Ming the Mechanic:
How-To Aggregators

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 How-To Aggregators2004-07-27 20:27
picture by Flemming Funch

From Seb Paquet:
Kevin Kelly asks:
"What are the best how-to books, videos, software, websites that you've ever seen? I don't care what the topic is, I am primarily interested in the execution."
Building a distributed body of how-tos would be another great application of structured blogging. Paging Marc Canter: must add Open How-Tos to your list of digital lifestyle standards.

Update: Jeremy picks up the digital lifestyle aggregator idea:
"Now imagine that profile as a sort of e-portfolio, containing most of the stuff you careed about, things you were thinking about, connecting you to everyone else who wanted to learn the same things, helping you find the information and resources that would help you learn... "
Yes, yes, yes. Of course we need all of that. A comprehensive open archive of the how-tos for ... most everything. And an easy way of finding everybody who want to do the same things. And we might actually get to work.

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29 Jul 2004 @ 00:30 by spiritseek : this one
Windows For Dummies,all the Dummy books.  

29 Jul 2004 @ 08:56 by Quirkeboy @ : YEah..
Yeah.. a How To blog.. but I think it would need to structured according to the skill level your at.. Ive noticed I gravitate towards people who have similiar interests.. but also are on the same skill level or slightly above..
Ive been on some home improvment blogs that are way over my head.. but some that were very helpful.. someone submits a problem.. and several solutions are given by men and women handier than I. So I can choose the solution that seems most realistic and practical..
Also.. not just with How To.. but with any system that is edited by the public.. how do you avoid misinformation?? Im thinking of a voting system.. sort of like Ebay.. where the accuracy of the information is voted on.. Any other ideas?  

30 Jul 2004 @ 14:27 by Quirkeboy @ : Dohhh!
Ok.. nevermind..I just read the next article which pretty much answers my question.. Dohhh!  

31 Jul 2004 @ 22:10 by dewf @ : hierarchical how-tos
I've always wanted to see websites which have a hierachical introduction to topics. This is done to some extent now with hyperlinks, but generally you get a table of contents and then the details. Books try to do this to some extent, but a lot of times, they are more linear than hierarchical. Funny that we learn mathematics and chemistry and such from the bottom-up, instead of top-down.

What I'm thinking is that a how-to or informative book should start with one paragraph which tries to explain the whole gist, then maybe a 1 page explanation of the very same thing, then a 10 page explanation.

IDEALLY this would be an interactive process. After reading the 10 page explanation, you could then write down all your questions, and then "ask" them of the document, and then it would refer you to a node in a 100-page explanation. You basically continue this process until you're knowledgeable enough to proceed with whatever your personal endeavor is.

There is no reason a how-to website couldn't be maintained in this fashion. The site admins could add the questions to a questions page (and that page, too, would be hierarchical in nature). When warranted, new content would be written at the appropriate levels in the document.

Imaging seeing a webpage like this, but presented as code seen in a folding editor. You could click a + box next to any paragraph to get a 1-level-deeper presenation of all the information discussed in that section. But every level should form a coherent whole in and of itself, to be readable just as a book is.

Technology is reaching the point where I think such a thing is really feasible. One of the most 'crippling' things with regard to starting any new endeavor or subject is "where do I begin?" ... "how does this relate to that?"

Such an information source would be a living work of art-- constantly evolving. Even further ahead, the document could "branch" and allow different "views" of itself-- maybe the same information could be re-framed and re-indexed from another paradigm. The raw data could remain the same, but the question-structure pertaining to it could change or split off to handle different approaches.  

1 Aug 2004 @ 05:42 by ming : How-to
Ah, yes, yes. I resonate very much with that concept, of presenting material at different levels of detail. The one paragraph version, the 10 page version, the 100 page version. I personally prefer to study things in that order. But so often the condensed version is nowhere to be found, so one must wade through 100s of pages before being able to construct it oneself. And then one doesn't get it written down anywhere. Just becomes this sort of verbal inside knowledge we privately might share with a friend if we feel they deserve it. But, really, if it was easily available up front, one could save a lot of work.

So, how to do that? Hm, well, maybe simply by constructing a wikipedia kind of thing directed towards how-to information, which is organized like that. Like, 3 or 4 levels for everything. And maybe social dynamics can be created so that one would find great prestige and satisfaction from constructing the best possible 1 paragraph summaries of everything.

I'm excited about the prospects for that.  

2 Aug 2004 @ 04:36 by Lionel @ : The best links you've ever seen
Hello everybody,

I'm wondering if a chat room already exists with an attached technology allowing every chater to visualize the prefered links from the others i.e. I want to chat with John, thanks to a mouse motion, I can activate "live" the cartography of his favourite sites.

Any reaction, anay suggestion?

