Web sites show you how it’s done
Not long ago I wrote a column about the availability of online lectures and the chance they afford both life-long learners and gifted teachers to make the world their classroom.
At the same time, there is an entirely different category of instructional videos that can make you a better magician, pastry chef or yoga practitioner. There probably isn't a hobby or interest out there that doesn't have a corresponding video sitting on a server somewhere.
There are Web sites that cater to this "how to" market and in this column I want to introduce readers to ExpertVillage.com, WonderHowTo.com, Howcast.com and eHow.com.
Each site obtains its content differently. Expert Village recruits certified expert to create videos for its library. Howcast.com also has user-provided content; WonderHowTo.com collects videos from existing sources such as YouTube; and eHow.com consists mostly of self-help articles but also has a small collection of videos and photos.
All the sites are free and supported by advertising.
The content on all the sites is generally of good quality (at least the stuff I viewed) but each of the sites has its own peculiarities. For example, Howcast.com's content sometimes blurs the line between entertainment (a la YouTube) and education. For example the site offers a lesson for teenagers on "How to sneak into your house after curfew." The video features a teenager walking around her living room with a blindfold on in order to practice navigating her home in the dark. It was funny, but hardly edifying.
On the more helpful side, I liked the way Howcast.com structures its site. It labels and numbers each of the steps and allows you to fast forward to or play each step back. When you watch its video on "How to play a basic bar chord," you can see how to lay your fingers on the guitar frets until you get it right.
All the sites have search engines, though they vary in their accuracy, usability and depth of content. When I did a search for "care of house plants," Expert Village.com and WonderHowTo.com had scads of videos on the subject. The same search on Howcast.com was not so fruitful. Instead of getting information on caring for house plants, I got "How to care for your retainer" and "How to grow and care for sideburns." On eHow there were precious few videos on house plants but the search engine did refer me to videos on wiper blades, motor oil and automatic transmission fluid.
The upshot: "How to" sites are great for consumers but their scope and quality of presentation varies.
From the perspective of budding film makers, they offer a wonderful opportunity to add to their portfolios and maybe make a few bucks.
Consumers, meanwhile, can rest easy that should they need some tips on adding memory to their desktop PC or how to mix a Singapore Sling, there's no shortage of tutorial information out there.