There's Lots of Tech Help, Yes, on the Internet
THIS week, I bought a shiny new BlackBerry. This made me very happy. Then I went home and found that my new BlackBerry was inundating my in-box with copies of my sent e-mail messages. This made me very frustrated.
I headed back to the store, where a well-intentioned "specialist" took my phone, tweaked a few settings and said that my e-mail messages would be duplicate-free. They weren't.
If you're like me, odds are that you've also found yourself with a tech problem that was made worse by the lack of ready, available — and perhaps most important — useful help. But with the Internet, there's no need to have to wait on hold.
There are hundreds (if not thousands) of other users out there, sharing their experience and wisdom, often free. So instead of getting on the phone, get online and start crowdsourcing your tech support needs.
First, a few general rules. Many of the below sites require you to register a user name and password before you can post a question. Also, it's a good idea to check how active a site is. Answerbag.com, for example, has more than 750,000 members. The bigger the site, the more likely you are to get an answer.
Sites with moderators are a plus because they will help weed out irrelevant or duplicate answers and keep the discussion on topic. There are also good fee-based sites like Experts Exchange (secure.experts-exchange.com/), but I've limited the below list to free help.
One of my favorite tech support sites is FixYa.com ( www.fixya.com/). It has a clean design, which makes searching easy. When posing a question, use keywords, hit the search button, and a list of solutions will pop up.
FixYa lets its users rate one another so you can see who has a good solution rating and who doesn't.
Users can choose among the "post a new problem," "I can solve this!" and "I have the same problem" tabs. The site also has an alphabetical list of brands so you can search by name.
The site's PC hardware and tech general discussion board (www.techimo.com/forum/general-tech-discussion/) had nearly 240,000 posts when I checked it. Fair warning: the site is geared more toward the tech-savvy than the tech-phobic.
Pretty as they may be, Macs have their own special brand of problems. Apple's own site (www.apple.com/support/) has effective forums (discussions.apple.com/forum.jspa?forumID=731), but sometimes they can turn into complaint centers where everybody acknowledges having the problem, but no one seems to have a solution.
CNet's MacFixIt.com (www.macfixit.com/) gets around this by taking select Apple.com forum questions and answering them on its site. In one post, a Mac user wrote on Apple.com's forums that he was experiencing problems with Time Machine backups. Most of the thread's other users chimed in only to say that they had the same problem. MacFixIt then stepped in and offered its solution.
In addition to an active forum, MacFixIt also offers useful tutorials (tinyurl.com/4xw9a) with digestible instructions, and explanations, on everything from sleep problems to reinstalling your system.
Of course, it's better to find advice for your exact Mac. Everymac.com's Q.& A. section is broken down by model, so if you're dealing with MacBook Pro problems, you can go to that section ( www.everymac.com/systems/apple/macbook_pro/faq/index.html).
I solved my BlackBerry problem on Crackberry.com's forums (forums.crackberry.com/). Not only does the site break down problems by model, including Apple's iPhone 3G, but it also has a section for older BlackBerrys (forums.crackberry.com/f29/), which is helpful because not everyone has the money or desire to switch models every year. You can also search by carrier.
Users of the iPhone can turn to the iPhone Blog (www.theiphoneblog.com/iphone-help-and-how-to-guides/), which is helpful because it uses screen images and other visual aids instead of dizzying amounts of text. Even better are video tutorials. Instead of wasting time trying to locate your SIM card tray, just mimic the video's step-by step instructions and pause and replay as needed.
If you're short on patience, CNet's video tutorials (cnettv.cnet.com/2001-1_53-28619.html) are better organized and are presented by the site's editors who, generally speaking, should be qualified to solve your problems. The site's Quick Tips section is good to browse if you're looking to better navigate your gadget. In one video, CNet's editor at large, Brian Cooley, gives some BlackBerry navigation tips, which is infinitely more colorful than reading your phone's instruction manual.
And if you still insist on speaking to a human being, go to gethuman.com (www.gethuman.com/) first — it will tell you the fastest, most direct number to use to reach a living, breathing technician on the line.
See, even when you don't want its help, the Internet is there for you.