The Opti Interview: Alex Ashman

1 Conversation

A magic biro

Opti: Ladies and gentleman of h2g2, please welcome to the floor fellow researcher Alex Tufty Ashman.

Alex Tufty Ashman: Hi there.

Opti: So what exactly is the Help Page Update Project?

Alex Tufty Ashman: It's an entry-by-entry rewrite of h2g2's Help Pages to make them easier to use and more accurate. The underlying aim is to make the site more accessible to new users, who are effectively the lifeblood of the site. It's got the backing of the h2g2 Editors (thanks guys).

Opti: Why did the project come about?

Alex Tufty Ashman: Back in May last year, I looked at the Edited Guide's Writing-Guidelines and decided they were a little verbose and could be laid out better. Being the sort of person who has crackpot ideas on a regular basis, I decided to sub-edit the guidelines and put the result in Peer Review. At first there was little enthusiasm for my update, but in the end I was encouraged to email the h2g2 Editors and the update was accepted. It was my own personal snowflake really - one Researcher commented that the update was 'definitely a good precedent' and the project followed on quite naturally.

Opti: Who is involved with the project?

Alex Tufty Ashman: Just ordinary h2g2 Researchers with a bit of time to spare. There are five of us right now, though I'll be very disappointed if I don't see a few more Researchers getting stuck in following this interview.

Opti: Is the project still on going?

Alex Tufty Ashman: Indeed: we've updated 25 Help Pages so far, including the h2g2 Tour, Don't Panic Help Page, and the Flea Market. The latter update even helped spawn a new volunteer group – the Scavengers. Things can be a bit sporadic and depend on how much time Researchers can spare - right now there's just the one update in Peer Review.

Opti: What effect do you hope these Updated pages will have on researchers in the future?

Alex Tufty Ashman: Firstly, there's the honest hope that new users will find it that tiny bit easier to use the site, making them more likely to stay. Also, all the existing Researchers should benefit from having concise, up-to-date Help Pages to use as a reference. Most vital, though, is the point that such a scheme is possible – h2g2 is more likely to survive if Researchers realise that they can take an active part in supporting the site.

Opti: Will there always be a need to update pages on h2g2?

Alex Tufty Ashman: I hope so. It's not that I'm some sort of workaholic, but I shudder at the idea of h2g2 remaining unchanged for ever after. I'd like to think of hootoo as having the same fluidity as human consciousness – the personality remains the same, but the site is forever learning new tricks and things are continually growing and maturing.

Opti: What can fellow researchers do to help?

Alex Tufty Ashman: Update a Help Page. The project has some nice, simple guidelines to work to, and there's plenty of Help Pages of different lengths and on different subjects that still need working on. It would also be good to see more comments when the updates reach Peer Review – the updates are intended for a mass audience, and will be better if that audience pops into Peer Review every now and again to comment.

Opti: Thank you Alex.

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