How do I…? From helpdesks to message boards, sharing how-to information is – and has been from the start of the Web – a vast territory of the Internet, used not only by hobbyists with problems but also teenage girls with hair dye jobs waiting to happen. Thank God for sharing – imagine the mishaps of the past decades if not for those helpful citizens of the global online community! Some of the earliest GeoCities pages were devoted to the how-to problems of very niche personal likes and obsessions. Can I cook vegan for my cat? Sure! Absolutely!

With YouTube came the age of tutorials: web videos shot in poorly lit living rooms in which peppy explanations are delivered via webcam. How to deal with a bad hair day or eyebrow situation? How to dress for a job interview, date to your best ability, 3D print a gun? This is the “Yes we can” web space where you could take a wrong turn.

And remember Yahoo Answers? This information helpdesk answered (does it still?) whatever you asked in the form of crowdsourced response content. It had that charming whiff of American high-school insecurity that seems so befitting of the Web of the late ’90s and early oughts. Yahoo’s how-tos were a bit like the digital version of the school nurse, patiently explaining whatever might be causing the anonymous worries of a generation.

Image: Yahoo Answers Logo
Image: The how-to gone wrong: Jackass culture and dares.
A precursor to the challenges fad – perhaps best known for the Ice Bucket Challenge – was a type of DIY experiment akin to a chemistry class project, only pointless. Most famous for a long time was the Diet Coke and Mentos challenge, basically a how-to for making a messy fountain of soda. The immense popularity of the MTV show Jackass created a new type of dare how-to: silly stunts that were best when they resulted in an epic fail – a catastrophic ending that left viewers cringing in disbelief. Jackass reinvigorated the boys-will-be-boys idea of stupidity for sport with its ominous slogan ‘Don’t try this at home’ – really just an invitation to amateur disaster.

Image: Make up tutorials
The YouTube how-to genre devoted to applying cosmetics to maximum effect has become a bona fide industry, spawning celebrity make-up masters who garner world fame and brand sponsorship deals and make a living from ad revenue. YouTube make-up tutorials can be practical, niche-oriented or downright crazy, geared to Halloween fun.