The article below was written for the BBC staff newspaper Ariel. As it does not appear in the online version of Ariel, they have kindly given me permission to republish it here. Also see this blog post from October. You can find the new incarnation of h2g2 here.)
So long h2g2 – It’s a pleasure to set you free
Can you innovate by stopping doing something?
In early October the BBC mothballed the community site H2G2. But instead of simply closing it and archiving it, we did a deal with a unique partnership of H2G2 community, Robbie Stamp (one of the sites original founders) and hosting company Noesis.
They got a complete copy of the h2g2 site, thousands of unedited guide entries, hundreds of edited guide entries, images and animations created by the community, badges, forums and comments, and a copy of the DNA technical application which supports and publishes all that content.
It’s the first time that BBC Online has handed over a section of its’ website to someone else.
Was it complicated?
A raft of legal, fair trading, intellectual property and technical hurdles had to be jumped, most of them from a standing start. I lead the project at the beginning although cleverer people than me did the final stretch. My approach to the legal and governance aspects was “We’ve never done this before. Take it a day at a time. If the most important person in the room doesn’t say no, sleep soundly and move on to the next day”.
The Social Publishing Services Team in Programmes and On Demand lead byMarcus Parnwell and with a special mention to developer Mark Neves, did the technical work. DNA (named after the founder of h2g2 Douglas Adams) is a unique platform, designed as a reusable, flexible, multi system codebase, and still powers the moderation and comment services on BBC Online. So all non h2g2 content had to be stripped out. To say Marcus and his team went the extra mile is putting it mildly.
Why did we do it?
Now at this point I stop using the word “innovation”, go all soppy and start to use words like “love”.
The h2g2 community is the best behaved, most delightful and decent online community I’ve ever encountered. Not for them trolling, flame wars, sniping and abuse. They love the site they make. And although for ten years the BBC owned h2g2 legally, morally it was always part owned by the strange, wonderful community with their own quirkly language and their absolute determination to keep alive the spirit of Douglas Adams.
For once the BBC acted with its head but also with its heart. As one h2g2 user commented:
“The transition and placement of h2g2 with its new owners (via the BBC) has been one of the most honourable things I have seen in my time. I’m convinced that there is a ‘hardcore’ of workers within the BBC that really do *care* about their audiences.”
Visit the new site www.h2g2.com. In the immortal words of Sting, “If you love someone, set them free…”