I “How-To” And So Can You, A Manifesto

 Step 1

To “How-To,” you have to plan ahead.

Master what you’re teaching because if its dangerous, you can end up failing expectations.


Step 2

Each step should be informative, direct and fast

that way, the viewer doesn’t waste time just sitting on their laurels.


Step 3

Keep your title snappy, interesting, and easily searchable so your viewers won’t have to spend hours, desperate and on the hunt.

You don’t want them to give up and call you a country bumpkin who has no idea how to use the internet.


Step 4

Shoot the video in high quality to get many a hit.

1080’s the best, 144 simply looks like poop.


Step 5

Don’t just tell the viewer, show them how to do it, so its done without a hitch.

But, don’t film yourself messing up, it makes you look like a confusing person.


Step 6

I don’t know how to end this, (that’s just my dumb luck.)

Fuck it.

The Future of the “How-To” Genre

“How-To” and Beyond

Given its size as a genre, I believe that the “how-to” video has indeed grown large enough to become “meta,” and as a result, has a complex future ahead of it. The “how-to” video, taken simply at face value, is timeless: people will always need others to show them how to do things, especially as the digital world burgeons. At the same time, one can find on YouTube a substantial sub-genre of “how-to” videos that are parodies of the typical template. These parodies are metaphysically minded because they acknowledge the standard template of the “how-to” and then deviate in terms of content. YouTube videos like “How to Touch an Apple to a Wall,” for example, hilariously highlight the rough-cut nature of the how-to, while all the while maintaining its normal template of setting up a thing that people might have trouble with, and then showing how to do it through a step-by-step process.

The most important thing about the “how-to” genre is that it has always been bigger than YouTube. As I noted in my last entry, it started this way (manuals are one example), and in my opinion will continue to exist outside of it, with its YouTube medium as just one facet. Movies entitled “How to Train Your Dragon (2010)” or books entitled “How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)” highlight this idea perfectly. And both show where the “how-to” genre will continue to go: everywhere. The fact that this genre exists across so many mediums is what keeps it from being boring.

At the same time, there are no limits to a “how-to’s” meta qualities. When something starts to become meta and therefore, somewhat self reflexive, there’s also the potential for it to become self aware of its own self-reflexivity. Sometimes this can be done well, other times it ends up baffling the audience. Was the video a parody or serious? Was it trying to hard? In some ways, these pose as dangers for the “how-to” parody.

In the end, I see the YouTube genre of “how-to” videos being a “root” of its own. They have their own unique style and given the increasing usage of “viral” video inspired advertisements, their edgy rough style may already influence commercials today. Perhaps there may be a return to roots in the near future, but for now, the YouTube “how-to” is rising from the feet up.


The History of the “How-To” Genre


While film and online video might be relatively new in comparison, the concept behind the “how-to” video is extremely simple and because of this, very old. As it is literally defined, a “how-to” video is simply an instructional video on how to do something, and this idea perhaps stretches back as far as language itself. As time has passed and people have turned to one another, then to pictures and books as teaching tools, it only seems like a logical step that video as a part of the advent of digital technology would become a teaching tool as well.

As I mentioned during my first Digital Manifesto entry, the format to the “how-to” video is accessible enough that anyone can do it, but this also speaks to the philosophy behind the genre itself: there’s always something to learn (regardless of its value) and there’s always a teacher to teach that something. This also reveals that the original audience is us. Since “how-to” videos are fairly ubiquitous on YouTube and other online video providers, it has been difficult tracking down the original video, but even this serves as testimony to their supply and demand.

Interestingly enough, as a “YouTube” genre, “how-to” videos have yet to hit the silver screen. While there have been titles like How To Train Your Dragon for example, the often lack of narrative, characters or appealing aesthetic that accompany “how-to” videos seem to ground the genre specifically within the realm of non-commercial media, which is not say “how to” videos cannot go viral in the future, if they have not already. YouTube videos like “how to crush a can of dr. pepper with slats of wood” not only show the popularity these videos garner, but its growth as a genre to the point where videos are increasingly more self reflexive.

“how to crush a can of dr. pepper with slats of wood”


The Definition of the “How-To” Genre


The “how-to” is characterized by a certain kind of “rawness.” Its not necessarily about aesthetic appeal, although it can be. Instead, this “genre” relies on direct and formal instruction, and is an epitomizer of one of the many facets of YouTube: its ability to be used as a teaching tool. Like written instruction, “how-to” videos are often organized by a certain step-by-step template, but they are also appealing because along with the audio that might accompany one reading the directions of  a furniture set aloud for example, YouTube videos also provide a visual, making it easier to see how things are done, no matter if the subject matter is tying a tie to making paper cranes.

One of the most significant things I have noticed about “how-to” videos is how polarizing they can be. In the days when YouTube allowed for users to leave comments anonymously, it was easy to judge not only the success of the viewers with following the “how-to,” but also how good the teacher was at providing the steps. More often than not, I have witnessed YouTube “how-to” videos riddled with disparaging comments when the “how-to” was particularly unhelpful.

But even this serves to illuminate the identities of the producers behind these type of videos: us. To post a video, you neither have to be qualified or even correct, and while that might explain why so many “how-to” videos may be bad, it also reflects the backbone of an era in which the individual is becoming increasingly more autonomous in how he or she created and shared original content to others. And because providers are often times consumers as well, the audience for “how-to” video makers is whoever’s interested. And given the plethora of instructional videos that exist, it would seem that the lot of us are interested in everything. At this point, “how-to’s” are not even there solely to help someone out of a jam. People watch them to simply learn new things they might not have learned under any sort of circumstances.

Along with “raw,” “informative,” and “direct,” I would define the genre as slightly “impersonal,” given the fact people watch “how-to’s” without necessarily expecting to hear any personal info from the creator of the “how-to” video themselves. Lastly, I would define the genre as generally practical. Viewers often times come away with new found information that they perceive as being useful.


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