(This story has been updated.)

The BBC’s transformation into a shell, driven utterly by Murdoch-loving government and opposition alike continues unabated with the news that it is to close about 200 websites. In order to make cost-cutting savings of 20% as demanded by a Licence Fee settlement that shores up Middle England’s view that £145.50 per year for the Beeb is SHOCKING AND EVIL (© Daily Telegraph Mail Express), most of the community sites, including 606 and h2g2 are being axed.

It’s a huge pity that a corporation such as the BBC, which aims to create community programming and related services—and that is the only major broadcaster in the UK to bother creating a great deal of British-made output—has essentially been bullied into dumping the majority of its community websites. The argument against the BBC’s output is typical:

The changes are intended to make the BBC website more distinctive and reduce competition with commercial websites.

I’m sure that will come as great consolation to the myriad people cast adrift from the various online communities as the axe falls.

For me, h2g2’s upcoming closure is a particularly sad event. It was the first online community I truly engaged with, becoming one of the original set of editors when then-big-cheese Mark Moxon decided he needed some help. I always felt the direction of the site was wrong (in creating distinct edited articles and hard-linking, rather than following a pattern along the lines of what became Wikipedia), but then the edited guide almost became incidental anyway.

This is because h2g2 became all about community. It’s a massive, important support network for many thousands of people, who depend on it to get through the day. The anti-BBC crowd will yell: “So what? There are millions of forums online—just join some of those!” But that misses the point. As sure as communities in the real world are irreparably torn apart when a local community centre is demolished to make way for something that actually ‘makes money’, so too are online communities wrecked forever by the kind of short-termism lauded by the government, opposition and Middle England, who care only about whether something makes a profit, and not about whether it’s important to people other than themselves.

Update: Nick Reynolds, BBC Online’s social media executive, says in the comments:

Just to correct something here. H2G2 is not actually closing (as has been misreported in some places). We are trying to find a future for the site outside the BBC.

Success here, of course, is not guaranteed. It took the BBC to ‘save’ h2g2 when DNA The Digital Village went belly-up, and people now have an expectation of ‘free’ (both regarding general online social media services and with h2g2 itself); additionally, Wikipedia and Facebook’s rise during that time perhaps makes h2g2 a tougher sell. Still, I very much hope the BBC does manage to find someone to take the site on.

My larger point stands, though, in that demolishing such popular community sites is a poor idea. There’s definitely fat at BBC Online that could be trimmed, but 606 and h2g2 seem more like slicing into the good stuff and chucking it in the bin.

Update 2: Perhaps pre-empting the BBC’s attempts to ‘dispose’ of h2g2, the community has created an area on the site to discuss a potential takeover.

Update 3: Regarding the ‘belly-up’ statement, that refers to h2g2’s original owner, which I mistakenly wrote as ‘DNA’ rather than ‘TDV’. A correction has now been made.