A View From A Scout

3 Conversations

I have been a Scout for a few days now, so it seems a good time to take stock and review what the job entails.

What I Am Doing

  • Reading
  • Commenting
  • Reading
  • Even more reading
  • Looking up english vocabulary

This takes a lot of time (I won't tell you exactly how much, just watch the 'online' screen) and it is my kind of thing.

How I Am Doing It: Organising Things

A minimum of seven browser windows are open at any time. These windows are:

  • My 'More conversations page ("MP-page"), which loads faster than the U-page
  • The Peer Review F48874 listing,
  • The Scouts' eGroup,
  • The entry currently under perusal and scrutiny,
  • The related PR thread,
  • A General Purpose window (h2g2 Search, internet plagiarism check, A.o.B.),
  • My favourite German/English online dictionary.

The next application is an MS Works1 file with a list of all PR threads and subject matters, sorted by thread number, that is, sorted by age. The spread sheet is organised in five columns:

  • Thread number
  • Remarks
  • A-number
  • Title
  • Double Check

The Double Check column simply contains a formula which highlights itself2 if the A-number is identical to the A-number contained in the previous row. Sorting the sheet by A-number instantly yields all threads which have siblings on the PR. The other columns should be self-explanatory, apart from 'remarks'.

The 'remarks' column can contain any of the following symbols:

'1'if the entry is ready, in my very humble own opinion, as it is, or with minor points to add from the thread. Recommendable right away.
'n'if the entry (n)eeds more work, for various reasons.
'rec'if the entry has been recommended. Recommended entries should automatically (that is, hand-craftedly by Mark) be moved out of Peer Review, but more often than not this fails. A suffix '-p' is added when I've posted a message to the Scout's eGroup, demanding the move. The whole row gets deleted if the thread has gone.
'edit'goes along the same lines: entries have been featured on the front page, with their PR thread (or one of them, in the case of multiple PR threads) still hanging out at the PR page. A suffix '-p' may be added just like after the 'rec' symbol.
'WW'indicates that a scout has suggested that this thread be moved to the Writing-Workshop. Another Scout's vote is required before a posting to the eGroup goes out, which, again, is indicated by the suffix '-p'
'Bin'works like 'WW', but this time the Sin Bin is the target of the move.
'Upd'this is a move to the h2g2 Update HQ and, in general, some researchers can be surprised to find out that the subject matter is already covered and h2g2 won't have two Edited guide entries on the same subject. This may hurt, but co-authorship will be granted when the update is done.
'doub'means that this thread has a sibling on PR, and one of them has to go to the Sin Bin. Sometimes it's the server's fault (double postings are common all over the site), sometimes the researcher lost track of a thread which has sunk deeper into PR and, instead of hunting it down, posted a new one. Doubles are easily found by sorting the spreadsheet by A-Numbers. This sort also identifies threads which are wrongly set up3.
'scout'means the thread was detected as 'unvisited by a scout'. This raises a red flag, and the thread is given priority. However, there are things I simply cannot comment on (or don't feel competent enough to). The detection of 'unscouted' threads is a highly sophisticated process4!
'' (empty)just says: none of the above is true, as I haven't visited the thread yet.

Note: There's no 'time of last posting' column. Nobody can keep track of a bunch of moving ants, such a column would be pure nonsense. 'Floating up' a thread doesn't have an influence unless the conversation shows up on the MP-page and draws my attention to it.

