Sadly, feeling ripped off is common when you need to fix some complex piece of equipment at home, in a car, or on a hard drive. Since Thanksgiving, I've suffered a long-distance tech support nightmare trying to get a four-year-old laptop to connect to the Internet. More tech manufacturers are dropping the ball on product support, so forget about free help from the company that made your computer. BestBuy's Geek Squad may be down the street, but $99 is steep just for a diagnosis.
While I've been without a PC for half a year, I've often wished for quick tech help from something like Angie's List. That site counts a thriving community of a half-million members who help each other find household handymen and handywomen. If only I'd found Fixya sooner! Fixya is sort of like Angie's List for geeky matters. But in addition to displaying other users' ratings of fix-it services, Fixya also puts you in touch with self-proclaimed experts on gadgets and other sundry subjects such as jewelry, strollers, and video game consoles.
You can receive or give free advice immediately by chatting online. Within an hour of checking out the site, I found several smart Fixya members who were happy to analyze my problem. It would be cool if Fixya allowed video chatting so you could show and tell in more detail.
I haven't been able to put advice from Fixya's folks to the test yet (my computer, supposedly working again, is still being shipped across the country). But I can add ratings later and subscribe in the meantime to RSS updates when items are posted that match my question.
Many fledgling peer-review services offer only a small pool of users from which to choose. But many of Fixya's experts, particularly those who know something about computers, have already been rated by other users hundreds of times. Fixya also offers a manufacturer directory for locating brand-specific manuals and products, and more content from third parties will be coming.
Question-and-answer services have so much potential for delivering speedy help when you need it, but most are too generalized to be practical. Yahoo Answers, for instance, remains cluttered with fluffy talk about movie stars and school-age crushes. I like the potential for finding professionals at LinkedIn Answers, but Fixya is better when a problem calls for rolling up the sleeves. And unlike the pay-per-minute peer help at BitWine, Fixya doesn't cost anything. That could change, though, as Fixya is adding options to pay certain experts. I wonder if niche sites like Fixya and Angie's List will eventually be swallowed by larger Web communities, or if most will retain their do-it-yourself independence.