This week, we look again at Peer Review's progress after h2g2's return as part of BBC Online. And one of the Project Spy volunteers reports back.
Statistical Overview of Peer Review
As a reminder for new Researchers, Peer Review is the process through which certain entries are chosen for Editing and special treatment. An entry that successfully navigates its way through Peer Review is featured on h2g2's front page, and becomes one of the 'official' entries that make up the Edited Guide.
First, a writer adds the entry from their personal space. They may then polish this entry on their own, or they might seek help in the Writing Workshop, where 131 entries sit as I compile my statistics.
Once the entry is suitably complete and organized, the author submits the entry to the Peer Review page by following the instructions listed there. Right now, 318 entries reside at Peer Review. Once the entry is submitted, anyone at h2g2 can comment on the author's work. And indeed, it is encouraged for writers to help each other out by leaving comments for each other. But it is the volunteer Scouts who decide whether the entry will be Edited and featured.
If a Scout decides the entry is unsuitable for the Edited Guide, a couple of things might happen. An entry that blatantly goes against h2g2's Editorial Guidelines or which was submitted incorrectly might be moved to the Sin Bin. There are 50 entries in the Sin Bin as I write this. An entry that shows promise but needs lots of additional work might be moved over to the Writing Workshop.
Those that remain are commented upon and scoured over for an indeterminate time. Reports vary everywhere from a couple of days to several months. But finally, a Scout makes their selection and the chosen entries are moved to the What's Coming Up page. There are 16 entries on the What's Coming Up page right now. At this time, the author may also notice that their entry has the word 'recommended' underneath it on their personal page.
From there, the entry is assigned to a volunteer Sub-Editor for those final finishing touches. Once the Sub-Editor gets busy, the author notices that the entry appears under a new number at their Personal Page with the word 'pending' underneath. The new version can't be changed directly by the author, as doing so might confuse the Sub-Editor.
After two or three weeks1 of baited breath, the 'pending' article is featured in h2g2's main page. Five entries are featured each workday, and one of these receives a paragraph introduction on the main page and a shiny new graphic from h2g2's art team. Since Rupert ended, 55 entries have made this difficult transition from regular 'Guide Entries to official 'Edited Guide Entries.'
Comparison with Pre-Rupert Statistics
It is difficult to compare these numbers to those in my last published column before Rupert2. It looks like some threads previously attached to the Peer Review, Writing Workshop, and Sin Bin pages are invisible now because they are still awaiting review from the BBC Moderators. For instance, there were 141 threads in the Sin Bin the last time I checked. There are only 50 there now.
But we can certainly see an upswing in the number of entries being crafted these days. The Writing Workshop swung from 83 to 131 entries since my last report. And the 318 entries in Peer Review is 26 more than last time. Keep in mind that both these pages probably also include 'invisible' threads that I can't count right now! It's no wonder that the Peer Review page has been busy enough to show up on the front page's '5 Busiest Conversations' list quite a bit lately.
So my advice to writers is to remain patient. There are a lot of entries seeking attention right now, so I wouldn't be surprised if the highly variable Peer Review process proves stranger than usual for a while. While you're waiting, why not be nice and go review a couple of other entries in the Peer Review scheme? As we all know, feedback is often the difference between a happy and an unhappy writer.
Follow Up on Project Spy
Project Spy is a column feature where several volunteers report on their entry's progress through Peer Review. Through the volunteers, we gain insight into the angst and eventual joy that permeates the Peer Review process. The volunteers' identities are kept secret until the process is over to make sure our 'spies' remain thoroughly incognito.
Volunteer #3 just got in touch. It appears his entry was finally featured on h2g2's main page. And indeed, it got the sort of special treatment most writers hope for. Here's what he had to say about the entire process:
I just accepted the wait. I thought it was OK myself, it was just a case of waiting until a scout liked it. Its the wait between recommendation and publishing that irritates. I am not sure why that has to be so long.
In other cases it has been annoying (the wait) For example I wrote an entry that included reference to David Gray as an Up and Coming singer, and by the time the thing got published, he was well on the way.
It is not a place to publish thoughts for the moment, or social comment, or politics. I guess thats why there is so much geography and history. It would be nice if there were a way to include more immediate stuff. I can't imagine more creative contributors wanting to wait around for months for a response. Perhaps the long delay (between acceptance and publishing) accounts for so much dry, humourless and dusty stuff finding its way into the thing. Its OK for me, I get my satisfaction from the writing - its new for me - not from the acceptance. Others, I suspect, may feel differently.
Maybe for the same reason, I don't really mind what people want to say, or even if it remains unread. The deed has been done for me already (though I do like to polish, of course) and I've moved on to something else in or out
of the guide.
It would be nice if future changes could include a forum for more immediate pieces. (The Post?? only more so???) Perhaps all the recommended but unpublished entries could be kept somewhere for easy browsing, in unedited form.
