The future of h2g2

h2g2 is a user-created encyclopedia project intitially set up by the late Douglas Adams and then sold to the BBC. This week, 'a girl called Ben' has written the first of a four-part article looking at the site's future in light of the recent Government Green Paper about the BBC.

The article includes a comparison to the (arguably more successful) Wikipedia project. Wikipedia is said to be drier, and more full of facts, whereas h2g2 is said to be funnier and better explained. Unlike Wikipedia, h2g2 also itself a point of view, recommending restaurants, etc. Much is also made of h2g2's community, which works differently from h2g2's.

It's clear that h2g2 is substantially different from Wikipedia, however even as an ex-member of the site, I can't help but feel that h2g2 hasn't progressed in the way it should have done. Back in 2002, there was a discussion on-site about how entries should be updated (entries pass through a peer-review process and then become Edited, which is a locked-off status). Along with some others, I proposed that all Edited entries should have an 'Update' button, which would allow researchers to create a new version of the entry, which could then be re-submitted, and eventually replace the original version. Unfortunately, this almost wiki-like idea was never implemented, mostly down to a lack of resources.

h2g2 will never be able to compete with Wikipedia, and is right to concentrate on its differences. However, it can't afford to be complacement. The launch of h2g2 mobile for PDAs (which, incidentally, I caught a sneak preview of whilst user-testing it at BBC Bush House), will be a shot in the arm, as will the release of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy film. Without some changes to the editing model and the underlying technology though (how about letting a group of users do the final editing and the front page?), I fear that the site will be looked more and more upon as a cult oddity...


Currybet has posted a nice responce to this, which compares h2g2 to Wikipedia, based upon a talk Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales gave to the BBC some time back.

Some further thoughts I had to add to this discussion: Someone I bumped into the other day suggested that "Wikipedia is probably closer to Douglas Adams's vision that h2g2" - is this true? Secondly, does the comparison between h2g2 and Wikipedia bear any resemblance to the comparison made between the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Encyclopedia Galactica in the Douglas Adams books?