The creator of Learn2.com
BOSTON — Daily life can be filled with endless little challenges. What's needed, Jason Roberts concluded, is a place to turn for step-by-step instructions on how to tackle everything from burping a baby to parallel-parking a car and programming a VCR. Mr. Roberts used his own frustrations in varnishing a floor as the impetus to create the Web site www.Learn2.com on the Internet. This month, the site is spawning a book, "The Learn2 Guide" (Villard Press, $17.95). In a recent a phone interview, Roberts called the site the cyberspace equivalent of the backyard fence, where folks hang out and exchange tips and questions. How do you identify the most pressing questions of everyday life? It's a complete dialogue with our readers. People write in with literally hundreds of suggestions every week and the ones that seem to have the most amount of interest are the ones we respond to. Isn't how to make a bed one of the most common questions? Yes. You're not going to go to a bookstore to get a book on this or request one from the library. We all think we know how to do something like this, but it can be done better, more efficiently. And by getting the answer on the Web site, in the privacy of your own home, you're not admitting ignorance. Who are the bedmaking experts? Professional maids. How difficult is it to find experts? We found that an expert is someone who has forgotten what it's like to not know something. Quite often an expert's knowledge is not that accessible. It's good to talk to experts, but in the long run it's more effective to simply assign the topic to somebody who's always wanted to know the answer. What's the general length of time it takes your staff to track down answers? A little under two weeks. Some can be done fairly quickly and some take a long, long time. Surprisingly, some are really complicated, like how to knit. That took a long time because there are so many different stitches and because so much basic knitting instruction is geared toward hobbyists who already know the basics. Do any topics trigger much debate? Yes. At last count we had 86 hiccup cures, and still people write in with indignation, "Why didn't you write this? My grandfather says it works every time." What did you learn about varnishing a floor? That floors are not even, so the varnish starts pooling in one corner. There's a technique called tipping that you use with your brush to make sure things are smooth and that the varnish doesn't pool. What happens when you're stumped? We put the question to our readers. We needed help in how to remove black stains from an aluminum rice cooker. A homemaker said to wash it out with Tang. The citric acid will clean it. It works. Who turns to Learn2.com? People who are smart but just don't know a particular topic. We call it "intelligent ignorance."