How do you cook a soufflé? Find a loan for a start-up business? Raise the property value of your home? Here’s a question: Why not just turn to eHow (www.eHow.com) for answers?
eHow offers over two million how-to articles and videos that answer and explain nearly any question you might have about how to do, improve, or fix something. How-to reports on the site run the gamut from the best strategies for planting flowers in your garden in the spring to the best ways to save for a child’s college education.
eHow appeals to a wide variety of people but it targets women more than men. It aims at women because research says females are often the chief decision maker or CEO in the household, taking the lead in choosing what to buy and playing a critical role in major financial purchases. eHow is organized into Home, Mom, Style, Food, Tech, Money and Health, so the top three topics (Home, Mom, and Style) target women.
Its home page almost always highlights arts and crafts aimed at women. For example, it emphasizes making Halloween pillows, fall prep for garden care, and knitter’s guide to making sweaters.
Articles on employment and money aren’t emblazoned on the front page but can be easily accessed. One link at the bottom of the front page provides a quick glance at all the topics and enables quick access to them.
The seven headings are only a starting point into the main themes and issues that eHow addresses. In fact, 25 other popular issues including Food and Drink, Fitness, Personal Finance, Vacations, and Weddings are also spotlighted.
Many of the segments on eHow offer four to five-minute videos on the topic. For example, under Family Health, anyone hiring a contractor to remodel a room or is considering doing-it-yourself home repair may be concerned about triggering their allergies. “Allergies Caused by Remodeling & Painting” is the title of one segment. The minute the reader hits that link, a video by science writer/editor Tina St. John begins.
In a step-by-step format, St. John takes viewers through how to minimize the major cause of allergies, which is dust. Dust creates spores and pollens and can spread volatile organic compounds (VOC). She suggests staying outside the home if the work is only taking two or three days and stresses that the dust doesn’t cause allergies but triggers them. Sneezing and colds are two major symptoms resulting from having an allergy. The video was not supplemented by any writing.
eHow appeals to two different kinds of learners: those who prefer to learn visually and those who prefer being educated by writing. There’s a section that specializes in how-to video, so the visually inclined can obtain how-to advice that way.
Other how-to topics are delivered only in writing without videos. “Frugal Shopping Myths Debunked,” written by Shannon Philpott, for example, does an effective job of debunking seven common myths of how to save money grocery shopping.
For example, tips include how the largest size is not always sold at the cheapest price. Often, it’s the medium size that is. Buying in bulk sometimes doesn’t pay off, especially when there are expiration dates involved. Also, the store label product can occasionally be pricier than the brand name. At times, organic foods, such as organic milk, which has extended expiration dates, can end up being cheaper than regular milk. Regarding coupons, Philpott says most times using coupons strategically can lead to families of four to save an average of $500 a month. The end of the article includes links that send the reader directly to sources interviewed, including Coupons.com, to obtain discount deals.
The Personal Finance section features a number of useful, easy-to-use stories. Articles on negotiating a lower mortgage, boosting your credit score, or determining whether should you buy or lease a car can prove beneficial to many people.
Though many of the eHow sections are timeless, the site also strives to be timely. In March it offers special updates on the wedding season, in April on taxes, in May on outdoor remodeling, in August back to school, and in September how to avoid cold and flu’s.
Despite its strengths, the site has faced criticism. It’s owned by Demand Media, which is known for paying its contributors modest two-digit fees. Daniel Roth in Wired magazine in 2009 described eHow’s content as “slapdash” and “factory-like.” Another writer, Ned Frey on the well-respected Awl web site (www.awl.com), criticized eHow because of its offbeat articles, such as “How to Speak to the Dead,” “How to Kill a Vampire,” and “How to Laugh Like Whoopi Goldberg.”
Nonetheless, the site is quite popular and invites its readers to comment on the articles. Many do. But unlike on Wikipedia, readers can’t change the content on eHow—they can only react to it.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.