A Conversation for Zaphodista Army of Cybernautic Liberation

Support for Smiley Ben

Post 1

Jim diGriz

As I've been away for a while, I've only just become aware of this "Zaphodista" group.

I was about to post something when I realised that Smiley Ben had already posted pretty much what I was going to say.

So this post is just a way of adding my (belated) support for his position, that taking the name "Zaphodista" is trivialising the very real struggle that the Zapatistas have been involved in.

As a secondary point, "Freedom of speech" is *not* an issue here. Your discussion is perfectly legitimate, and I may in fact agree with many of your points. But the BBC is *not* restricting your freedom of speech. It is merely moderating what can be published on its *own* platform. You are perfectly free to publish what you want elsewhere.

Regards, jd

Support for Smiley Ben

Post 2


Ironic that I was also the first person to attempt any kind of entry about the real Zapatistas who we are supposedly "mocking" or using their names in vain. (Try a search for the word "zapatista" in the guide and see what you find.)

Having read some of Marcos' childrens' stories about insurgent beetles wearing tiny ski-masks, I'm still pretty confident that Marcos and most other Zapatistas would see the humor in our comparatively minor and bourgeois attempts to reclaim the h2g2 on which we initially began "squatting" in 1999.

If the discussion of "freedom of speech" seems troubling, then think of it in other terms. Whether or not we have other venues for communicating, we want h2g2 to remain a place where we can speak freely. Right now, it is not. As researchers, we are simultaneously volunteer "workers" for the guide as well as something like "customers" of the guide, and it is perfectly reasonable for us to express dissatisfaction with the new management.

Support for Smiley Ben

Post 3

Hunter, who is rarely on H2G2 anymore.

the thing is... This isn't the BBC's platform. Imagine if you had a group of thousands writing the worlds largest cook book and half way into the project, the publisher declares that the book should be written only with recipies suitable for the lactose intolerant...

Just trying to come up with an analogy

Support for Smiley Ben

Post 4


People have called h2g2 a house (owned by the BBC, in which we researchers should act like guests), a community center, a business, a government. For a full catalog of analogies in favor of BBC and against BBC, check out WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT at http://www.bbc.co.uk/h2g2/guide/A539057

Support for Smiley Ben

Post 5

Almighty Rob - mourning the old h2g2

"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."

Thus spake an American journalist whose name unfortunately escapes me.

The BBC does not restrict our freedom of speech per se, but instead restricts our right to be heard! I can understand the argument that suggests we go elsewhere and post, but the simple fact is this: We were here first! Why should big money force us to shut up or whisper in the corner somewhere?

I don't believe it makes even business sense to "moderate" so heavily.

Support for Smiley Ben

Post 6


Also consider a point about "free speech" raised by Duncan "Spearcarrier" -- although we are allowed to discuss the UK General Election in limited ways on h2g2, although we are allowed to discuss it all we want in the section of bbc.co.uk called "Great Debate," people who consult the Guide years from now looking for info about the 2001 General Election will find nothing, or will find stifled opinions.

I don't know what they do with old postings to the "Great Debate," but if those discussions had been posted inside h2g2 as Guide Entries, they would come up in a search of h2g2. The integrity of the Guide as a tool for public communication has been significantly reduced by these rules. Mark Moxon claims that these weird rules limiting political speech were necessary due to a limited staff at h2g2, and limited resources, which means they would be unable to remove a well-orchestrated spam attack by one party or the other, thus giving h2g2 and therefore BBC an appearance of "bias" toward that one party.

This claim of "limited resources" is a red herring, because no one would believe the BBC was biased if they read eight hundred postings by one party on h2g2 -- and also read the disclaimer at the bottom of every h2g2 page: "The majority of content on h2g2 is generated by h2g2's Researchers, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC."

If they could believe or trust their own disclaimer, then we could talk politics as heavily as we wanted, and DNA's invitation for everyone to "create your own Guide Entries containing anything you want, from your opinions of world events to a description of your home town" would still be valid. http://www.bbc.co.uk/h2g2/guide/Welcome-DNA

[Sorry I digressed. Haven't exercised my rhetorical muscles in a few days.]

