What h2g2 Could Do

2 Conversations

Someone online (on h2g2) hooked up to a drip!

In case you missed it, last week's Front Page featured an old Talking Point called What Should We Do With h2g2?. It asked for ideas on how to take the site forward in a kind of free-thinking spirit; a kind of 'what would you do if h2g2 won the lottery?' Of course, you could just roam the conversations on the page to find out about them all in detail - and, in fact, you should - but we felt it was worth highlighting some of them in one handy page. We haven't managed to include all of them, of course, but we've chosen some of the more revolutionary, most discussed and the ones that were spread across more than one conversation thread.

And if you don't read anything else in this article, at least read the last quote. It looks like we might be going somewhere.

AV On-Site

Following on from the Aviators I think the BBC ought to organise a way we can upload video to this site purely to explain the guide entries more clearly because I think it has worked really well. It also makes the site more accessible.
- Kaz

By now, quite a few hootooers will have come across the h2g2 AViators, a relatively-new band of volunteers responsible for creating AV (ie audio and video) content for h2g2. At the moment, the content is available from a semi-official website at h2g2aviators.com, and links have been added from relevant Entries to their counterpart videos. This is good, but it could be better.

Imagine if h2g2 had videos embedded in Entries - ones that sat still like a picture, waiting for you to click on them, then burst into life, playing their content right next to the Entry but at the same time loading it from the h2g2aviators website so that there was no extra strain on the h2g2 hampster. All that would be required is a short amount of Javascript added to the Entries, and hootoo could be all-singing, all-dancing in no time.

As for the danger of letting anyone upload anything to the site and ending up competing with YouTube: the AV content embedded in Entries would be that produced by the AViators, and would therefore generally be Good-Quality Stuff produced by the h2g2 community, compiled by the volunteer group, and then passed under the noses of the Editors before being added to the relevant Entry. There would be no danger of h2g2 trying to compete with YouTube - in fact, the AViators have so far been using that particular site as a back-up for their videos online.

Personal Spaces

Most people like to jazz up their Personal Spaces, some to an alarming degree. So you'd think there would be lots of suggestions in answer to the Talking Point's 'What would you like to do with your Personal Space that you can't do now?' question.

Well, there was, but the overwhelming response was 'nothing'. For various reasons, Kaz, Vip and Elentari thought that even the addition of a photos to Personal Spaces would be a bad idea - protection of minors, potential for copyright breaches and a preference for anonymity were potent arguments. There was also a clear feeling that we should steer away from taking inspiration from social networking sites:

*Don't* try to copy anyone else. You'll just end up as a less popular version of what you are trying to emulate.
- Vip

Well put.

Kaz has been very keen to promote collaborative entries and had this suggestion:

Researchers and skills. If you wanted to do a collaborative entry and needed to ask researchers with special knowledge on, say UK politics for help or advice you could put in UK politics in the researchers field and it would find researchers who had included a keyword like that in their PS. Similarly if you put in a name it would come up with that Researcher's name and their keywords.

Now that is an idea. Tags for Personal Spaces. When you edit your PS, you have a box with an option for adding your interests, and Researchers can search the site and find people with similar interests. I could look for people to join in next year's Fantasy Krikkit by just searching the tags for 'cricket'. If I want to write an Entry on lichens, it would be quite easy to see if anyone had any specialist knowledge. It is something that would benefit both the writing and community sides of the site, and if it was done well it could be a real winner.

Of course, this would mean we'd also have to have an upgraded search facility. I think we'd all have that at the top of our wishlists...

An h2g2 Wiki

While incorporating new features such as bookmarks and videos into the site may not generate much of a response from some, one thing generally thought to be Quite A Bad Idea here on h2g2 is that of a 'wiki'. Rumours have it that a wiki 'pedia' exists somewhere out there - something that has more content than h2g2 but at the same time holds fundamental flaws which we hootooers would wish to avoid.

It should be a great relief to everyone, then, that there has been no suggestion of turning the Edited Guide into a wiki. However, Felonious Monk, Skankyrich and TRiG have all suggested allowing multiple users to edit the same Entry in order to allow for easier collaboration. It's generally agreed that this would be quite a thing for h2g2 to pull off, but then TRiG and Rich might be able to have a prototype up-and-running on h2g2aviators.com at some stage in the future.

There have, though, been some concerns expressed even at this idea. Mu Beta believes that giving writers for the Edited Guide a special tool not used elsewhere could cause a divide between the writing and social sides of the site if it were ever opened up for general use. Perhaps, then, such a tool might only be good for limited use.

Advertising and Promoting the Site

Ask someone how they found wikipedia and they'll answer 'Google'. Ask someone how they found h2g2, and you're likely to be presented with a bizarre series of events, possibly involving some luggage they thought they'd lost in Greece several years ago. It is generally agreed that h2g2 is quite hard to find, perhaps even if you're looking for it, and part of the recent discussion has focussed on the premise that if more people knew about h2g2, the site would be more successful.

