Mr Inquisitor Meets: Paul Goodenough

1 Conversation

Meet Mr Inquisitor

Hello again, and welcome to what's possibly the most unexpected reappearance of Meet Mister Inquisitor to date. When the Post Editors suggested to me that my return to the Inquisitorial pointy hat and oubliette might be a rather good fit with the climate of panic, terror and uncertainty currently existing in certain quarters of h2g2, they also supplied me with a list of suggested victims. One of these was a researcher using the slightly implausible name Paul Goodenough. Quite what he'd done to upset them I didn't know, especially as he's only been a member for about a week...

Judging from the size of your U-number you're clearly new to h2g2. Better late than never – what do you make of the place?

I can honestly say that's it's the nicest and most communal place I've known on the net. I'm "new" to H2G2 in terms of participating, but I've been a long term admirer and reader of entries. I knew all about H2G2 previously, and when Nick mentioned they were looking for someone to develop it, I descended upon him like a vulture.

I've been consistently impressed and moved by the passion and the commitment within the community. As I mentioned, before I was a reader, not so involved in the conversations – but I can completely see why that's such a massive part of what makes it so astounding.

Congratulations on a quirky and unusual choice of nickname, by the way...

Ha ha, yes, I thought I would make it as obvious as possible so that people knew I was the same guy who wrote the blog (as I knew certain people took exception to a few decisions). I wanted to be as honest, up front and as contactable as possible. I actually think once things have calmed down, I'll go for The Crafty Butcher – my normal tag (or some such frivolous label).

Minions, find out about this 'blog' he mentions. (I suspect the quality of our preliminary research has not improved in the last seven years...) So it's your real name – you must get sick of people making jokes about it...

Well as you can imagine, I say "Hi, it's Paul Goodenough from Aerian Studios" and I tend to receive a disconnected tone in return a fair amount. Naming isn't my strong point.

Thank God I haven't got kids. If I did, I'd want to call them Agent and Kensington. Agent because I'd always wanted to say, "Hi, Agent Goodenough" because it sounds cool. And Kensington because it's such a rich girls name that she'd almost certainly end up rich and I could live off her money.

A man after my own cold and steady heart. The minions inform me you were involved in the ongoing and somewhat controversial refresh of the h2g2 structure – how much are you personally responsible for? How much would you say is genuinely Goodenough?

It depends. In terms of functionality, we (Aerian Studios) had almost no involvement in addition or removal of features. This was handled by the BBC and DNA. I've used the analogy within the community that we're much like shop fitters. We don't make the goods, we just arrange them to make them look nice.

In terms of design, this was mainly Sam, Chris and myself. There was some very emotional (positive emotions I should say) feelings from all of us about how we should present this site. We needed to make sure we fitted in with BBC's GEL pattern so we were limited in what we could do in terms of presentation of content.

So, all we really had control over was the placement, the colours and the background image. So... you would think that would be a quick thing. But because we all cared so much, we all had very definite feelings. I personally wanted lots of iconography from Hitchhikers, but I knew the BBC needed the site to be more accessible to the wider world. We all agreed the dolphin image harked back not only to the books and radio show, but also to intelligence, and a natural dispensation to being "different".

It was very much a team effort, although Sam Semple was brilliant in being prudent yet passionate. Long answer, I know. I could talk about the efforts we went through for days!

What do you see as being h2g2's value to the modern internet? Things have moved on since 1999...

Yes, I agree. Things have moved on, and unfortunately the internet is less precious about its heritage than other industries. However, I think now more than ever, people are looking for a "voice". Somewhere where they can express themselves. I think the major problem is going to be making it commercially viable. If H2G2 had the funding of a larger site, then it would flourish, I'm sure. I think the major challenge in finding a new home is going to be how that can at least break even.

If a site like h2g2 was being launched brand-new in 2011, how do you think it would differ from the h2g2 that currently exists?

I've actually got some thoughts about this (as you could guess I'm sure). I think that if I was making H2G2 today, I'd integrate location into it a lot more (which is something the BBC wanted to do, but the service wasn't available). I'd want it to be more Guide-like. So have a mobile version that would then use all the functionality of a smart phone. Let people really build the Guide up when they see and experience things in real life. At present, there's one main point of entry for the casual viewer - the entries. From this they may get involved in the conversations and other entries, but it's not as clear as it could be for me what else could happen.