Support for Smiley Ben

Post 7

Martin Harper

That's actually a neat idea. I for one would be happy for the great debate threads to be archived here on h2g2 once the election is over and we are once again allowed to talk heavy UK politics... smiley - smiley

Freedom of Speech

Post 8

Jim diGriz

>"The BBC does not restrict our freedom of speech per se, but instead restricts our right to be heard!"

Maybe it's time to let this one drop, but I don't feel like doing so yet! smiley - winkeye

The BBC has not restricted your right to be heard; it has merely restricted your ability to post what you want on *their* site.

I take the point about "freedom of the press for those who own one", but with the web this really becomes *less* of an argument; anyone can set up a web page with whatever they like on it. If it's submitted to a search engine then it can be found very easily too.

>"I can understand the argument that suggests we go elsewhere and post, but the simple fact is this: We were here first! Why should big money force us to shut up or whisper in the corner somewhere?"

I can appreciate this point, and have much sympathy with it. But I think it is *very* important not to confuse the issue of *how* we want the site to be run with a question of 'rights'.

'Rights' are an extremely important part of life (arguably the *most* important part). When our rights are truly being violated then we have a duty to fight with full force against our oppressors. However, the moderation policy of a website is not even remotely in the same category; as the old saying goes "choose your battles wisely".

>"I don't believe it makes even business sense to "moderate" so heavily."

Well, in some (steadily diminishing) sense, the BBC isn't a 'business' as such. But yes, I agree. In many cases, I have decided not to post to a thread even though I think my comments may have been helpful (links to appropriate external websites for example). It certainly acts as a deterrent against lively debate, which is a big shame.

There's nothing better than a good ding-dong! smiley - smiley

(BTW If you think I have a bit of a bee-in-my-bonnet about the concept of 'rights', then you're correct! I have, and fully intend to stay that way for a long time indeed.)

Freedom of Speech

Post 9

Almighty Rob - mourning the old h2g2

"The BBC has not restricted your right to be heard; it has merely restricted your ability to post what you want on *their* site."

That's the same argument as saying "anyone with $20 can afford to publish a newsletter." True enough, but will they really be heard? The best part of h2g2 was that there was a genuine audience for anybody to speak to. When the BBC came along they effectively turned off that audience. No matter how much you argue, it is very difficult to post your opinion *in the same way* elsewhere.

Freedom of Speech

Post 10


Jim, This subject has been covered in other discussions, especially the one under the Zaphodista page titled, "Are you really unaware of how offensive this is?" at http://www.bbc.co.uk/h2g2/guide/F63734?thread=106007 I realize it's a bummer for you to read the discussion there, but it's equally a bummer to repeat the same arguments we've written there. The first 180 posts or so are the most relevant.

Freedom of Speech

Post 11

Jim diGriz

The first 180 posts? Aw, c'mon, what kind of thread-wimps hang around here? When I were a lad, threads would run for hundreds-of-thousands of posts, as far as the eye could see, before anyone considered giving up and going home! smiley - winkeyesmiley - winkeyesmiley - winkeye

Anyway, I was gonna call it a day on this one. I'm not trying to convince anyone to agree with me, or get into some heated argument. I'm just trying to ensure that what I'm saying is clear.

Conversely, I'm also trying to ensure that I understand what others are saying. And I do, truly, appreciate the arguments that they're making.

Regards, jd

Freedom of Speech

Post 12


Jim, if it seems like this conflict is all about our "rights" or "freedom of speech," then maybe it's just terminology that is a stumbling block. I don't know to what extent BBC has limited our overall freedom of speech by putting new restrictions on h2g2. I don't know exactly what "right" we have to demand how they spend their money (or the money of those people who pay the license fees).

But look at it this way. If a magazine gets sold to another publisher, changes its editorial staff and changes the editorial direction of the magazine, then some readers may not like the changes. Some readers may like it better. Some of the staff may disagree with the changes and leave. Some of the staff may like the new management better than the old.

Another weak analogy would be a business, maybe a bar. Your local pub gets sold, now it's run by a different group of people, different menu, different decorations. Whether you like it enough to stay on is a subjective thing. Maybe you'll like it better than before.

