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If you are a h2g2 Researcher wanting to become a Wikipedian, please take a look at our guide for h2g2 Researchers.

h2g2 is an online community engaged in the construction of a guide to life, the universe, and everything. Much of it is encyclopedic, but the site also covers more esoteric subjects, such as plastic bag bras, or burying oneself in sand. The site was founded in April 1999 by the author Douglas Adams and some of his friends as the Earth edition of The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy (Adams, of course, was famous for the Radio Series/TV Series/Book Series/Play of the same name). h2g2 serves as a handy abbreviation for that rather lengthy title.

Like many other dot-com companies, Adams' company TDV ran into financial difficulties around the turn of the century and eventually ceased operations. In February 2001, the management of the site was taken over by the BBC's BBCi network.

h2g2 has a strong community feel, with a largely helpful user base. The site is rich in graphics, which are designed by an in-house team of artists. The site is generally considered quite user-friendly, particularly towards newbies who are usually welcomed by volunteers known as ACEs (see below).

Articles typically aim for a slightly humorous and idiosyncratic, but correct and well-written treatment of their subject matter. Every article has an associated discussion area, which allows for multiple threads, called Conversations.

Table of contents

Terms and Conditions

In order to contribute to the site, it is necessary to register and to agree to the h2g2 "House Rules" and the general BBC Terms and Conditions. Registered users are called Researchers. Researchers retain the copyright to their articles and grant the BBC (amongst other things) a non-exclusive right to edit and publish them in any medium.

The House Rules prohibit various things, including racism, "hard-core" swearing, spamming, languages other than English, and "otherwise objectionable" material. The Terms and Conditions are more legalistic, and prohibit material that is not the submitters own and original work, "potentially defamatory" material, and viewing BBCi on more than one CPU [sic] at a time.

When the site became part of BBCi, the BBC insisted on moderating all contributions to the site soon after they were made. However, they were eventually persuaded that the h2g2 Community could be trusted to a system of "Reactive Moderation", in which posts are not checked by moderators unless a complaint is made. Individual user accounts can still be put on "pre-moderation", meaning that any posts they make are not displayed until they have been reviewed by a moderator.

Occasionally, there has been an issue that is particularly contentious, or that makes the BBC's libel lawyers particularly nervous, and discussion of this issue may be moderated differently. For example:

  • "Heavy politics" was forbidden during the UK 2001 General Election.
  • During the Afghanistan crisis, extra rules were put in place and, for example, the username OBL was deemed unacceptable.
  • On 17 March 2003, h2g2 issued guidelines for discussions during the 2003 Iraq war, including saying that "Postings and Entries on the subject of the conflict posted to h2g2 will be removed".

Editing Process

h2g2 is really two separate but complementary Guides, one Edited and one Unedited. The Unedited Guide is described in a separate section below. The Edited Guide consists of articles (usually called 'Entries') which have passed through a peer review process, and then been checked and tidied up first by a volunteer sub-editor and then, more briefly, by an in-house editor. As of March 7th, 2003, the Edited Guide consisted of over 5126 Entries and was expanding at a rate of 25 to 30 a week.

h2g2 does not have a formal update process as yet, though discussion about creating one has been going on for over a year now.

Peer Review

On h2g2, entries are peer reviewed by any members of the community who feel like spending a little time reading and commenting. Some of these may be specialists on the topic, but generally most are not. Therefore it becomes obvious whether the average Researcher can understand an Entry, but does mean that mistakes can slip into the Edited Guide.

Once an entry has been picked by a Scout (see later) and leaves Peer Review, it can no longer be modified or updated by its author. However, the author can still update the unedited version, which remains in the wider unedited guide.


Sub-editors, likewise, are not generally experts on the material they are editing, which is assigned on a more or less random basis. Sub-editing is mainly limited to ensuring readability and conformance to the h2g2 house style, though the amount of changes made varies from Entry to Entry.

Some sub-editors tend to discuss changes and amendations with the Researcher who wrote the Entry to make sure that they are correct in their information and written in the right way. However, h2g2 lacks an effective change control system, and this often leads to errors creeping in at this stage.

