There's always something that you need to know how-to do. And need to know in a hurry. Things like replacing an oil filter, making the perfect turkey, planting an exotic plant, or replacing the hard drive on your desktop computer.
It used to be that if you wanted to learn how-to do something, you either needed to check a book or a videotape, or begged a friend or a family member for help. Not any more. You can, at a basic level (and sometimes beyond), get a grasp of a subject using the Web. And I'm not talking about random blog posts or Wikipedia, either.
There are a number of dedicated how-to Web sites that will tell and show you just about everything you need to know. Sometimes even more than that. A word of caution: these sites can be addictive. Use them wisely.
Keeping it simple
If you need information in a hurry, you definitely don't want to read a long manual or a procedure with 27 steps. You want to know what you want to know right now. That's where the following how-to Web sites excel.
First up is eHow. The site bills itself as teaching you "How-to Do Just About Anything". And that's not too far from the truth. The site contains dozens of categories, and within each one are subcategories that have hundreds to thousands of articles in them. Like what? The computer electronics section covers topics like cheap digital cameras, GPS, satellite radio, and televisions. That section alone has close to 8,500 how-to articles!
The articles at eHow are short. I glanced through a few dozen of them, and the longest procedure was 11 steps. Each step only contained a short sentence or two. Talk about a quick hit of information.
Next, How to Do Things.com. Like eHow, How to Do Things.com contains a number of categories, each with several subcategories. Although it's not as comprehensive as eHow, this site does have a lot to offer on a variety of topics.
The articles at How to Do Things.com are more like entries in a traditional user guide or article. Instead of eHow's quick points, you get longer descriptions and a bit more narrative. You also get a few more photos and illustrations as well. Because of this, it'll take you a little longer to get the information that you need, but you might just get a slightly better grounding in a topic.
FindHow isn't a a how-to Web site in the strictest sense. It calls itself the "How-To Search Engine"; but it's more of a meta site. FindHow is a collection of links to how-to information all around the Web. For example, if you're looking for information on how-to study more effectively, you can find a link to the CliffsNotes Web site here. Or, if you want to learn how-to make a pinwheel, you'll find links to articles at Canadian Living magazine, Martha Stewart's Web site, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
If you can't find it anywhere else, then you can probably find it at FindHow.
Let's get visual
Often, it's better to be shown than told. Photos, diagrams, and videos can help you learn to do something far faster than reading about it. That's where these sites come in.
WikiHow combines the short instructions that you find at eHow with photos that illustrate some or all of the steps in a procedure. Note that not all task have photos, at least not yet. Each step in the procedure is brief, and you can click the photos to get a larger, clearer version. Many of the articles include additional tips and cautions as well.
Some of the articles on the site (like the one on tying a slip knot) also include short videos. The number of videos are limited, but they are useful.
Going back to eHow for a moment, the site has a small but growing section of how-to videos. You can also request a video, and it might just get made. It might take a while, though.
Another site that combines text, images, and video is Instructables. The site has an interesting mix of content that has a heavy DIY and geeky edge to it. But the content rarely talks down to you or goes over your head. Everything is clearly explained in words, pictures, and video. And you can download a lot of the content -- both as a video and as a PDF file that you can read on your computer or print.
And Instructables doesn't take itself too seriously. In addition to sections like Tech and Green, it has one called Offbeat. What's in there? Instructions on how-to make a spinning bow tie, how-to do guerilla gardening, and (my favorite) how-to build a soda bottle rocket.
Wonder How-to, on the other hand, is completely video. This site is both a repository of how-to videos and a collection of links to videos on the wider Web. There are literally tens of thousands of videos available through Wonder How-to on topics ranging from sports to foreign languages to personal finance to magic and parlour tricks.
The videos at Wonder How-to are quite good quality, and range in length from a few seconds to several minutes. Users can grade the videos from an A+ to an F. While I usually don't pay much attention to ratings on Web sites, the ones here are generally fair and accurate.
For the techie
For the most part, the sites discussed earlier in this Tech Tip cater to a general audience. But what about the geeks and techies out there who like to get hands-on with interesting, unique, and more complex projects? Well, there are a few sites out there that are devoted to them.
MAKE Magazine is a print publication that's devoted to do-it-yourself technology projects. The magazine's Web presence is nothing to sneeze at either. The Web site contains a number of video podcasts that take you step by step through projects in the magazine. Some of the projects are interesting, like making a speaker out of a styrofoam picnic plate.
The site also has a blog, which posts interesting videos and links to projects that technology DIY enthusiasts have come up with. Even if you're not into building wild gadgets on your own, you should check out the site for the novelty factor.
Even techies sometimes have a hard time setting up home entertainment systems. That's where Wirewize comes to the rescue. As you've probably guessed, the site helps you not only figure out how to connect your home entertainment devices, but also helps you choose the best cables to do the job.
All you need to do is tell the site what components you have, and it will return a list of the proper cables and guide you through the connection process with clear photos. Wirewize also includes a good generic support section that educates you about consumer electronics and jacks and plugs, as well as offering you guides that will help you set up various types of speakers. The site also offers live support. But to access that support, and the bulk of the information on the site you have to register.
No matter what you need to learn how-to do, there's a Web site out there with information that can help you. You don't have to be an expert to learn from these sites, either. And if you are, there's a chance that you'll learn even more from them.