Meet Mister Inquisitor
Not for the first time, events have conspired to make the Inquisition look foolish. Following the declaration of my absolutely definitely final retirement from the pointy hat and oubliette, I came in this week to give irons one last stroke, the electrodes one last polish, and the minions one last flogging, just for the sake of nostalgia. But who should I find strapping himself onto the inquisitorial table? It was Z, who seemed desperately keen to be asked various questions…
Speaking generally, Z, have you fed on bread before you head for bed? Or, Z, would it be tea that you plea to see before you flee?
Ah, I would generally have fed on bread before bed, but as certain people from other continents prefer to flee for tea, I answer yes to both.
I was basically just asking if it's Zee or Zed.
But I answer to Zee as well.
Is this because you feel a deep affinity for the hillybilly rapist in Pulp Fiction? Or perhaps the minor Superman villain Mr Z?
Well it was a name my parents briefly considered, but they changed their mind, so I used it online.
(If I had to pick one, I'd be the minor Superman villain.)
If you could be any minor supervillain, which one would it be?
I'm ashamed to say I haven't seen enough of that sort of film, so I'd have to say Che Guevara.
(Brief, stunned silence in the oubliette. Clearly Mr Inquisitor is even more out of touch with comics than he thought.) I see… the iconic, yet ruthless advocate of violent revolution and the overthrow of established power-structures. Bearing this in mind, please share your plans for the future of h2g2 with us.
I just want to see h2g2 carry on and get better, I really hope someone does take it on, and nurtures it, but we have to be prepared that it may not happen, which is why a group of us are forming a collective group that could make a bid, if no one else did.
This would be the community consortium. How many active members do you have?
Roughly 200. Well, 200 people have joined our google group and offered support.
What does the consortium see as the objective value of h2g2's existence?
I think that there would be 200 different answers to that, we all have our own reasons, why h2g2 is important to us and why we want it to continue.
In short, a great place to read good writing, a project to build a Guide, and a community.
What's the difference between the consortium and the committee?
Once we got about 100 wellwishers we realised that we'd have to form a group of core people, who were prepared to do a lot of the rather dull work, and these were the first 15 or so mugs that volunteered.
We spend our time discussing the various merits of a company limited by guarantee, versus a cooperative society, and other such interesting matters.
Do you see a community-owned h2g2 as the best option or a last resort should no buyer appear?
Firstly, we're not really going to get a choice, we don't have any money, so the BBC isn't going to give us the site if someone else offers them money for it.
Our proposal depends on donations, for start up costs, and people wouldn't donate if they knew that there was another buyer. From our point of view, I would rather that there was a buyer who understood the site, respected the community and wanted to help.
Purely in terms of what's best for the site, there's two options. We could be community led, and free to develop, they'd be lots of ideas of features, and new directions, but no money to implement them. Or we could have less control but more features, and functions. Which would be good as well, especially if we had a buyer that really really understood the community.
Realistically we're not going to get to choose, so there's no point debating it a lot!
Given there is such a diversity of views within the consortium, and even moreso within the h2g2 community as a whole, how do you plan to arrive at key decisions?
I know, getting a consensus from h2g2 reseachers is like herding cats, but actually it hasn't been a problem. We're all agreed that we want to save h2g2, and we're all working towards that.
There have been issues we have debated and just all managed to agree on. The really big debates will come if we do gain control of the site, when there will be huge issues to be debated. One of the first things we'll debate is how to we get a democratic governance structure. We'd need to get a elected committee to take on some of the Italics' roles.
I think that any really big decisions - like changing the writing guidelines or the edited guide - would be taken after a period of debate, culminating in a site-wide referendum.
Given the consortium doesn't seem to have a democratic basis, why should anyone get involved at present?
What we don't have at the moment is a democratic structure, we do have a democratic base. We're trying hard to include everyone's opinion, and come up with a solution that everyone is happy with.
Everyone who said that they wanted to be on the committee was on the committee, everyone who wanted to join, joined. Everyone who has offered an opinion has had that opinion taken into account. When it comes to issues where we have to make a decision I put it on site and invite comment and debate. All that's happening at the moment is fact-finding.
We do seem to have a lot of support on site, we have had loads of messages of support, and only one person (that I know of) has complained. I'd love to hear more opinions from people who think that this isn't possible, so that we can actually work with them. If you don't like what we're doing and want to get involved, then join us! We want to hear everyone's opinion. It's really really important to me that we get a consensus that everyone's comfortable with.
This isn't about my opinions of what I want from h2g2 personally, I actually rather like Barlesque for instance, and also enjoy the Edited Guide. It's about taking everyone's opinions into account - and every opinion we've heard we're taking into account. If the community decided that they wanted to abandon Barlesque then that would be what would happen.
Promising to ditch Barlesque sounds like a blatant attempt to curry popularity to me… News from New York suggests people are booking tickets for the new Spider-Man musical solely because they think they might see someone get seriously injured. Is this a good argument for putting land-mines on stage during a performance of Cats?
Well it's an argument isn't it? Though Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn't seem to have any problem selling tickets for Cats without maiming the cast.
In a recent hit single, arrhythmic popstrel Jessie J seemed to be under the impression she could 'do it like a dude'. What does this say about the standard of biology teaching in British schools?
She doesn't seem to define what 'it' is though, so maybe it says more about the standard of English teaching.
Or possibly the level upon which Mr Inquisitor's mind works. All right, bored now. What's the most important thing you've learned from being part of h2g2?
How to write about science and medicine for a general audience, and that Ben is awesome as a girl, and a wife.
Obviously I wouldn't normally stand for this sort of glutinously sentimental thing, but a) it's Valentine's Day and b) I've had Z's wife (I mean as a guest in the oubliette, lest tongues begin to wag) and I can only concur–you wouldn't believe the things she can do with a grape…
I'd quite like to stop being Mr Inquisitor now, but should you find yourself in the possession of opinions you absolutely have to get off your chest, or simply in need of the marriage therapy and/or holiday advice which this column is threatening to turn into, form an orderly queue outside the oubliette. That is all.