(Hey, readaz. With the blog a little neglected and uninspired for the past, oh, four years or so, I’ve decided to try and get it going by writing what I know: how we, or at least I, live life and do stuff in the integrated digital world. Broad topic? Sure. Chance to bump up both the professional and personal content of this site at the same time? You know it. Look for digital-oriented pieces at the beginning of the week — there aren’t many excuses not to write when I’m kicking around a post for an entire week, and if you just can’t get enough regular input from some peripheral online guy you’ve probably never met, there’s always my Twitter feed.)
G and I had a home-decor wakeup call a few weeks ago: We were upstairs at our friends’ place for a few drinks, and not having been in their home for a while, we were gobsmacked to walk in and realize how awesome and grown-up the place looked. After a round of “maybe we should move on from that college-era TV stand” discussions, the only logical step was the one that followed: home improvement.
Many years ago, my dad (who’s a home-improvement Natural, like Robert Redford with a miter saw) purchased what he called “the blue book” for himself as a handyman’s guide. Inside were instructions on installing new faucets, rewiring rooms, installing shelves and many other useful tips and tricks. He referred to this book almost every time a floor cracked or something needed to be redone, so the blue book was more or less a self-contained paper Google. (That’s how we People of the Future describe what used to be called “the book’s index”.)
As a Person of the Future, my first instinct is to head online whenever I don’t know anything, and with home improvement, that’s often. (As Habitat for Humanity VP in b-school, I may have hauled a lot of drywall and installed my share of soffit, but that’s a lot more impressive-sounding and a lot less knowing-how-to-do-anything.) You could argue whether this is a better or worse approach than consulting the blue book — and to be honest, I really can’t decide — but as a guy who’s way too proud of himself just for changing out a broken toilet handle, home improvement is a particularly apropo time to head online. Don’t know how to align a ceiling joist? Google it! Don’t know what “countersink” means? Google it! Don’t know how to hammer a nail, you lame ass? Google it!
When I’m at work, the first thing I always think about on a project is, “If I need to do something, what are the best digital ways that this company can help me do it?” Let’s say I’m installing some shelves, as we recently decided to do. Here’s how I went about it:
- Pick out a search term,
- Enter the search term,
- Scan the search results for URLs I consider legitimate, and
- Decide if I like the content enough to listen to what the site has to say.
That last one is the most important — maybe thisoldhouse.com told me shelving takes more time and money than I want to put in, so being a cheap, lazy noob, I’ll go see what ehow.com and homedepot.com have to say until I find an easier approach. I call this the “As a trusted independent source, tell me what I want to hear anyway” theory. (Future installments will show that this inclination is pretty damned important in digital decisions.)
So with those in mind, here’s what I as a novice want a home-improvement website to do for me:
- Be a URL I recognize or that seems intelligent (branding!),
- Have an article addressing what I want to do as closely as possible in my search results,
- Outline clear, concise and non-technical instructions showing me every step of the project and the amount of work involved,
- Give me as many shortcuts as possible without omitting the drawbacks of those shortcuts, and
- Have a mobile site, because I’m probably looking this up on my phone so I can keep the info right there while I work.
Ultimately G and I hired a dude to do the shelves anyway, because I’d rather not take three months of weekend free time to hang a crooked block of plywood that makes all of our photo albums fall in a uniform direction. (I could get those old photos digitized, but remember: cheap and lazy.) Now our shelves look great. Perhaps that doesn’t quite fit with the ethos of this DIY article, but the DVR is sitting damn straight right now. Practicality!