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.