Current Peer Review Statistics (as of June 24)

Total count250(this doesn't necessarily reflect the number of threads currently at the PR, since I'm keeping some rows in the spreadsheet for some err... unspecified purposes)
Not visited105Well, total coverage is utopical. Apart from Scouting I do14 have other things to do. After all, I'm not the only Scout and it's Peer Review, not Scout Review.
Visited144Been there and read them, and perhaps left a comment.
Recommended12These are Scouts' picks from last week which will vanish as soon as the h2g2 staff get around to it.
Update HQ2 
Double threads3Of course, on their way out.
Workshop/Sin Bin25mostly abandoned by their owners who are out for lunch :-(
Not yet ready25Or 'need more work'.
Othersxxlike entries referred to University Projects, unscouted ones, plus one that is still 'hidden because it violated...' smiley - .
Instantly recommendable54This is what formerly was my <shortlist>. Obviously this is no short list any more. In a nutshell: of those entries/threads which I have visited, one third could be recommended right away. Or, to put it the other way round: given the amount of the total of 25 recommendations per week (ie: 5 per day), I could run the system for two weeks if all other Scouts went on vacation, without further looking at the PR smiley - .

The total sum won't reach 250 because of some secrets, for example entries which I have scouted from the Unedited Guide and no, I won't reveal them smiley - .

Current Writing-Workshop Statistics (as of June 24)

The WW is, in short, a mess. It's a colourful mixture of:

  • Some 30 threads which have siblings on the PR, either because the author had become tired of waiting for comments, or was encouraged to write the PR posting.
  • Abandoned threads which were left over from a first-time writer who cared to read the Guidelines and left the site after weeks of silence.
  • Threads which were moved over from the Peer Review for one of the various reasons (abandoned, rejected for being non-factual etc.)
  • At least 30 threads belonging to entries which have long ago been recommended. The theory is that obsolete threads will 'sink to the bottom' where nobody ought to look. That could be fine if they only did but, as things are, there's a mixture of all sorts of threads.

The above types of WW threads are mostly 'dead': nobody cares about them, and the idea of taking up a thread and finishing the entry seems far remote to h2g2 researchers. In some areas the WW appears to be a dumping place for shipwrecked yarns. And finally, somewhere in between all the mess there are some which are alive (ie: there's a researcher watching it), or even active (ie: people are posting to it).

My perception of people commenting on the PR

Warning: this is even more subjective and opinionated stuff than anything else here.

IMHO there's a common misconception around h2g2 folk: wherever there is a long list of conversations below an entry, life is found only in the first 25 or perhaps 50 threads. Just ask yourself whether you've ever clicked further than the third red LED when visiting the Miscellaneous Chat or Askh2g2. In all likelihood, threads further down the list are 'old', with the subject matter already discussed in depth, and long backlogs are to be expected.

Now, the misconception is to assume that the situation on Peer Review is similar. R***ish! It's different. As of this writing, not a single PR thread is 'older' than 8 weeks (taking the 'last posting' as the measure). The overwhelming majority of PR threads consists of less than 20 postings (that is: there is no backlog at all), and discussion is still going on in all of them.

An Attempt At a Classification of Reviewers

Casual Visitors follow the advert banner, write a comment to one of the first 25 threads, and leave.

Authors (ie: researchers with their own thread currently up for Peer Review) in general are self-centered. Their focus is on their own entry and it takes brute force to have them write comments elsewhere.

First-Time Writers are extremely difficult to handle. A harsh comment and they are off. A too-long time of silence and they are off. Too many other threads above theirs and they panic. Pointing out too many typos in one go, asking to use GuideML, using too few smileys, demanding more research, forgetting to point out that it's basically okay, - the list of things which drive off a first-time writer is a long one. You might say 'why bother if there are so many good entries to choose from?' The point is that there's somebody who spent time and energy to master the server's tricky behaviour and write a piece. Being new to the business, Peer Review rather means stress to them than fun.

How to identify a first-time writer:

(a) Through the initial posting if it says 'This is my first attempt, please be gentle'.

(b) If there is a 'A123456 - MyNewEntry' thread hanging off the entry, of course with no replies for a week.

(c) Sneak into their homespace. Be alerted if it says 'This is the Personal Space...' on top of the page. Be likewise alerted if the list of Guide entries contains precisely one item, made up three days ago. Be even more alerted if the list of conversations consists of only two items, where one headline reads 'Greetings from an ACE!' and the other contains an A-number and a hyphen.

