February 16, 2009

Just ask the Internet

Until a few years ago, working out a technical issue for your computer, program or gadget was a real hassle.

You needed to find the support page on the manufacturer's website and then pour through an extensive knowledge base to find answers.  If you got desperate enough, you lobbed a call into the support center -- only to spend large blocks of time trying to resolve the situation.

Thanks to the largest searchable database in the world, the Internet, those days are over.  If your printer, iPhone or new fangled application doesn't work as advertised, just ask the Internet and the answer will likely show up on the first page.  It's a matter of asking the right question.

For example, I recently bought a new MacBook Pro laptop.  My wireless AT&T broadband card is the Sierra Watcher.  When I transferred my data from my old Mac to my new one, the Sierra Watcher stopped working.  Every time I tried to launch it, it had a fatal error.  So, I asked the Internet.  I went to Yahoo's search engine and typed in "Sierra Watcher" and "new MacBook Pro" and "fatal error".  In the first ten results, the answer appeared (uninstall the old software, download the newest update, reinstall).  It worked!  

This has worked for me dozens of times in the last six months.  A few quick tips:  1. Use exact queries, with phrases in " " marks.  This eliminates useless results.  2.  Describe the issue simple terms, as you'd say it to a support person.  3.  Be patient.  In many cases, the best answer did not come from a manufacturer's website.  In the case of Sierra Watcher, it was actually a Mac user website for new owners.

In the future, I believe that search skills will be the new mad skills required to bring out the best in our gear and software.  

Posted at 10:03 AM in Tech Stuff  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)  |  TrackBack (0)




You are 100% right. Real research isn't done via web search. My post was only aimed at tech troubleshooting (gear, software, etc.). In the case of my books, for example, I conducted closed-loop research or talked directly to expert sources.



Real things getting done the first time never come from searches. The starting point often is, but serious change comes from research and new ideas not from derivative work from existing sources. In fact the best research often flies in the face of existing truism (see the recent work by Daniel Nocera at MIT for a good example.)


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