Get Stuff Done
By Maria Popova
We’re inept. Or at least that’s what the recent surge in how-to sites and services is telling us. But it’s okay, because we are indeed inept. About some stuff, that is — you know, that whole the-more-you- know-the-more-you-don’t-know thing that comes with the curious mind — so it’s great to have resources on how anything is done.
Our favorite so far: Howcast, the brain child of ex-Googlers and YouTubers. It’s user- generated content curated by the editorial eye to bring you super useful how-to videos on anything from chilling a 6-pack in 3 minutes, to lying and getting away, to making your bathroom eco-friendly. Better yet, it’s all high-quality and free. And even better yet, the Howcast vision is all about giving emerging filmmakers a chance to get experience and exposure, then fusing it all with content distribution and smart advertising. We dig.
Then there’s Quamut (Latin for “how to”) — an enormous how-to library, complete with printable charts written by experts and reviewed by fact-checkers. A Geekipedia, if you will, that’s both super accurate and super useful. Quamut comes from Barnes & Noble, which means, of course, there’s a price sticker somewhere. But it’s not too bad — you can view everything online for free, you just need to suck up $2.95 if you want to download a PDF of something. And if you’re really compelled to go old-school with all the bells and whistles, you can scurry over to an actual Barnes & Noble store and cough up $5.95 for a laminated copy of select Quamuts. (This is where we point, laugh and remind you of Howcast.)
Finally, let’s not forget the power of collaboration and popular wisdom: wikiHow is a wiki-based resource where users can contribute to the how-to’s of various subjects. Think of it as collaborative how-to manual that’s much like a hands-on Wikipedia. It’s got a Creative Commons license, comes in 6 languages, and has a decidedly philanthropic feel with a vision of improving quality of life through practical knowledge.
So if you ever find yourself wallowing in ineptitude, do check out one of these great resources. Now we’re off to learning how to make a water gun alarm clock for those can’t-get-out-of-bed mornings. (Which are NOT due to not having seen the very amusing yet informative “How To Fake Being Sober” video.)
And speaking of popular wisdom, Rules of Thumb offers all sorts of nifty, well, rules of thumb, each rated on a usefulness scale (1-10) by the populus. The whole thing is searchable and browsable by subject. And we dig their definition of “rule of thumb” — turning information you have into information you need.
More importantly, we dig the fact that what they’re doing seems to aim at taking the error of many out of the whole time-tested “trial and error” paradigm by learning from the error of a few.
That’s where we make our very lame indeed pun about giving it the thumbs-up. What, we held off for an entire paragraph.
And of course, getting stuff done has to always start with getting in the right mindset. Which often involves starting the day off on the right foot — and what righter foot than a feel-good outlook?
That’s where the feel good initiative comes in. It’s a very simple, very smart concept: every day, there’s a new song uploaded along with some quick extra stuff (mostly artist’s website). That’s it. The idea is you start your morning there and listen to the daily song along with your coffee and newspaper. Some days, the song will be a response to a previous day’s. All days, it’ll be inspiring, refreshing and sure to put you in the right mood to face the day.
And if you’re not the surprise kind of person, if you have a specific craving for a song you already know, there’s Songerize — a supremely basic site where you just type in the name of an artist and/or song, and it just pulls it up and starts playing. Brilliant.
It’s the stripped-down version of the also brilliant SeeqPod music search engine, there to make your music wishes come true at the click of a mouse. Plus, it actually works — it found all but one of the tracks we tested, including stuff on the off-mainstream side (like our latest obsession, Kate Nash). So what are you craving to hear right now?
It starts innocently enough. You need to look up a friend’s mailing address. But then before you know it, you’re digging up dirt on your ex, your “good girl” coworker, your nasty brother in law, and worse yet, you get all crazy-eyed and jittery with excitement about it. If you don’t like that image, proceed with caution. And if you’re screaming “GIMME!,” indulge. Now onto the goodies:
There’s the everyone-knows-this White Pages reverse phone number lookup — great for those could-be-mysterious-could-be- creepy missed calls. Then there’s Zaba Search, the free people search that digs up all sorts of public info on your searchee, including address and date when the address was recorded — so when you get multiple listings for someone, you can spot their current residence. Good idea, but didn’t work for many of the people we tried. (What, it was research…)
Which is how we get to our favorite: Wink. Wink searches over 330 million people across pretty much all existing social networks — on many of which people list their full name, address, school, workplace, interests and more.
And you can search by even more variables: full name, username (love this one), city, state, zip, country, province, career, tags, even keywords based on the person’s interests. We tried it and it’s no joke how much our friends reveal online — we were able to find every single person we searched, most complete with mugshots. And Wink doesn’t just search regular folks. It’s integrated with news services, so you can get the latest scoop on your favorite celeb.
So next time you get all hot and bothered over your MySpace conversation with cutehottie4u, you can track down the 43-year-old computer programmer typing away the hot stuff from his cube in Ohio. And if you get all Wink-obsessed, you can get their plugin and search straight from your browser anytime, or download the Wink widget, which lets you tell people where you are online all the time — particularly useful if you’re trying to promote yourself in the digital world. Better yet, you can create a Wink profile for yourself to really manage your online presence and how it’s presented to the world.
Smart, nifty, and oh-so-handy. We love.
But what happens if you just Winked yourself and found some, um, less than presentable stuff? Worse yet, what if there’s a public record of your careless youth somewhere on the web where you have no control? That’s when DefendMyName comes in — think of it as a reputation management program that specializes in removing negative listings about you and replacing them with good stuff. Using search optimization and a few other strategy, DMN promises to mitigate negative blog posts, customer reviews, news stories and other public info about you or your brand.
Hands down, we’re not crazy about the idea — whatever happened to transparency and the whole authenticity shebang? We get enough of politics as is. But we gotta give it to those guys for finding a clever, however ethically questionable, way to exploit the combination of people’s propensity to fuck up and the ever-growing power of the Internet.
Some time ago, we made a big bold claim that consumer reviews were actually the real beginning of social networking. And now, thanks to the good folks at eMarketer, we have even more proof for just how much importance consumers place on each others’ opinions and recommendations when shopping. Turns out…
- …22% of consumers always read reviews, 43% do so most of the time, 33% read them occasionally, and only 2% never do.
- …the majority (68%) require 4 or more reviews before they make a decision to buy, and 22% won’t settle for less than 8
- …64% place peer reviews on their wish list for all websites, above anything else, including special offers and coupons
- …product reviews by peers are the most frequently visited (55%) product research tool, trumping comparison charts (22%), expert reviews (21%) and shared shopping lists (1%)
No wonder last year, for the first time in retail history, customer satisfaction with online retailers surpassed that with brick-and-mortar stores. By 12%, which is a lot. On a 100-point scale, online retail scored 83 points and offline got an underwhelming 71. And Amazon, the mother of all reviews, topped the chart with 88 points. Could the reviews have something to do with it? (You’re nodding vigorously now, right? Just making sure.)
After last week’s huge upgrade to the image search process, we seem to be on a roll. This week’s hot pick: retrievr, an experimental color recognition system that lets you draw with colors on a digital canvas and delivers image results from Flickr that feature the space/color combination you sketched out. Or, if you’re not into drawing, you can upload an image and retrievr hunts down images with similar space/color schemes.
Although the algorithm doesn’t recognize shapes (say you sketch the rough outline of an apple), it does match colors and the colors’ spatial position within the image.
Sounds awkward and complicated explained, but it’s actually incredibly simple and brilliant — so see for yourself.
Published February 22, 2008