The Hard-Boiled Fraction is really having fun on the Peer Review. The fun is to throw in one's tuppence-worth and see an entry growing into perfection, having discussions about the widest possible range of things, being surprised to meet each other in yet another thread, and to have a good time.

Finally... A Quiz

Now it's YOUR turn! Find out if you are the right kind of researcher to apply
to be an h2g2 Scout!

  1. Warm-up question to get an idea: Which are the three oldest threads (by age,
    not 'last posted') currently on the Peer Review? (Scores 1 bonus each because
    that's not a Scout's job, and the info can easily be obtained from Mark)

  2. Chose 3 unedited and non-recommended entries from anywhere in the Guide (but
    outside your own space and the Post) and confirm that they have any contents,
    do not have Edited siblings under a different name, and are not up for Peer
    Review or in the Writing Workshop. Use method of your choice. (Scores 3
    points each; 10 points for each that is worth putting up for Peer Review; 12
    points if you do it)

  3. How many times do you have to press 'More Results' on the h2g2 Alphabetical
    Index page, letter 'H', with 'show Edited' and 'show Recommended' turned ON,
    until you reach entries which don't start with 'h2g2'? (1 point)

  4. Which is the entry on the Peer Review that is still 'hidden, because it
    violated...'? (Scores 10 points. No cheating with the yikes button please,
    and 'A498675 - Confusing words..' doesn't count)

  5. Extra 10 points if you find another hidden one which I didn't!

  6. Identify two threads on the Writing-Workshop which are older than 2 weeks and
    consist only of the author's initial posting! (5 points each; 15 if you post
    to them and get a reply from the author within 2 weeks)

  7. Choose 5 entries from the Peer Review completely at random and write
    meaningful comments there. 'Hi, fine one' as a comment doesn't count. (5
    points each. Lose 6 points if you cheated and glanced at the title first!)

  8. Take a note of how long you needed to fulfil the last task and calculate the
    average time. Round off to the next larger integer number of minutes and
    write down this number in large, friendly letters on a sheet of paper. Look
    at the number for 10 minutes. (10 points)

Now rate your scores!

Your ScoreResult
0 to 30You had better not apply as a Scout.
31 to 160You're Scout material! There's no further subdivision
because it's all voluntary smiley - . Collect your CV and a
nice photograph, apply right now.
160 and aboveYou appear to be cheating. Start over

Err... Ooops, I Forgot!

There is the mind-boggling, overwhelming, enormous, huge amount of three
picks which a Scout can have every four weeks. The Scout makes her/his three
choices and posts them to the eGroup. If one of the Italics responds with
'yes' then the Scout can go over to the threads, write postings with smiley -
smileys in them and make three researchers happy.

So, Which Ones Am I Going To Pick?

I've been told that I have a warped sense of which material should go into
the Guide, and I'm happy with that. Of course an Edited entry must be factual
(non-fiction, describing reality). But reality can be so obscure and
warped... well. An Edited entry can be short, but must be reasonably
complete. There's a Gentleperson's Agreement among the Scouts to refrain from
picking too 'fresh' entries. I'm going to take that one step further: I'm
going to sort those 54 'shortlisted' entries by thread number and pick at
least two entries from the bottom. And my third smiley - will go out to a
first-time writer, regardless of the age of the thread.

Just my tuppence-worth anyway smiley -

Bossel (Scout)


28.06.01. Front Page

Back Issue Page

1Please don't laugh, it came along with the system, and most of the time it actually works.2That is, displays either red boldfaced 'X'es or nothing.3Ie: which don't follow the title rule 'A' followed by ' - ' followed by title.4Imagine an old but huge server somewhere in the British Isles, in a remote room without windows, cobwebs all over the place, and Mark Moxon massage-ing the keyboard in order to retrieve a listing from the database which is then posted to the eGroup.

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