The h2g2 community consortium was formed in the heady days of panic after the BBC announced that it was going to dispose of us. On the 24th of January I sat down to lunch at work and decided to catch up with h2g2 and was hit by the devastating announcement. A few seconds later I had a thought:
If anyone is going to buy h2g2 then shouldn't it be the Community?
After all, who knows the site better than we do? Who could run it better than us? I started an A page and asked the question 'Are you with me'? Almost 200 people answered: 'Yes,' they said. I formed a google group, a few of us volunteered to form an interim committee, and we got down to work.
We realised that we had two main goals: to work with anyone who wanted to buy h2g2 so that the voice of the community would be heard, and if there wasn't anyone around, we would plan to see if we could run the site ourselves. We couldn't do much about the first option as we didn't know if anyone else was planning to buy the site, but we could try and be easy to contact.
The biggest question back then was how? If the BBC gave us the keys to the site tomorrow, would we be able to run it? How would we pay the bills, where could we host it? Would we be able to manage? Would we need staff? How would we run it?
We went away and got figures from wherever they were available and we did some sums. And then did some more sums. And it all began to look possible. We wouldn't be able to afford staff, of course, but we could do the work ourselves.
How would we run h2g2?
We aim to run h2g2 as a democratically run organisation, or as close to democraticas possible, on a not-for-profit basis. We were in a dilemma here. We would need to have a legal entity to pay the bills and legally own the site, but we wanted as many people to have a say as possible, including people who wouldn't want or were not able to give their name and address.
We did some research – quite a bit of research – and discovered that there were two forms of Legal Entity that would suit the community and the site. The first is to form a company limited by guarantee and the other is to form a co-operative society. The beauty is that anyone in the UK can join, but legally you would have to give a small fee and your real name and address (although ordinary members' names and addresses would not need to be made public). Joining would mean that you could take part in elections for a Business Committee at the AGM. The business committee would aim to keep the site legal and solvent, but not have any editorial or community interests. That would be handled by a different group of people: the Editorial and Community Team.
The Editorial and Community Team would run the site on the day to day basis, and these people would be elected by all h2g2 users. Anyone could vote and stand for this team, (though only for one position at a time!) without needing to give their real name and address. This way everyone can take part in the running of h2g2, even if you don't want to give your real name. This was really important to us, a key principle underpinning all our thinking.
It is also important to stress that any really big decisions would be subject to a site wide referendum. Find out more about this proposal.
How would we pay the bills?
After many long hours squinting at our PCs, we calculated that we could cover the site's running costs with a combination of:
- Discreet advertising.
- Giving users the options to make regular donations in exchange for an optional "supporter" graphic on their user space.
- Merchandise sales.
After we agreed on this we started to think about the future. This would all enable us to run h2g2 the way it is for some time. That was all very well for the short term, but in the long term we would need to continue to attract new writers, new readers, new community members, in order to keep the site viable, financially, in terms of day to day running and as a vibrant, living community. We began to discuss what we could do if the site was in our hands. But we always knew that before any serious changes could be made, there would need to be elections and the agreement of the majority of users on the site before we did that.
Still, we thought that here was a chance to do something that some people had been hankering after doing for years: run h2g2 the way the community wanted, untrammelled by any constraints the BBC or any other owner could impose. That's where we began have discussion after discussion. How could we change the editorial process, how could it be better, how could we relieve the bottle-necks? We came up with a variety of proposals including the Unified Guide Theory. We also discussed how we could change the roles of volunteers to work with the new proposed writing guidelines and to reduce the workload on the new italics. Ben started up Magrathea's Workshop to gather together the discussions and documents and draw them together into one Great Big Document.
We didn't do everything right, in fact we got so carried away with discussing how things could change that it wasn't always clear that this is just a draft, and any proposals will only go ahead after a democratic process to ratify them. But it is just a draft and I would like to emphasise again that any proposals will only go ahead after a democratic process to ratify them.
But that doesn't stop us discussing, and it doesn't stop us dreaming.
We've not finished dreaming yet...