Tag Archives: online resources

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

Make it Personal – Creating Custom Gifts Online

Last week, we took a side trip into supporting small, independent artisans and business folk online. This week, we’ll continue to gift-giving theme and look at ways to create personalized objects of all sorts.

What Is It?

It used to be that if you wanted to personalize a t-shirt or mug, you had to use expensive silk-screening to do it. Custom-printed holiday cards were only for the well-off, and publishing your own photobook wasn’t even an option. Now, electronic text, digital images and online business transactions have made highly-customizable cards and gifts easy and relatively inexpensive. We are all creators of content, and now we can share it more broadly than ever.

Remember SmugMug from our online photo post? Use their printing service to showcase your favorite photos through prints, puzzles, photomugs and other personalizable gifts. You can even print professional-looking photo books through SmugMug using Blurb, a photo-publishing platform. CafePress and Zazzle also offer custom-printing using your own designs and images.

Lulu (mentioned last week and in one of our ebook posts) will also let you print photo books, as well as calendars and text-based books. Rather than a simple “family letter” in the holiday card, send a photobook of the year in review. Share memories from a child’s year as a calendar for the next, or print your own poetry or family stories and send them to everyone.

Moo initially made their name by offering minicards – trendy mini-sized calling cards with individualized designs or photos – but now stand out by letting you create sets of cards or stickers with a different image on every one. Think of the possibilities!

If custom printing is more your speed, you’ve got a wide array of sources to choose from. VistaPrint or Next Day Flyers will take any text you input (or upload) and print it on business cards, stationery, greeting cards, sticky note pads and more. MakeStickers.com works on a similar platform to make custom stickers just for you.

There are many, many more options out there for creating unique, personalized gifts and cards out there. Just use your favorite browser to search for “custom [whatever you want to make]” and see what’s there.

Next week, we’ll have a short post on good ideas for safely purchasing items online, and then in December we’ll get back to our regular pattern of a new kind of tool each week. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Food…Glorious Food!

Last week’s post on copyright & Creative Commons was a little heavy, so let’s lighten it up this week on Learning for Life Online! It’s fall in New England, the time of year when the scent of wood smoke, crisp leaves…and soups, stews, pies and casseroles is in the air. Are you looking for Thanksgiving recipes, tips or tricks, or even looking to get ahead on the winter holidays? Harvest a few ideas from the online bounty of food-related tools!

Web Sites & Resources

Epicurious, Food Network, Rodale’s Healthy Recipe Finder, Allrecipes.com and Recipe Source all feature searchable databases of recipes. Type in something you have in your fridge and see what you can do with it! Recipes can receive ratings, garner user comments, and be shared and printed with ease. Recipe Source is currently featuring its collection of Halloween recipes if you still need a spooky salad or two. From any recipe on the Rodale site, click on “Add to Shopping List” and you can easily figure out what you need to get before you can cook.

The Joy Kitchen is the online home of the Joy of Cooking. They don’t have the complete contents of the books online, but the site is full of tips & techniques and featured foods. America’s Test Kitchen / Cook’s Illustrated has multiple sites, depending on what you’re looking for. You can start by reading updates to the America’s Test Kitchen feed (there’s a great post about making salted caramels) or watch episodes of the show online, then register for free to read the recipes. If you like what you see and read, you can try a free 14-day trial to the Cook’s Illustrated site, with all the product reviews and advanced recipes.

Cookstr.com is a “collection of cookbook recipes online.” You can browse and search their collection of recipes, or sign up with an email address and have a recipe mailed to you each week. It’s an interesting combination of blog and recipe database, and worth checking out.

Blogs

There are thousands and thousands of cooking blogs out there, but let’s feature just a few:

A Year of Slow Cooking chronicles daily experiments with crockpotting. From crockpot hot chocolate to turkey cutlets in mango salsa, there’s something for every palate and taste. For an added bonus, many of them are gluten-free!

Simply Recipes has a worldwide directory of food blogs, including Habeus Brulee, written by a New York cook and “occasional restauranteur.” Not only does she cook and post mouth-watering recipes, Habeus Brulee also also has an oustanding blog roll of food blogs; skim down the right-hand column to your stomach’s content.

Cooking for someone with an allergy or special dietary need? Here’s just a few to get you started.

Mobile Apps

The most useful place to have a food app is on your mobile device, for checking recipes in the store and on the go. Most of them will both search recipes and help create a shopping list; choose your favorite and give it a whirl!