In both of those instances, you "vote with your feet" and leave if you don't want to keep reading their magazine or patronizing that bar. A lot of people expect h2g2 researchers who are dissatisfied with the new management to simply leave. But we won't simply leave, because h2g2 is not a bar or a magazine. It's more complex than that, which is why those analogies fail, which is why we are still here complaining.

All these analogies are somewhat off the mark, because h2g2 is such a weird entity. It's like a publication, but it's like a community, but it's like a service, but it's like a virtual place. Why did BBC really buy it? How do they hope to profit? What should the relationship be between h2g2 and its researchers? How should we feel about our obligations to h2g2, or h2g2's obligations to us, if any?

I think another analogy that applies is h2g2 researchers as squatters. Some of us have been cultivating pages on h2g2 for a year or more before BBC came along. The way BBC changed things radically from how h2g2 ran in the old days caused some of us squatters to holler. If they want our continued cultivation, they ought to change things back to something like the old h2g2.

One last analogy, which you'll hopefully find ludicrous, but it may give you a better insight into how some of us feel. Zaphodistas are like a trade union of volunteer workers. As researchers, all of us provide a service to h2g2 by dumping lots of free content on the site (whether or not our journals or conversations or guide entries are good enough to be accepted into the Edited guide). Our only real leverage to protest BBC's restrictions is to band together like a trade union, negotiate with management like a trade union would, and threaten to strike as a last resort.

Of course we're not all here as "workers." This analogy fails to describe how researchers enjoy the experience of visiting and being part of the community. But as workers and readers and customers and members of this community, some of us don't like the way BBC has restricted us. And we'll do everything we can to prevent BBC from making h2g2 into the kind of stale site they seem intent on making it.

Freedom of Speech

Post 13

Mark Moxon

"And we'll do everything we can to prevent BBC from making h2g2 into the kind of stale site they seem intent on making it."

Sigh. I give up.

smiley - sadface

Freedom of Speech

Post 14

Almighty Rob - mourning the old h2g2

Hey Mark, that wasn't against the Italics, that was against the BBC's new rules that you guys are working under. The site was fantastic when you guys had control, and you're still doing good work.

We love you, Mark! smiley - winkeye

Freedom of Speech

Post 15

Mark Moxon

Fair enough, Rob. It just gets me down that for a small number of quite vocal people there's *always* so much negativity expressed when it comes to the BBC - despite *any* arguments we try to put forward. Some Researchers have just got it in for the BBC, and when you're faced with that sort of stubborn devil's advocacy, it can't help but get you down, even if it's not aimed specifically at you.

The BBC saved this site, they're gearing up to pump money into it to develop it further, and despite the changes we've had to make, things are still excellent round here - even Subcom has grudgingly admitted that the Moderators are doing a pretty good job these days. smiley - smiley So although I appreciate that criticism is often aimed at the BBC, rather than the h2g2 Team, consider:

* We are a part of the BBC too.

* Negativity on h2g2, even when aimed at the BBC and not us, is negativity on the site on which we work, and it's depressing.

* We are the ones who have to provide the customer support and pro-h2g2 arguments here, nobody else, so we still have to get involved in the discussions (or decide to ignore them, which is not a bad idea sometimes).

* It's generally the same people complaining, about the same things - often caused by their expectations being unreasonable or impractical. It's really wearing, to be honest.

Not that I'm saying you shouldn't all be expressing exactly what you think - far from it! All I'm saying it that you should expect any negative criticism to affect the h2g2 Team as well, even if you're not aiming them specifically at us. Don't stop the constructive discussions, but don't expect them not to affect us... love or no love. smiley - smiley

Fair point?

Freedom of Speech

Post 16


As far as I'm concerned your point is fair, Mark. But really, you know, I had wagered rather a large amount of hope on h2g2, pre-takeover, and there was stuff that I wanted to do here, that I had the hope of doing here, that I was planning, and it was going to be so good, and now nothing can come of it. It was a letdown, and I am way depressed. I had no inkling that the site was in trouble at all. I need hope. Even the smallest glimmer of hope, such as a site where I can talk freely about the stuff I care deeply about, is something that helps to keep me going. And now it's gone. My entire life seems to be going down the toilet, and this is just one more contribution to the problem. I feel powerless and useless and helpless. I feel very close to my own death. You see, things affect people, often more than intended, and it goes in all directions.

