The View at h2g2

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This week, the View examined common methods for making personal pages more spiffy. The View also shares some early experiences from h2g2 writers trying to navigate their entry through the Peer Review system.

This Week's View

There are 20 entries on the What's Coming Up page, compared to 13 a week ago. And there are 361 entries on the Peer Review page, a increase of 11 in the past week. If we add the statistics together, we get a total of 381 entries, an increase of 18 since my last report. All in all, Peer Review has remained relatively stable over the past few weeks.

But the effort to clean unwanted threads out of Peer Review continues. Last week, I noted that threads failing to follow the Peer Review's submission instructions were being moved to the Sin Bin. This past week, I also learned that entries that are obviously still in progress are going to be moved from Peer Review to the Writing Workshop from now on.

Why are all these threads being removed from Peer Review? The Peer Review pages lists threads in the order they were last commented on. But some threads were receiving a steady string of comments, pushing more recently submitted threads down the list. Quite simply, Peer Review was getting clogged up with a number of entries that couldn't make it through the system in their present state.

There are a total of 109 threads in the Sin Bin this week, just two more than last week. And only one thread has been moved from the Peer Review page to the Writing Workshop so far. But look for this to increase. Writers with entries that need a lot of work are being asked to submit their entries to the Writing Workshop instead of Peer Review. Just keep in mind that from this point on, Peer Review is for finished entries only.

There was another small anomaly last week. The first projects from h2g2's University of Life were featured. The various astronomy-related projects contributed 21 entries to the Edited Guide, in addition to the 25 entries approved through the usual editing process. More than half of those 25 were submitted to Peer Review, by the way.

An Interesting Study

Last week, Bossel undertook an interesting study and he reported his findings to me. He checked every single thread in Peer Review to check for trends in the type of responses authors were getting. He found that 37 threads (over 11%) had never received a reply. In some cases, authors' responses to the lack of feedback demonstrated that they viewed silence as a form of rejection.

Bossel's complete findings are available for review. One interesting point he makes is that writers want feedback desperately, but they rarely give feedback to the other Peer Review writers. Bossel has passed on his list of overlooked threads to the Scouts for their review. I would also like to extend this offer to any author interested in the list. Just email me at [email protected] and I will send the list to you.

How to Spiffy Up Your Personal Page

We've all got them. And we know people visit our personal pages when they want to learn more about us. In my opinion, having a nice personal page is like being a good host. You should make your visitor feel welcome and comfortable. So how do you achieve this?


Never underestimate the power of good content. All the flashy theatrics in the world won't help you if there is nothing on your page worth reading. Remember that for many people, your personal page will leave a lasting first impression.

Try to see your page from the perspective of an internet newbie. Have you told them anything about yourself they can connect with? Is your writing clear even to people who don't have much in common with you? Is anything written on your page obviously out of date?

Whether you update the content on your page yearly, monthly, or weekly is up to you. Just keep in mind that the more often you update, the more motivated people will be to return and check out the recent changes to your page.

Easy ways to update your page include dropping random thoughts and stories into your journal, regularly changing out a quote or literary reference within your page, and keeping a list of the parts of the h2g2 community you participate in or the entries you have written. Lots of people include such handy lists because they also serve as useful links for the page's owner.

Graphics and Layout

A page with great content can still look a little bare. Luckily, there is a relatively easy way to spruce up its appearance. You can add graphics. These might include pictures related to your favorite hobbies, graphics for community groups you belong to, graphics related to entries you have written, or even a photograph of yourself.

The main trick with graphics is to keep it simple. If you use too many graphics or your graphics are too large, your page will take a very long time to load on other people's computers. Your visitors may get bored and leave rather than wait for your graphics to load. And animated graphics in particular can be distracting to someone who is trying to concentrate on your written word.

You don't have to be a genius at computers to include graphics on your page. h2g2 has been kind enough to provide you with a Picture Library. Just choose a graphic you like and copy the code listed beside it into your user page.1 If you are computer savvy enough to create graphics but need a place on the internet to house them, h2g2 suggests using the free Fotango service. GuideML instructions for adding your own pictures is here.2

Some people also use special font colors and layouts to spiffy up their pages. This can look great when done exceptionally well. But the risks to the novice user are simply too great. Try to remember that people are browsing h2g2 under very different color schemes. Alabaster users see their pages with a white background, black text, and orange headers. Goo users see pages with a dark blue background, light text, and special boxed-in headers that defy easy description. If you dip into the risky world of unusual colors and layouts, make sure your page looks good in both skins.


'Gadgets' is a broad term to describe all the interactive thingamabobs that many people have on their personal pages. When done right, a gadget can be an impressive addition to your personal page.

But just as with graphics, there is a risk that too many gadgets will slow your visitors' loading time to a crawl or serve as a distraction to the real message. There is also the additional risk that your gadget may fail to work on some computers or browsers. A badly concocted gadget might cause your visitor to see a strange error message, or it might even make your entire page inaccessible.

Gadgets are not for the faint of heart. But those who are feeling capable and brave enough to try them should check out the GuideML Gadget page. The official Who-Is-Online gadget is there, and you can also check the posts attached to the page for various other gadgets that have been proposed for official approval.

