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Science, Maths & Technology

How do I...?

Updated Monday 8th October 2007

Tony Hirst comes up with an easy way to find "How to…" videos on the web.

If you wanted to find out how to fix a dripping tap, or make a lemon cheesecake, or do something technical, like create a podcast, what would you do?

Increasingly, I think, many people are turning to search engines for advice - particularly as families are increasingly dislocated and Mum or Dad aren't around to ask for help!

The sort of help we often really want, though, is a practical demonstration. Over recent months, several websites have appeared that might just do the job. You probably haven't heard of any of them - yet - but you may well have heard of something similar: YouTube, the video sharing site.

What's different about Expert Village, Instructables and VideoJug are that they are built around instructional videos; that is, videos that show you how to do something.

I came across a list of these sites the other day whilst getting one of my daily tech news fixes, from the TechCrunch blog: Graspr Steps into the Crowded Instructional Video Ring

And what struck me was: wouldn't it be handy to search all of these sites - and only these sites - in one go?

Now it just so happens that all the major search engines - Google, Yahoo and Microsoft - provide tools that let you build your own custom search engine. In it's simplest form, this boils down to providing a list of website addresses (URLs) that you want your search engine to search over. (If you want to try one out, I suggest Yahoo's Search Builder or Google's Custom Search Engine.

So here's the one I built  - I call it How do I:

How do I, search page Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: How Do I
 

What How Do I does is search over the instructional video  websites listed in the TechCrunch site, and return results only from them.

One of the things you might notice is that the search box is preceded withthe words How do I. This encourags the user to enter rather more search terms than they might ordinarily do so, because they are consciously (or not!) completing the sentence.

And the terms they are likely to use when completing the sentence are also likely to be the terms in the title of the instructional video that will tell them what they need to know. This in turn helps the search engine bubble up the most relevant hits (from the selected list of sites I provided in the custom search engine defintion, remember) to the top of the results listing.

So if you ever wondered "how do I descale a kettle", here's one way of finding out! Howdoi

 

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