There is no excuse not to do anything anymore. With a few well-chosen search words, anyone can find out how to do anything online. This revelation is nothing new. We’ve all been marveling at the wonder of the Internet for at least a decade. Now “the Internet” really means “Google.” That is the primary way people use the how-to feature of the Internet. What you will find, more often than not these days, is many how-to sites.
If you type in something like “learn how to knit hat” you will be directed to a few personal sites but also many prominent how-to’s like Yahoo! Answers, WikiHow, and eHow. Many of them offer user-generated content, like the popular Wikipedia. Some of them will pay you a small amount of money to become part of their content team. Since everyone seems to have information to share, this works out well for everybody, since articles are often rated on usefulness.
The latest, and soon to be the most prominent of these, is Google’s Knol. Knol, defined as “units of knowledge,” is going to be run by the brainy folks at Google. Knol will feature yet more user-generated content on topics that run the spectrum from scientific info to medical news, entertainment, how-to guides, fix-it instructions, and historical content. The main difference is that the people writing for it are invite-only. They are described by Google as “a selected group of people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it.”
No doubt you won’t even have to go looking for Knol. It will find you wherever you happen to be searching, grabbing a third search page from you, the casual web surfer. Perhaps the quality of the writing might give Knol a leg up on Wikipedia, which is still the best information site, even if sometimes the information can and has been altered. The people eventually get it right because deep down we all crave order and rightness. Fast, simple, low-tech is the key to these sites, and part of what made Google stand out way back when we were all figuring out which search engine to use.
So, back to the original topic of “how to knit a hat”: the answer to this question was not satisfactorily answered by the bigger sites. In fact, it was the old mom and pop sites, the ones that aren’t in it for the money, where the most reliable advice came from.
eHow tends to state the obvious and, like About.com, seems to be driven by dry, uninteresting content. The content providers appear to be on the lazy side, just getting what needs to be done without providing any sort of exceptional or vital information. After a few tries with eHow, I found myself quickly skipping it on my search list on Google.
Wikihow actually gave me this instruction on how to knit a hat:
Learn to knit if you do not already know how.
Learn to purl if you do not already know how.
Learn to cast on and cast off if you do not already know how.
Learn how to read a knitting pattern.
Wikihow will have a few more opportunities to win me over, but if a would-be knitter didn’t know already know the above four steps, they’re probably never going to learn how to knit a hat.
Still, since everything Google does turns out so well, I have high hopes for Knol. As long as the content is really good, the site can’t fail. If it clutters itself up with a lot of badly written stories and too-obvious instructions, it probably won’t succeed. The net is, as we know, a pure form of capitalism where the best really does outlast the mediocre. Smaller, better sites will often be more trafficked than bigger, more expensive sites.
I did eventually find the right website to learn how to knit a hat, and it was run by a wayward divorcee who calls her website Crazy Aunt Purl, crazyauntpurl.com, with the sub-heading: “A true-life diary of a thirtysomething, newly divorced, displaced Southern obsessive-compulsive knitter who has four cats. (Because nothing is sexier than a divorced woman with four cats.)”
She gives funny, irreverent knitting instructions and makes the whole ugly affair seem less trying on the faculties. I visit Crazy Aunt Purl often, not just to get knitting tips but also to hear what she has to say about the world at large. I plan to revisit her website when I’m ready to knit the mittens to go with the hat.
The moral of the story is that bigger is not necessarily better. One good source can trump a multimillion-dollar web giant. The Internet is still open and free to any of us who have something worthwhile to say.