Monthly Archives: April 2012

Finding and Using Online Help

Out in the wild world online, getting help using a particular tool is often up to you. However, using help centers, support pages, live chat, and discussion forums, there are many ways to figure out how to make things work the way you want them to. These suggestions are good for using online tools, but also for using the help resources available online for home & personal electronics, appliances, tools, and other gadgets we use.

Getting Help from a Website

Where’s the link? — The link for a site’s help section is usually in the upper right or lower right corner. Sometimes, it might be along the bottom edge (with links to About Us, Contact Us, etc.) or very occasionally in the regular menus at the top or left. The link to the help section is frequently near the links to the account settings, which we found last week.

LG products knowledge baseOn the site’s home page, take a look for links to Help, Help Center, Support, Support Center, Customer Care, Getting Started, or Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). A site might use any of these to link to their help section. If you see the words “Knowledge Base,” that’s a fancy way of describing a way to search by a product name or number to find information about that one thing.

What will I find in the help section?
The first way that a website usually offers help is through a Getting Started or Setting Up Your Account page. These pages give you step-by-step instructions for creating an account, changing the settings, and learning the basics of using the site. Many sites include a video that shows you how things work in real-life.

After you’ve used the site for a bit, you probably have a few questions. So do many people, and websites usually have a list of Frequently Asked Questions to offer answers. As the title suggests, these are questions frequently asked about how to use a site or tool, and often include problems that users frequently run into. Each question is answered briefly, with examples or screenshots when needed, and occasionally by linking to another section.

For more complex questions, or ones that aren’t asked as often, the help section will list other topics, arranged by category. These sections are often organized from signing up for an account, through using the basics, to more advanced features and troubleshooting. Work your way through the categories as you learn to use the site or tool

While you’re there, take a look to see if the site offers tutorials, training or other suggestions for learning how to use a site or a real-world gadget. For examples, see Microsoft Office training and DIY videos from Home Depot and Lowe’s.

In most help sections, there’s a search field just for the help section. When you’re searching Help, try to use the same words to describe things that the site or tool does. If you need help on Facebook Pages, type “facebook pages” into the search field. Be specific, and use just a word or two to get started.

Zappos.com live chatFinally, some larger companies will offer live chat with a support person through their help pages. If you’d prefer to talk to a real person, at any point, try turning it on and asking your question. When you’re using chat, you don’t have to worry about misunderstanding what someone says on the phone, and you can occasionally save the chat for later.

If I Can’t Answer My Question There, What Next?

Search the web, especially if you have a strange error code. Copy the error code and paste it into a search engine like Google or Bing – make sure you include the software you’re using or the website you were on. Then click search. Read through the results list and look for words like answers, forum or discussion. These indicate places where people go to talk about software and technology, and often ask each other questions to get help that way. Also, look to see if anyone else has had the same problem and written about their solution somewhere, in a blog or Facebook post.

Use discussion forums to ask your question and get answers. If you’re really getting stumped, look on the service or tool’s website for customer discussion forums, or look for other ones online using a search. These forums are places where users get to ask questions, search to see if someone else has already asked their question, and hopefully get some useful answers. Take a look at any of the Google product forums or Apple product communities for an idea of how these work.

If you have a blog or a Facebook account, post your question where other people can see it. Again, other people might have had the same problem and might have found a solution for it. You never know until you ask, right?

Help & Resources

Facebook – Privacy Settings

Facebook Timeline

Note: We’ve moved the short look at Timeline that was here to a later post, with more details and suggestions. Check it out!

Facebook Settings

That said, with Timeline and other new features Facebook has developed, it’s more important than ever to understand the security and privacy settings on your account. So let’s walk through some of these settings and explain what they mean. We can’t cover every single setting, but we can look at the most important ones.

Facebook Settings menuUp in the upper right hand corner of every Facebook screen, you’ll see your name, the word “Home” and a triangle pointing downward. That triangle means that there are more menu choices. Click the triangle and you’ll see options for Account Settings, Privacy Settings, and the links to Log Out and get Help. [My account has a few extras, for Pages that I manage for other groups.] We’re going to skip Account Settings for the moment and look at Privacy.

 
Facebook Privacy SettingsPrivacy Settings. When you click on Privacy Settings, you’ll see a page that starts by reminding you that you can set the privacy level for every single post you make on Facebook. This is good to remember – you get to choose whether something you post is only visible to Friends, to a list you’ve created, or to the Public. Underneath that, you can set a default setting for all posts; I’d recommend by limiting everything to Friends to start with.