Very experienced coders can also visit Javascript sites like The JavaScript Source to get ideas for their own gadgets. However, they should also heed the security warning posted at the GuideML Clinic. There has been talk about limiting Javascript for a long time, and it looks like we are headed in that direction. So please be aware that any unapproved Javascript gadgets you have on your page may be rendered useless at some later date.

Project Spy

Project Spy is special project for the View. Several volunteers have agreed to send me weekly updates on their entry's progress through the Peer Review system. By looking at the system through their eyes, we get a chance to spy on the emotional component that makes the editing process at h2g2 so unusual.

My volunteers have been reporting to me for anywhere from one to three weeks. I've included much (but not all) of what they have written so far. To keep View readers from influencing the experiences of the volunteers, I won't be posting the names of the entries we're following. I'll be identifying volunteers by number rather than name, too. I don't feel any need to comment on their reports, either. Their words pretty much speak for themselves.

Volunteer #1

November 20th:

Played with the idea of naming the posting something like 'how to have sex while [actual name of entry]. Sex sells, and the PR page
is no different.

1/2 hour later:

Posted the announcement on peer review. Seems to be a good starting time, reckoning that it is evening here in europe, with US researchers' evening still ahead.

1 hour later:

posted 2 hours ago, only 3 postings on PR more recent. 70 researchers online. I know by now that it can take days until someone pops in, so I don't feel bad about it.

The next day:

How about a counter for each entry on my homeplace? Visible only to me as the author, the counters would tell me how many people took a look at an entry without leaving a comment... As things are, the only indicator for some 'success' is that my entries don't show up on the front page under the '5 most overlooked' header, where 'How to speak Klingonian language' seems to have booked a place.

The next evening:

Rank 36, and sinking. Didn't expect anything else, as there are two other entries of mine with quite the same history. After all, the topic is exotic...

That evening:

Rank 52 and still sinking as other postings get on top.

Conclusions so far: On a whole, things went quite as expected. After all it is an exotic topic, and perhaps there are too few typos and such to warrant a comment from a scout.

November 29th:

On the community soapbox, [Mark Moxon] says the cream will automatically show up on top, and that no feedback /is/ also feedback. I'd better not express my feelings on that, and decide to return the favour.

December 1st:

This week's headline is just: silence again. There was still no response to the initial posting, and as time goes by I am losing hope there ever will be one. Mark did a good job in driving me down, and realizing that I've got two more entries in the same status -only further down in the depths of the PR page- I am also losing the motivation to write anything new.

December 8th:

An Answer! An Answer! An Answer! And not only a reply, nooo nooo! The entry has been accepted, right away, and things are quite different now. Thus have gone the dark days.

Volunteer #2

November 21st

No comments in the first 16 hours, which is a bit disappointing, but I guess all the Brits were in bed when I submitted it and at work now.

December 8th:

I haven't had much to report as not much has happened with my entry. It's just sitting there. Waiting.

Anyway, I had one comment and added some bits as a result of that comment and that is the extent of my Peer Review experience.

I'm refusing to constantly update it just to keep it on the top of the Peer Review queue. So I guess I just sit and wait...

Volunteer #3

November 27th:

Nothing to report. No conversation either in Peer Review or directly from the entry. This is not unexpected, as the subject is a little odd, and not particularly humorous. I expect, if anyone has read it, the reader will just say 'So What' and move on.

Nevertheless, it is quite an informative entry and as well written as others previously accepted, so I suppose that sooner or later it will
chime with someone. It is the first time that I have picked on something I know nothing about, and researched.

On an unrelated point, I have just received back from a sub-editor the first two entries that I wrote some time ago. I find that they have worked on (Not Much!) the original entry, and thus missed all the polishing that has gone on in the meantime, some as a result of the peer review conversations, which seems a shame, and rather misses the point of the process.

December 1st:

Progress report, week 2 No response at all so far. On tuesday, I did some polishing, and also added a whole load of links. Still no response at all. But I think it remains well written and informative, with some useful references.

December 8th:

There is no response either on the entry itself or in Peer Review. I am presuming that the subject is of little imediate interest. Even if I did want to retrieve it, I wouldn't know how to! I'll just leave him sitting quietly.

[A second submitted entry] went in last week, and has suffered a similar fate.

My discontent at the above is tempered by finally getting two other entries to 'pending' status, and another back from editing. I only have one other entry yet to be recommended, so there is no great pain yet from lack of response above.

Volunteer #4

December 6th:

On the very same day [the entry was submitted] I got some very important and valuable feedback from a researcher [name withheld], who disagreed with me on some of the 'facts' I had described. We started a controversial but friendly and cooperative conversation, and he convinced me that he was right and I was wrong.

That urged me to do some deeper research, and I'm still improving my Entry. If it was possible to withdraw my Entry from the PR, I would do that now, as there are still some factual nitpicks that need proper care. On the other hand, even if my Entry is picked by a scout right now, I'd still have enough time to correct some of the things that are still in doubt.

It sounds funny, but I'm kind of glad that there's no scout around so far who seems to be interested in my Entry. That leaves my more time to improve it.

Next Week's View

Next week, the View will celebrate h2g2's accomplishment in providing internet surfers with over 2500 edited guide entries. Such landmarks are a good time to review progress, so the View will also ask its readers a few questions about how complete the Edited Guide feels to them. The View will also continue Project Spy.

Fragilis the Melodical

Click here to see previous weeks' Views.

Opinions expressed in this column are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of h2g2 or the Post.

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