10/26/2006

How to Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

How-to videos as read in the Wall Street Journal

One site launched last year, wikiHow, is completely written and edited by its users, like the popular reference site Wikipedia. ("Wiki" is a general term to describe an open Web site that allows users to edit the site's content; the two wikis aren't related.)

Mr. Herrick, the wikiHow founder, says the site has about 13,000 articles. A primer on how to "do nothing" is among the 50 most-visited guides. (Step 1: "Plan ahead," so you can cancel your appointments.)

At eHow, a site owned by Demand Media, most articles are written by a paid staff, on topics determined by an analysis of popular online searches. Recently, "How to Flirt" and "How to Bake Pumpkin Seeds" were top-rated articles on eHow. The site recently started a user-generated section called weHow, which includes a guide on how to keep a pregnant woman happy ("Just smile and tell her she looks good").

One of the most recent entrants to the field is ViewDo. Alan Puccinelli, a 28-year-old free-lance video producer and editor in Oakland, Calif., began the site in June with Gordy Wray, a structural engineer. Visitors are invited to request topics in the site's online forums and submit their own videos. So far, the site has about 150 clips and has rejected some videos as too obvious.

"Somebody submitted one on how to freeze ice. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be a joke or not," says Mr. Puccinelli.

Some traditional how-to outlets have also been eyeing the user-generated approach. Scripps Networks, a division of E.W. Scripps Co. and the company behind HGTV and the Food Network, is testing models for adding user-participation features to its sites, such as DIYNetwork.com, says Jim Sexton, senior vice president of the interactive group for Scripps Networks. The site is the online version of Scripps's DIY Network cable channel that offers "do it yourself" shows on topics ranging from scrapbooking to auto repair. Readers "want the expert stuff, but they want to hear about people who are adding a deck or replacing a screen door," says Mr. Sexton. "We see it as a growth area for our sites."

Mr. Sexton says companies need to be careful about how they incorporate tips from amateurs. "If someone gets electrocuted or their deck falls down, that reflects poorly on the DIY brand," he says. More...

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