Best regards,


2 Aug 2004 @ 08:42 by Quirkeboy @ : Shocking..
A How To Wiki book set up in a hierarchical format is a good idea.. making it very accessable.. but... at the same time you would have to be very careful of how you use it. Say.. for instance you want to rewire something in your house and you decide,based on your experience, which questions to ask of the wiki book .. without reading the DETAILED description.. because you're a cocky, overconfident handyman like myself... but you dont KNOW to ask if you need to turn off the electricty first!! Its a pretty basic example.. but I hope you see what Im driving at.. if you decide to use this Wiki How To book by only asking it the questions you want answered.. you should be VERY careful.. because you will only get answers to the questions you ask... not to the ones you DONT ask.  

2 Aug 2004 @ 10:10 by ming : Knowing the right questions
Well, it is often the argument given for not providing the information in a short form. One needs to understand the WHOLE thing before one tries to do anything. Which is not altogether dumb. But most of the time when somebody tries to tell me why they aren't telling me what they're going to say, I find out something else. Like that they don't know how to simplify what they're saying. They might indeed know the whole thing, but they don't know how to communicate it. Or they want me to invest a sufficient amount of effort in order to be allowed to get where they're at.

In the electricity example, well, maybe the one-paragraph version should then be something like:

"Shut off the electricity. .....[do the work]...... Turn on the electricity. See if anything strange happens. If so, start over"

If something really is important, one can usually say it simply. There might be lots of complicated reasons for it, but usually they add up to a simple action item. And if not, then there needs to be a clear and simple instruction to find out. First step might indeed be to take a class, or get certified in one thing or another.

It is easier to lose the important pieces in a long text than in a short text. If the first sentence says:

"Find a local diving school and get certified as a scuba diver"

then I'm not going to miss it. Where otherwise I might read a whole book about great diving spots in the Cayman Islands, without getting the idea that I need to learn something first.  

2 Aug 2004 @ 10:17 by ming : Preferred Links
Lionel, well, of course blogs usually have that kind of feature, of people listing their favorite sites, or their favorite blogs at least.

No good reason that couldn't be instantly available, for example while chatting. Other than that we'd need to agree on a standard format for where those links are and how to access them.

Various online social networks do things in that direction. When somebody sends you a message, you can of course click on their name and see their profile.

So far, the hard part is how to make that universal, and how to aggregate the various kinds of information to be easily accessible, no matter where people come from. I might want to see your profile, your favorite links, the conversations I've had with you before, the articles you've posted, etc. I'd like all of that easily and automatically, of course.  

2 Aug 2004 @ 16:18 by ov : hierarchial indexes
I like outliners. I think when they are done right they condense information onto the screen better than anything else.

Something that I think might work well is a favorites/bookmark feature that is part of the site rather than the browser. A person could highlight some text from anywhere on the site and that text would be entered as an outline header with a link to the original page. There could also be an annotation that could be expanded out from the outline header where the person could type in there own paragraph long summary; a feature I saw at one site was the first 256 characters that were being linked to were displayed in the cursor tool tips, which allowed you to get a summary of the summary sort of thing without even having to click off the page, which is nice because as long as you stay on the page you retain that visual anchor to a spatial orientation.  

7 Aug 2004 @ 21:49 by Ed Knight @ : How-to
First, I don't want to put down the internet in the least. I believe certain types of how to information are best suited to the net,other types aren't. For a learning project, I'd start with as many questions about the subject as possible after doing a general query over the net using an engine like Copernic that filters out lots of the advertisements and dead links; perusing only the most basic of info. Then hit the library with a list of books about your desired subject generated from a subject/keyword search through a place like amazon or bookfinder.
Finding local people/hobbyists or enthusiasts after doing some print research and question generating is what I feel is the most important phase of how-to. In my opinion there is no substitute for aquiring how-to info other than a human sitting across the table from you. Say you're learning a skill like marksmanship with a rifle, you've perused every how to manual in print or in the digital realm; with a local enthusiast or expert with you at the range, you can get feedback far more rapidly than say going back to the how-to page or sending your question to a forum group.
I feel the question/statement originally posed by Kevin Kelly was, "...I'm primarily interested in execution." I think a blog or online journal by the skill learner would be an excellent online monitor of progress that would allow the learner to track his or her own progress,& allow other enthusiasts, learners, and the curious to keep track and share after returning from one's practice session  

7 Aug 2004 @ 21:56 by Ed Knight @ : & another thing...
There is somebody I'd like to recommend on the subject of learning, though not just how to information. Charled D Hayes at www.autodidactic.com is in my opinion thinks about this subject quite a lot and his book, Self University gets one hungry to learn, be it how-to information or philosophy.  

8 Aug 2004 @ 20:36 by ming : Autodidactic
Ah, some good stuff there. Yeah, we might get spoiled and think we can just learn it all from the right webpage. But nothing can quite replace serious study, and learning directly from others who know what they're doing.  

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