Freedom of Speech

Post 17

Hunter, who is rarely on H2G2 anymore.

wow... that really stinks... I can't think of really much of anything to say. smiley - sadface

Freedom of Speech

Post 18



Given the rules you're forced to work with, I think you and the h2g2 staff are doing as best you can to keep this a vibrant and interesting place to visit. But the ways that the site is becoming stale is with stifled discussions, self-censorship, people not bothering to bring up topics for fear that they will be deleted or hidden or otherwise censored, lack of links and pictures and languages that researchers could use anywhere else on the web. And anyone interested in researching UK politics in ten or twenty years from now will find a little void where h2g2 researchers did not discuss the 2001 General Election. --or stifled their discussions before raising them, because they knew the topic might be censored.

Like a slice of bread, h2g2 is still moist and yummy on the inside, but turning unpleasantly firm around the edges. (Darn, I could have used some kind of "toast" simile here instead of the "stale" simile. Then it would be burned and blackened around the edges where censorship left its mark.)

For all it's worth, I didn't mean to sound like the h2g2 staff or even BBC are imposing these rules out of any malicious intent. I see this conflict as a natural struggle between two groups trying to protect their self-interest. (Maybe I've been playing DARWIN POND too much, thinking in terms of struggling groups of microscopic organisms.) Members of the h2g2 community who were here pre-BBC have a natural interest in the continued growth and maximum functionality of the community. By functionality I mean that censorship limits the usefulness of h2g2 as a communication tool. The more censorship, the less we can communicate. We can route around censorship by asking for it to be "fixed" or by finding a route to communicate outside of h2g2.

BBC has a natural interest in trying to protect itself from lawsuits, and trying to protect its image so tv viewers won't boycott Teletubbies after reading a risque Guide Entry about Female Masturbation on h2g2.

In order to reach a balance, one side or the other has to give way. Or both sides have to give way a little bit. Disgruntled researchers give way by accepting BBC rules without expressing "negativity," or else by leaving h2g2. The BBC could give way by changing some of their rules.

Us disgruntled types have to keep asking ourselves the question: do we want to accept h2g2 as it is now, or leave h2g2, or keep protesting and trying to change it? I'm not ready to leave and I'm not ready to settle. I hope everyone who feels similarly is willing to dig in and continue expressing their negative feelings towards the BBC's unreasonable restrictions.

Sorry if some of this war of words ends up causing (ugh, please don't execute me for saying this--) collateral damage to the h2g2 staff, when we're trying to aim it at BBC. Luckily we're just using words instead of missiles or fertilizer bombs. If this makes Zaphodistas textual terrorists, then our punishment should be textual, if we ever get caught. Maybe forcing us to type and retype all the screenplays for ARE YOU BEING SERVED or YES MINISTER would be a fatal punishment?

Freedom of Speech

Post 19


Pillowcase, it's depressing that we can't do the things we used to do on h2g2 pre-BBC. But don't get that depressed! Come on, man! (or woman? as the case may be? as the pillowcase may be??) If you start getting depressed about the way h2g2 is being run under the BBC's restrictions, then go back to DNA's personal space, U42, and look up some of his articles. Besides being amusing, they're very astute observations of what kind of potential the web should have, and what kind of potential this site has.

I'm confident that one way or another, maybe not directly forced by protestors, maybe not for a few years, but by competition and common sense for seeing what's best for this community, this site will drop the silly restrictions and realize its full potential.

Also try reading the original h2g2 books again. Excellent good stuff, worth reading over and over. (But don't read Mostly Harmless or the Dirk Gently books right now. Those ones are pretty depressing.) smiley - monster

And if you're still feeling that bad, talk to one of us, or talk to a friend you can trust. We want your Pillowcase to continue marauding for years to come, even if we aren't allowed to mention it!

Freedom of Speech

Post 20

Mark Moxon

Wow Pillowcase, that's sad to hear. smiley - sadface I'd be very interested to hear some examples of what you were hoping to do on h2g2 that you can't do now we're a part of the BBC. What was it you wanted to do that you can't do on the new h2g2?

(Hope you get happier too - h2g2 has always been and is still an incredibly friendly place, so do chat to people about things, if you think it will help. It really works!)

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