The in-house editors make few changes - the most visible of which is appending a "Related BBC links" section to entries that includes a link for readers to search BBCi for other entries on the same subject.

The Unedited Guide

The Edited Guide forms only a small part of h2g2 as a whole. Most of the site's 'cultural life' takes place in the far larger Unedited Guide, which contains, amongst other things, various clubs and societies, discussion areas, Researchers' h2g2 homepages (known as their 'Personal Space'), and writing workshops. The Unedited Guide can also contain fiction, although this cannot be submitted for inclusion to the Edited Guide, which only contains factual information.

If an article does not make it through the Peer Review process, the original (unedited) entry can still be viewed (as before) in the Unedited Guide. It can, of course, also be rewritten by the author(s) and submitted again at a later date. This is one difference between h2g2 and, say, Nupedia, on which only articles which have been approved by expert peer review can appear.


There are six different kinds of volunteer on the site, with varying responsibilities. Any researcher can apply to become a volunteer; if accepted, they gain a badge for their personal space, advertising their status as a member of that particular group:

  • Aces (the name is an acronym for Assistant Community Editor) 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.
  • Gurus help Researchers later on with technical issues, such as with GuideML[?], a custom markup language designed to allow additional features (such as graphical headings and subheadings, and graphical emoticons), whilst removing unwanted HTML tags (such as JavaScript and embedded images and sounds).
  • Scouts are responsible for making sure that quality work does not languish in Peer Review for too long. They keep an eye open for entries that have received a favourable response from other Researchers, and pick a few each month to recommend for inclusion in the Edited Guide. The picks are reviewed by the "Italics" (the h2g2 in-house team employed by BBC, so called due to the appearance of their names in the Online list and in Conversations) and then forwarded to a sub-editor.
  • Sub-Editors check and edit Entries to be added to the Edited Guide. After that is done, the new Edited Entry is posted to the front page for a day, and one in five articles is awarded its own professionally drawn picture. Once Edited, the original authors cannot change the articles anymore, although there is a small team of Sub-editors who continuously trawl old edited entries repairing broken links, making updates, and so forth. These were the first volunteers, originally hand picked, and used to do the jobs of scouts as well prior to the creation of Peer Review.
  • University Field Researchers write groups of entries based around a common theme, aiming to provide a comprehensive guide to a specific subject. These projects often become quite involved, and can take several months to complete. Once finished, they are usually featured on the h2g2 home page for a week.
  • Community Artists contribute the art that illustrates many of the entries.

The Community

The bulk of site activity takes place in United Kingdom (GMT/BST) daytime, which is when the in-house London based team (known as the Italics because their usernames appear in bold-italics), is there. But at other times, the US and Australian researchers are also very active.

h2g2 is large enough to have many unofficial clubs and societies, set up and maintained by researchers:

  • The Musicians' Guild - self explanatory; this is a place for musicians to gather and discuss musical topics.
  • The Zaphodistas - Loosely based on Mexico's Zapatista rebels, the Zaphodistas campaign for researcher rights, for example, to include external images on h2g2 pages.
  • The Freedom from Faith Foundation - An organization of free-thinkers[?], the FFFF is a forum for non-dogmatic discussion of philosophical and religious issues.
  • The Society for the Addition of a Towel Smiley - This is a group that campaigned (successfully) to have a graphic representing a towel added to the extensive list of h2g2 smileys.
  • The Thingites - This is a group that campaigns (not yet successfully) to have the days of the week renamed (for example, 'Thursday' would be called 'Thing').
  • The Terranic Army - This virtual army has online battles on their own World War battlefield.
  • many, many more...

The h2g2 community also investigates itself, for example in the h2g2 Reports, written by a large group of Researchers.

The Post

The Post (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/plain/ThePost) is h2g2's own virtual broadsheet newspaper, published weekly by a community member, and featuring articles, interviews and cartoons by h2g2 researchers.

See Also

External Links

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