h2g2 is an online community run by the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) as part of its BBCi network (http://www.bbc.co.uk/). h2g2 was the abbreviation of The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams chosen by the site's founders, TDV. When TDV ceased trading, it needed to find a new home for h2g2, and since the original Guide had been a BBC radio production, TDV approached the BBC. What was then BBC Online was interested both in the idea of a community site, the user base, and the sophisticated proprietary technology used by the site.
h2g2 has a community feel, with a largely helpful user base. The community is rich in graphics and is considered quite user-friendly.
The community is made up of volunteers, in groups of rough multiples of 42, who do various jobs. Some welcome newbies, some help people with tech problems. Others hunt for and edit Guide Entries, written by the site's many thousands of Researchers, and hope to be included in the Edited Guide, which has over 3000 entries and as of November 2001, is expanding at the rate of 25 a week.
The volunteers are split into five distinct groups. A volunteer may be in more than one of these. On a Personal Space page, the groups are represented by badges. Any Researcher can apply for a badge, but usually he/she has some experience before receiving one.
The first group, the Aces, are responsible for welcoming new users and assisting them in becoming active and experienced members of h2g2. No statistics are publicly available, but this approach ensures that a large proportion of initially active Researchers continue to contribute. Another group, the Gurus, help'(s?)' Researchers later on.
The next two groups are linked. Guide Entries wishing to become 'Edited' (part the Edited Guide) go through 'Peer Review'. A URL and Title are posted to a specific page. Then, the article can be reviewed and criticized by anyone. After a week or more if required, a Scout may choose the Entry for inclusion. Each Scout can pick a few articles each month. The Italics then read the article, and if they feel it is a reasonable pick, it is sent to a Sub-Editor for correction, checking and re-formatting. The Sub-Editor returns the Entry to be checked. After it is checked, it is posted to the Front Page for a day, and one in five articles is awarded its own professionally drawn picture.
The fifth group is the 'University Field Researchers'. They write groups of entries, completed about once a week. These groups of entries are complete guides to a specific subject.
h2g2 is large enough to have many unofficial usergroups: the Musicians' Guild, the Zaphodistas, the Society for the Addition of a Towel Smiley, the Thingites (who want 'Thursday' renamed 'Thing'), the 'Small but Vocal Minority', and more. It has its own virtual broadsheet newspaper called the h2g2 Post: http://www.bbc.co.uk/h2g2/guide/ThePost.
h2g2 also investigates itself, for example in the h2g2 Reports, written by a large group of Researchers.
There is no user hierarchy on h2g2. From the day a volunteer signs up, he/she can do anything on-site, unlike everything2, where all features are accessible only after a certain number of write-ups. Volunteers are respected by others and by the Italics, but they usually take good advice from almost anyone.
The community is large enough to have people skilled in most things. There are thriving user sub-groups, named after things such as new smileys (emoticon images) - the site already has more than 150, from "alien" to "yikes!".
The bulk of site activity takes place in UK (GMT/BST) daytime, which is when the in-house team (London-based) is there. But at other times, the US and Australian Researchers are also very active.
The h2g2 in-house team (the Italics) are easily accessible to all users on-site, and especially to groups of volunteers by email. Moderation has been seen to limit h2g2. As part of the BBC, all conversations are moderated by people with otherwise no connection to the site - and sometimes mistakes are made.
h2g2 is now available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/h2g2