Underneath that are the more specific settings that you can control. Next to each one, click on Edit Settings to see what you can change. For most of these settings, you can choose to let different things (posts, tags, etc.) be visible to No One (but yourself) or Only Me, to your Friends, to all the Friends of your Friends, or let it be Public. I suggest you work your way slowly through the How You Connect and Timeline and Tagging settings, because they’re pretty easy to make decisions about.

Facebook Privacy SettingsNext are probably the most important settings to understand. The Apps, Games and Websites or Apps and Websites settings control what kind of information that sites and apps other than Facebook itself can see and use about you. These are called third-party apps and they include any app created by some company other than Facebook. Most of the games and ‘fun stuff’ in Facebook are actually these third-party apps, and you want to make sure that you only let them see the bare minimum of information needed to use them. A game doesn’t need to know your hometown and an app for the Washington Post doesn’t need to know what your address is.

Click on the Edit Settings link for Apps, (Games) and Websites and READ THE WHOLE PAGE that comes up before you click anything. Then, if you don’t use any games or other apps in Facebook, you should Turn off all apps. Once you click Turn off apps, many of the words on this page will turn grey and the settings will say, “This is disabled because you turned off all apps.” That’s good – this makes your information as secure as it can get. Nothing has access to it unless you permit it.

You might find that when you click on links that other people share, it asks you to let that app do something. THINK CAREFULLY before you click Yes. See the example of a Social Reader app that wants to know an awful lot about me before it will let me read an article someone posted. Do you really want to let this app work, and give it access some of your information? If you’re okay with that, go ahead and click yes. You can always change your mind later by visiting the Apps section of your Account Settings and blocking specific ones. Sample of Facebook App asking for permission it doesn't need

The last two Privacy Settings sections let you make your past posts more or less public (now that it’s easier to see them using Timeline), and to manage Blocked People and Apps. This is another good section to spend some time with, so you can stop getting those game invitations and friend requests from people you don’t care about. You can also add people to a Restricted List, so they can only ever see your public posts. You don’t need to unfriend them, but you can limit what they can see of yours.

[Note: This post has gotten very long – we’ll cover Account Settings in another post later this week. Take your time with the Privacy Settings for now.]

What’s the Big Deal?

So, why do all these apps want access to your information? Because they are businesses, and they are trying to make money by analyzing you and figuring out what you might want to buy from them. Yes, it’s all about advertising and selling information and stuff. We’ll talk more about this later on this month, but for now, just remember that any time you use a tool for free on the internet, it’s because You are the product being bought by advertisers and other companies.

Yes, there are a lot of settings you can change to manage your privacy in Facebook. It seems overwhelming, but it’s really a good thing. You get to keep as much control as possible over what information about you is shared on this social network, with and without your knowing it.

As always, the best way to learn about something is to play with it: take your time, read everything on the screen, and make sure you get help when you need it. For the rest of this month, we’ll look at other types of settings you should find and understand in all of your online accounts. If you have a Facebook account, start with learning these, and next week we’ll look at more places to keep yourself safer online.

Help & Resources

On “Knowing Enough”

For the month of April, Learning for Life Online will show you how to learn more about the settings and features of the tools you use online. We’ll start by exploring the new Facebook Timeline and the security and feature settings Facebook uses. After that, the next two sessions will cover finding and changing the settings on any online account, then finding and using Help for an online account or a real-life product you use. On the last Monday in April, we’ll wrap up any loose ends from the previous weeks and maybe have a spring surprise or two.

But before we start looking under the hood of all these online tools, let’s think about just how much we really need to know about these tools in order to use them.
 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user stephenliveshereFor most technology, you only need to know as much as the driver of a car. Get it started, send it in one direction or another, stop when you need to, get it fixed when it’s broken, understand the safety features and rules of the road.

That’s all, and that’s enough.
 
 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user therealkeltonSometimes, you might need to know as much as a mechanic. More about what’s going on under the hood, more about how it really works, more on fixing most of the everyday problems.

And that’s certainly enough.
 
 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user aero_gopherIn a few cases, you might even want to know as much as people who build cars. You’re thinking about how to create new features, solve complex problems, make improvements, get the most out of your tools.

That’s absolutely enough.
 
 
 

Photo and design courtesy of Flickr user smallritualThen, maybe – just maybe – you want to know as much as the designers of cars. You want to get the science behind it, understand the math that makes it go, create the art and beauty
of design, and learn the physical mechanics of construction.

This is more than enough, and more than most people would ever think of trying to know.
 

The point is, you don’t need to know exactly how a particular tool works in order to use it well. You may not understand everything about your car or DVD player, but you know enough to use it safely and well. The same is true for online tools – the more you know, the more efficiently and securely you can live life online. However, just by learning the basic rules of the road and understanding a few safety features, you can get pretty far. That’s what Learning for Life Online is here to help you with.

Next up, Facebook Timeline and the privacy and account settings.