Why Aren’t You Sharing How-To Content?

Looking at Google Analytics for this blog today, I noticed a trend I’ve seen before but continues to surprise me.

Android how-to posts have driven about a third of the traffic here over the last month. I shouldn’t be surprised, since the same thing happened with iPhone posts years ago.

I guess it’s striking to get a reminder that work I consider to be localized finds its way to the masses with the help of WordPress and Google. Today, my post about taking a screenshot on Android ranks fifth on Google for the keywords “android screenshot” and of course, by linking to it, I’ve raised the PostRank of this post.

Isn’t internet fun?

The stark reminder here is that content matters more than brand. Note the fact that visits to our base page are less than half the visits to the Android screenshot post. The people who found that post don’t know who we are or what we do. All they know is the post either helped them answer a question or it didn’t. Then, they were gone like Kaiser Söze.

I like to think that these drive-by readers find value in these how-to posts. I certainly have benefited thousands of times from assistance provided by forums and blogs around the ‘tubes, and it’s nice to return the favor. People like to help others; we like to think the reasons are altruistic, but more often that not, they’re selfish. Either way, it contributes to the collective good.

Anyway, even as blogging gets slowly replaced by life-logging and a host of other services, it’s still the best way to leave yourself tips and tricks and to share them with others.

If you need another example, look at Chet (@oraclenerd) and John’s (@jpiwowar) series on installing EBS. All this proves is:

  • People turn to Google for technical help. Duh.
  • You could be sharing your knowledge with the rest of us.
  • The World is a tiny place.

Now go start a blog.

Just saying.




  1. If everyone started a blog, you’d have the tragedy of the commons. Oh wait, everybody has… and it is the highest volume of wasted information ever seen. Sturgeon’s Law is entirely too optimistic.

    But seriously, I do agree about howto. I think about that whenever I see a howto about “using social media for your company.” If they even mention that, it’s a minor point. (See for example http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/jan/02/whats-your-social-media-strategy/ I had a more on-point column about blogging in mind, but their ad server is timing out their search, sigh.)

    Good technical blogging is timeless, though it should have dates and versions for which it is appropriate listed. That’s a paradox about blogging – it’s designed to be transient, often and for mass consumption, but the best technical blogs are usable over time, infrequent and written to the author’s own interests.

  2. Makes sense about “How To” content, given what we know about community help (see my postings at http://blogs.oracle.com/userassistance/). But the KIND of “how-to-do-it” information can also vary – developers looking for code examples, photoshoppers looking for tips or templates or so on, and in some cases the reputation of that how to information is very important. Collaborative media like blogs and wiki are great for this, Twitter great for asking for it. Facebook not so much.

    Be interested in your comments on Quora.com in the context of how to information. Been using it myself.

  3. I wish more people would do what John did (and on my site, I’m selfish). I love how-to, I’m reading (yes, boring) John Smiley’s DB installation on Oracle Enterprise Linux in between distractions.

  4. It doesn’t surprise me. It’s yet another technology that can do loads of stuff, of which most people will use 1%. When they need to touch the other 99% they turn to the internet for help. Better that than the muppets that work in the phone shops.

    One of my mates got a HTC Desire and said he loved the phone but the battery life was terrible. How did he solve it? Googling the problem produced a list of battery hungry features you could switch off to go from 6 hour battery life to about 1.5 days.

    I imagine really basic iPad how-to articles would get a lot of hits. Things like:

    How to delete an app.
    How to put music/video/pdf documents on.

    These things seem trivial and I would be almost embarrassed to document them, but I bet there are loads of people out there who have the latest greatest accessory, but don’t know what to do with it except play Angry Birds. 🙂



  5. Reading Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus makes me realize that sacrifices in overall quality are fine bc the overall democratization of the medium is more important.

    Good point about timestamping, I hate when I read a technical how-to without any versions or date. Much less useful.

  6. Sure, reputation is key, but the democratic nature of the platform makes it easier to get help regardless, e.g. there has to be someone out there who has the same configuration I do. In that case, I don’t care about reputation, only about similar attributes.

    I’ve resisted Quora on purpose. When I joined it months ago, it was mainly Valley stars holding court. It will take time to make it useful for me.

  7. Agreed. As I mentioned to Ultan below, it’s so easy to find help for your exact configuration online, whereas in the old days, talking to support with an odd configuration was a death sentence. The more content, the better.

  8. One year-end post from 2010 documented the worst in tech for the year. On the list was a 700-plus page iPad user’s guide. So much for “you already know how to use it”. In a related note, I found the official iPad user’s manual in the iBooks free section. Didn’t check the number of pages, but lulzed to myself.

    Easy is as easy does.

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