I am now (post Rupert) a Scout, and thus reading more entries than before, and seeing much good stuff (but a lot of fairly dismal stuff too) awaiting publication. I hope the bbc thing will attract a wider membership and a rise in standards. We shall see.
Volunteer #3 was Pheroneous. Of course, I give him my thanks for being my guinea pig. He's quite a prolific writer, it turns out. Several of his entries have been recommended by Scouts and will be featured sometime soon, including The East End of London, The Rise and Fall of BIBA, ISCHIA, an Island of Spas, and The Bizarre Story of Clarice Cliff. His entries still waiting for a Scout's recommendation are A Trip up the Trundle, whose thread in Peer Review is here; and The Insidious Influence of Planograms, which is offered to Peer Review here.
And the entry whose progress we have been following is W J Linton. It took the entry about 12 weeks to make it through the Peer Review system, if we subtract the downtime when h2g2 didn't process any entries. It was the first entry from Project Spy to make it through the system.
I'm still trying to get in touch with everyone from Project Spy. But last I heard, Volunteer #2 was still waiting for a Scout's recommendation, Volunteer #3's entry was about to get some attention from a Sub-Editor, and Volunteer #4 had removed himself from Project Spy because he had decided after some introspection that his entry wasn't yet fit for the rigors of Peer Review.
As John Gilmore from the Electronic Freedom Foundation once said,
'The Internet considers censorship as damage and routes around it.'
This is a fairly accurate description of the mass behavior of internet users, who are a powerful force for free speech and open access when taken as a whole. However much a corporation or government might seek to limit access to certain materials or opinions, the sheer numbers of internet users typically trump any localized efforts.
This axiom seems to hold when considering the Researchers' response to BBC Online's Moderation system. While some Researchers feel perfectly fine with the new system, others chafe at the imposed limitations.3 These latter Researchers have been seeking creative work-arounds, a few of which may become popular.
One list of workarounds has been created by the anti-censorship Zaphodistas. Their Workaround Guide is still being developed. Meanwhile, I have noticed several workarounds used outside the realm of the Zaphodistas by people who simply have something to communicate.
BBC Moderators have been told to watch out for copyrighted material. If possible copyright infringement is taking place, the Moderator will delete the copyrighted material or possibly make the entire entry inaccessible.
The best workaraound for this is to simply include commentary, analysis, criticism, or a review of the copyrighted material in your entry. If it can be argued that you are using the material in an educational or critical manner, your use is allowable under the 'fair use' rules of international and UK copyright law.
Of course, even this workaround has its limits. You couldn't, for instance, 'quote' an entire book and put a single line at the end about how great the book is. Doing so wouldn't be 'fair' to the copyright holder, now would it? If the Moderators don't agree that your usage is fair, the content could still be deleted.
If you try to include a picture from outside h2g2 in your entry, h2g2's GuideML parser simply won't allow it. Your page will be rendered as if your code for the picture didn't exist.
One option, of course, is to use h2g2's Picture Library as a clip art gallery. This may add some color to your page. But of course, you are limited to the images that h2g2 wants to provide to you. And you can't use your own art work or a personal photograph.
A few people have decided to set up web pages outside h2g2 to house their images. They can link to the outside page from within their entry. Of course, this means anyone viewing your page will have to make that extra click to view your image. But for some people, this is better than nothing.
If you are linking to someone else's image, you might still run afoul of BBC Moderators on the lookout for copyright infringement. The link to your outside page can still be deleted if the Moderator feels the image isn't yours. This is especially likely if the image you are linking to is a particularly famous one. Also, it is important to note that this workaround won't be allowed with Edited Guide entries.
One final workaround I've seen is ASCII Art. By creating art out of standard text characters, you can bypass the GuideML filters that prevent you from using personalized images. Of course, this requires a lot of patience and time on your part.
Any link within a forum entry is deleted by BBC Moderators as a matter of general policy. Some people find this annoying when they want to offer links of an educational nature in the discussion area for a particular entry. The link will appear at first, but will typically be deleted within an hour.
Since links are allowed in Entries, one workaround has been to create a Entry for the sole purpose of housing the links you wanted to use in forum discussions. A few people have created one incredibly short entry for each link. At least a couple of people have created one large page of links for this purpose.
The limitation here is that BBC Moderators do check all links within entries for copyright infringement, unwarranted commercialism, and the ever ephemeral 'balance' preferred by the BBC. This pertains to all links within Entries, but of course that includes our workaround. And as with the workaround for pictures, you are asking your readers to make an extra click.
Next time, we'll check back into the Peer Review system to see whether those 'invisible' threads are coming back into view. We'll also cover the increasing organization of anti-censorship sentiment at h2g2, and the official reaction to dissenters so far.
The View is seeking your ideas for future columns. What are you interested in hearing about? The View keeps a special focus on Peer Review, but is willing to cover any areas or issues within h2g2 that aren't part of the Community's virtual realms.4 Please leave your ideas below. Thanks!
Opinions expressed in this column are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of h2g2, BBC Online, or the Post.