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eHow: A Cool Way of Telling the World What You Know



In my never ending search for really cool things, I came across a site called eHow that claims to be the site that informs you on "How To Do Just About Everything." They provide a free site where you can browse for answers to your questions, and if you're knowledgeable in something (or a bunch of things), you can write and post your own articles.  In this blog entry I will be concentrating on writing, my favorite pastime. 

How does it work?  As with any other site that allows you to create an account, you create an account.  Then you add your profile information.  Once all this is done, and it only takes a minute or so, you can start posting how-to articles.  The process for creating an article is simple and walks you through the four steps: Get Started, Add Article Steps, Categorize It and Publish It.

Here is a brief description of each step:

Get Started

In this step you create a title for your article, add an optional image and image credits (you want to do this to acknowledge the owner/creator of the image, and it's always good to illustrate your how-tos) and set one of five difficulty levels (Easy, Moderately Easy, Moderate, Moderately Challenging and Challenging).

The last two things to do before moving to the next step is to write a brief introduction about the article on what your readers can expect to learn, and a list of the things that they will need.  For example, if you are writing about how to prepare a certain dish, you'd want to list the ingredients and the equipment required for making it.

Add Article Steps

This step requires you to add at least three steps on how to do/make the thing you're writing about.  Each step can have an image attached (highly recommended) which is shown to the left of the step. As an example, let's imagine that you want to explain how to prepare rice.  In the Get Started step you would list those things a reader needs in order  to prepare the rice:
  1. 2 cups basmati rice
  2. 4 cups of water
  3. pinch of salt
  4. rice cooker or a pot with a heavy lid.
Then in this step you would describe at least three how-to steps on how to prepare the rice:
  1. Rinse the rice in a mesh strainer
  2. Add the rice to the cooker or pot
  3. Add a pinch of salt
  4. Add the water
  5. Place the lid on the pot or the cooker
  6. Turn on cooker or if using a pot, set stove to medium high
  7. When rice cooker clicks off, eat and enjoy
  8. If using a pot, cook for twenty minutes, and don't open the lid.  All the water will be absorbed when done.
After this you can add a list of tips and warnings (e.g. use fresh rice; old rice doesn't absorb water well).  I recommend adding at least one to each.

Categorize It

In this step you are required to specify at least one category and at most five in which your article belongs.  The categories are hierarchical to three levels so you need to select a primary, a sub category and then a sub-sub category.  Here is an image to explain:



After selecting your categories, you need to add between 3 and 5 keywords that describe your article.  These are used by their search system to help people find your article.  Optionally, you can add links to related articles as well as a list of resources applicable to your article.  To continue the example, you might add rice, cooking, basmati as keywords, and you might link to a site that sells rice cookers or bulk rice, which is much cheaper than buying it in a grocery store.

Publish It

The last step is to publish it.  You can save and preview your article as you can in all of the previous steps.  When you are satisfied with what you have written, just click the Publish Article button and you're done.

For as easy as this is, there are a few things about the concept that I don't like which I think they are unnecessary limitations.  Your article is constrained to steps and this doesn't allow a more free-form way of expressing yourself.  If you want to write in more detail, you need to create more and more steps, which I think might be overwhelming, especially if you put in twenty steps on how to buy a song from iTunes.  And, every article looks like every other article.  But this last one makes sense. If you allow your writers too much freedom, no two articles will look alike and this can be confusing. While I don't like to be constrained in anything I do, if everyone is forced to follow eHow's layout then  readers immediately know what is where and what to expect.  For instance, once I find the title of an article that I want to read, I first look to see what is required, so that if I don't have it and cannot get it, I can skip it. I then read the writer's description and go from there.  Without a uniform layout, I would have to scan the article to find this information.

So what is the the difference between writing in your blog and creating an eHow how-to article? Simple.  Writing for eHow you can get paid for your work, and you have a community of people who can easily find your work, wich means that you're more likely to attention to yourself than you might if you just had a lonely blog in some remote, dark corner of the internet.

But don't abandoned your job and go straight to eHow.  Getting paid depends on the number of articles you write and on the the feedback you get from readers, which is a measure of your popularity.  You will also be rated over time on the quality of your work.  initially you start out as a novice, but the more you write and the more feedback you get, you can go from novice to expert.

So if you like to write and think you have something to share with others, or if you're just looking for quality answers to your questions (the primary reason for visiting), then I highly recommend going to eHow and signing up.  It's definitely worth it.

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