TechSpot

Help Forums Search Ratings from Windows Secrets

By roduke41
Jul 12, 2008
  1. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Attention Julio Franko and all members! Found it; here it is: RO

    TOP STORY

    TechSpot battles Google for best PC support info
    By Scott Dunn

    When your computer is behaving strangely, you want answers and you want them in a hurry.

    My hands-on tests evaluated a dozen searchable sites to find the ones that get you the answers you need.


    Finding searchable databases of tech answers

    The only sure things are death, taxes, and technical malfunctions. Last week's column described ways to troubleshoot computer problems yourself. Sometimes, though, finding a solution requires that you consult the collective wisdom of Internet forums.

    Many of the free tech-support sites want you to register, post a question to one of their forums, or send e-mail. Phooey! When problems arise, you don't want to *****foot around with confirmation e-mails and other getting-to-know-you games.

    I set out to find sites with searchable forums or articles that let you dig for answers right away, without any registration or other sign-up; you just search and go. I found 12 that fit the bill. To my surprise, a free service named TechSpot gives Google a run for its money at finding solutions for PC problems.

    To evaluate these sites, I chose two problems that have vexed me or other Windows Secrets colleagues in the past. The first was relatively simple: Web sites won't load? Clear the cache. The second was more complex: Vista Explorer crashes when you right-click a folder, requiring you to find and remove the offending context menu handler from the Registry.

    I graded the support sites based on how easy it is to find and use the proper search control, whether the site found a question close enough or parallel to my own, and whether it returned a solution. Since the correct answer is the most important thing, that category was given approximately double the weight of other factors.

    Not surprisingly, the success of a particular search depends on the keywords you use and whether the search tool supports such operators as +, –, and quotation marks.

    Most people don't want to spend a lot of time selecting the perfect arrangement of keywords. So, perfect or not, I used the same two keyword phrases for all the sites I tested:

    some websites won't connect

    Explorer crashes on right-click Vista –IE –"Internet Explorer"

    Not every site I tried accepted these search phrases. The sites that didn't support search operators couldn't parse the second search phrase at all.

    Even without the operators, however, some sites complained about my use of small words, such as the word on. One site (PC Mechanic) even rejected the first phrase because of the word some. In a handful of cases, I had to rephrase the search term when the first attempt failed. Rephrasing rarely improved the search results.

    It's not unusual for searches to return dozens — if not hundreds — of results. Consequently, I limited my evaluations to support sites that returned the correct answer among the first 10 items fetched.

    Test questions bring winners and losers

    In my tests, the top-scoring support resource isn't even a tech-support site. King Google has the built-in advantage of drawing from other sites, technical or not. When you enter the correct search string, Google excludes results from nontechnical sites.

    Google didn't earn a perfect score: The answer to the first question, although found in the first Google result, was mocked by the original poster as being inadequate. The fifth result Google returned on the first search had the correct answer but was specific to Firefox.

    A close second to Google was TechSpot. I almost skipped over this site because the subtitle — "PC Technology News and Analysis" — led me to think it didn't offer support. But the easy-to-find search box at the top of the main TechSpot page helped me find solutions to both problems with minimal digging through results.
    Google's sister site, Google Groups, recorded a modest score of 76. The site may be helpful for answering complex technical issues but proved to be too technical for my first question. All the answers proposed by Google Groups denizens assumed the problem was far more complicated than it actually was.

    Apparently, this was also a problem at the MS Expert Zone, which focuses on more complex issues. That site had an embarrassingly low grade of 42 and certainly didn't win any points for its interface. You have to scroll down to find the link for searching the newsgroups. Also, the only way to see all the results in a thread is by double-clicking a result, not single-clicking as is normal for Web links.

    Ironically, many of the sites that had the best answer to the right-click crashing problem (install the freeware ShellExView utility for removing problem right-click commands) linked to an article on the Help With Windows site. But that site fared poorly in my scoring, because the search results displayed so many entries on Windows 95 and 98 that the solution I needed was buried. It turns out a shorter search string found the answer more quickly.

    Table 1. Searchable support sites by overall score.

    Site
    Overall
    Design
    Found Q1
    Found A1
    Found Q2
    Found A2

    Google
    98
    100
    100
    93
    100
    100

    TechSpot
    95
    100
    75
    100
    100
    93

    Google Groups
    76
    93
    100
    25
    100
    98

    5 Star Support
    75
    43
    75
    93
    75
    75

    D-A-L
    68
    100
    100
    88
    50
    25

    Help With Windows
    65
    98
    75
    75
    25
    50

    Help.com
    58
    75
    25
    25
    75
    88

    MS Expert Zone
    42
    75
    38
    25
    25
    50

    MS Knowledge Base
    37
    100
    25
    25
    25
    25

    Windows Networking
    37
    100
    25
    25
    25
    25

    Tech Support Guy
    33
    75
    25
    25
    25
    25

    PC Mechanic
    29
    50
    25
    25
    25
    25



    The sites whose search tools are easiest to find and use are Google, Google Groups, and Tech Spot Not only were the proper search boxes visible at the top of each page, the sites accepted the search syntax I used without complaining.

    One site, Help With Windows, gets brownie points for simply ignoring terms it found too short or common. The site went ahead and gave me results without those keywords but explained what it had done.

    On the negative side, the sites MS Expert Zone, 5 Star Support, and PC Mechanic had more than one search tool, making it confusing to figure out which one to use for a specific type of search.
     
  2. Julio Franco

    Julio Franco TechSpot Editor Posts: 7,058   +645

    Thank you for reproducing that for us... I just noticed the article yesterday while browsing around and checking some referrer statistics for TechSpot.

    The URL of the original article is:
    http://windowssecrets.com/2008/07/10/03-TechSpot-battles-Google-for-best-PC-support-info

    This was a very surprising result, and well, all that remains for me to do is congratulate the TechSpot community and our team of moderators who make a magnificent job keeping the tech conversation interesting and civil, all while helping other fellow members.

    So the prize for this one totally goes out to you... :)
     
  3. Blind Dragon

    Blind Dragon TS Evangelist Posts: 3,908

    Well done :grinthumb
     
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