat and naming them would prevent further harm to the site, then I would want to reflect again on what was best for the whole site.


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 17

Researcher5

Pastey! Beware autocorrect! Sorry!


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 18

Witty Moniker

Well said, Robbie. smiley - applause

Thank you.


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 19

paulh, scolding the squirrels in the park

Purview is my fiend.

My fingers continue to make moe tytypos aas i get older.


2016-05-29 Note from Robbie Stamp. Of Leopards and Spitting

Post 20

Pierce The Pirate ~ in Hotblack Desiato mode ~

smiley - ta Robbie smiley - ok Well spoken smiley - smiley

And smiley - ta to all the smiley - hamstersmiley - hamster as well smiley - cheers

smiley - pirate


Key: Complain about this post

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more