A discussion of how to improve h2g2's search ranking on Google can be found below, but what about other forms of advertising? One particular form of promotion h2g2 does use is t-shirts, though so far these have been relatively few in number and are generally garish and have large enough logos on the fronts of them to discourage even the most loyal hootooer from actually wearing them while heading Out For Lunch:

I wear my old-style black h2g2 shirt that just has the logo on the front and the web address on the shoulder. I almost never wear the giant white green-and-blue monstrosity that I got given at a meet once.
- Vip

Roymondo has suggested a solution to this - make them cooler (the t-shirts, not the hootooers...). The logo could be a tad more subtle, and a colour such as black would also make them more wearable. Suggestions as to where the t-shirts should come from range from production by the BBC to the usage of a common template by different hootooers to produce their own quasi-official t-shirts.

As for other forms of advertising, there is little consensus on where h2g2 should be advertised. The BBC website, BBC radio stations and sci-fi fanzines/websites are some suggestions, though the question of where the money for advertising of this sort would come from has not been covered.

Search Robots

Though you never see them, robots are part of the machinery that make search engines work. Robots are pieces of code that scramble their way across the web, recording the material that their owners require. In the case of search engines, these robots detect which pages link to other pages, and use the results to determine which pages best represent certain phrases. For instance, it would seem that enough people link to h2g2.com with the phrase 'h2g2' for the website to appear first in the list when you Google 'h2g2'.

However, many other web users have unleashed their robots on the web, and some have rather sinister uses. For a website like h2g2, having too many robots crawling over it could be crushing, and thus it is that the modern h2g2 comes with a built-in 'nofollow' metatag (<meta id="robots" content="nofollow">) that stops most robots, including the Google ones, from crawling its pages. The problem with this is that our Entries have long had appallingly low rankings on Google to the point that they don't even make the first or second pages:

I keep putting forward better meta tags so we get higher up on google, but nobody listens. Article on SEO from the Times that we've been circulated this week says this:

"The top result [on Google] gets more than half of all clicks. Anything on the second page stands only a 1% chance of being clicked on."

So I saw how we measured up. I put Battle of Waterloo into Google:
#1 - Wikipedia (so that'll get over 50% of clicks from people looking for info on Waterloo. The Beeb's own Battle of Waterloo "game" on BBC History is third, my h2g2 entry on the battle doesn't make the first 2 pages. And that's just on search engine listings. It doesn't matter what we do, until we're given a level playing field we can't be useful because we can't be found!

- Psycorp

It has been suggested that h2g2 find a way to selectively remove the tag from Edited Entries so that search engine robots can crawl over the pages and note all the links between Edited Entries, thus improving their search rankings. There are some concerns that this could slow down the site due to the number of links in each Edited Entry, but the pay-off from such a move could be huge. For instance, here's one very telling piece of evidence from Wikipedia:

MediaWiki software, which powers Wikipedia, was equipped with nofollow support soon after initial announcement in 2005. The option was enabled on most international Wikipedias. One of the prominent exceptions was the English language version. Initially, after a discussion, it was decided not to use rel="nofollow" in articles and to use a URL blacklist instead. In this way, English Wikipedia contributed to the scores of the pages it linked to, and expected editors to link to relevant pages.

What Next?

We're entering the second round of discussion now, but I haven't seen anywhere an official line on the first round...

Will anything actually happen? What might be possible and what is not? Is Hootoo doomed whatever?

Until we know roughly what is on the cards, it's difficult to know whether these contributions are worthwhile.

- Sprout

Absolutely. It fell to sprout to ask the question many of us were thinking; that unless something actually happens as a result of the discussions, it's just so much hot air, so what next? Happily, the Italics were reading, so we'll end this article with a post from Derek. Let's keep the discussions going.

These contributions are most definitely worthwhile. We actually collate them, analyse them and build up our case here in the wider Future Media and Technology department (within whose waters, h2g2 is but a very small fish).

Until recently, the site has been pretty much ignored. It has not been a priority. In-house, we do a lot of stuff to make our case heard; meetings, writing proposals, etc. Things can take an awfully long time in a massive department like this one. But recently - thanks in part to feedback like we have here on this talking point, and in conjunction with the other stuff we as staff can do within the department - there appears to be a change of heart about 'what to do with h2g2'.

Of course we can't guarantee anything, but we have a series of meetings coming up and we're hopeful to hear some positive noises which may well lead to positive change on-site. We've been desperate for this. We don't want change for change's sake, but we need to catch up with the times a bit, develop the site and give the h2g2 community more tools and flexibility to express itself. The key for us as staff - what our own 'powers-that-be' have to know - is what is the value of h2g2 to the wider BBC? For us, it's the community and the wonderfully high standard of interaction, writing, contributing, sharing and general behaviour that characterise it.

To survive, we have to bring h2g2 closer to the BBC and to its content. This may offer us some great opportunities to develop the site - maybe even using the h2g2 community as a test-bed for all BBC social media stuff. We really want to make personal spaces more dynamic, more fun. We don't want to replicate Facebook, MySpace etc. We want to keep what works on h2g2. But we have to change, we have to be valuable to the BBC. We have to help it develop. Our argument has always been that the BBC owns one of the most amazing, self-policing communities and that it should be 'loved' and valued more. We can't guarantee a single thing but we genuinely have been seeing a bit more love lately. Thank you, as ever, for the continued feedback.

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Alex Ashman and Skankyrich

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