I'd love to see some sort of well-constructed user-centric application, allowing people to search via graphical interfaces as is the case with things like Google services (Gallery Project, Earth, Maps etc). I'd love it to be the long-form version of Twitter – a place where people took the time to write things verbosely about the Life, the Universe and Everything.

I have so many ideas for hootoo (newhootoo) that I could literally throw ideas around all day and night...

Obviously you may not be able to talk about this – but do you see your professional involvement with the site continuing post-BBC?

I can happily say I'd love to be involved in whatever way I can. Seriously, if I can help – I'll do everything I can, because I care passionately about Douglas's work and the people that have been brought together by it.

This seems to be in danger of turning into a serious interview. We can't have that – onto more traditional MMI territory! Who'd be victorious in a cage fight between Lady Gaga and Rihanna? Or would the audience be the only real winner?

I think fighting would be the winner as any damage done to either would mean aural recovery for us all. But Rihanna I'm sure, she's got moves.

One of your other clients is a Las Vegas-based TV show – did you get over there for the meetings? What did you make of the place?

I didn't go there for that reason, but I have been because I go to LA a fair bit for feature film work. I didn't like Vegas at all. I found the whole "open plan" motif of having bars, clubs, gambling and shopping next to each other strangely unsettling – like finding out your Uncle is a nudist.

It's the billboards advertising discount sales of machine guns that I found oddly unsettling.

Oh, I was fine with that. In fact within a few hours of being in the place I was tempted to get one.

Being fair, I didn't really give it a chance. I was extremely tired and more than a little hungover. I just wanted my LA bed back...

Once I found myself thoroughly enjoying the Vegas experience I knew it was time to get out of the city.

I need advice then. Where are the good times? I'm almost certainly going this summer...

(Who's meant to be asking the questions, here, anyway?) Erm, well, the Fremont Street light display is remarkable. I saw the Love show as well, which is stupendous, one of the most intensely uplifting experiences of my life.

Damn you, I'd already written off the idea of going there as being a slog and a chore. Now I'm looking forward to it and thinking perhaps I should start planning! I guess I could squeeze in a few shows.... as long as I didn't sleep...

Well, my attitude was that you only really go to Las Vegas for one of three reasons: 1) to get into debt 2) to get married or 3) to see a show. Didn't want to do the first or second (again) so I went with the third. Moving on, have you ever written anyone fan mail?

Nope, I can honestly say I haven't...

Wish I had a funnier answer. But I guess it's like cleaning behind your ears – "If I had time..."

But if you were to...?

So many... so so so many... Douglas of course, Eric Idle, Brian Michael Bendis, Simon Furman, John Wagner, Stephen Fry, Oscar Wilde...

Naturally, some of them would hopefully be more receptive to fan mail than others...

(Particularly impressed that John Wagner's on your list.) Going back to your issues with nomenclature, your business is called Aerian. Is this because it really is, like, silver, or are you just a massive fan of Judi Dench's character in The Chronicles of Riddick?

The latter. Nah, it's basically a long story that I'm getting confused about whether or not I made it up now...

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I know that feeling well.

Basically, back in the day, I used to do a lot of artwork. One of these was interior wall paintings for Center Parcs. The bomb was dropped on me the night before that I would need to have a company name and logo to get paid. So I looked around and saw I had a drawing of an angel that a production company didn't use. I didn't want to go for "Angel designs" or the like, so, since I was painting Greek inspired murals, I thought that I would hark back to Greek Mythology and the beings of the air – Aerians.. I thought "That'll do... just for this one job..."

And the rest is misery. I feel you've presumed long enough upon the Inquisition's valuable time, so, to conclude - what's most important thing you've learned from your involvement with h2g2?

That the web was designed to help people talk to each other. H2G2 helps us remember that – and how we should be talking.

Oh, and "Throw all the bricks you want at us. We'll just use them to build somewhere to live".

Hmmm. Well, you've been reading Meet Mister Inquisitor, which this week appears to have been brought to you in association with the Las Vegas Tourist Board. Many thanks to Paul Goodenough for taking time out of his very busy schedule to answer some questions which, for once, weren't all completely inane. (The years have taken their toll, clearly: I am slipping.) For what may well turn out to be the very last time, I've been Mister Inquisitor! Farewell!

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