Reminder: Don’t overlook Reddit for crowdsourced tech support

Two weeks ago, I spent too much time on T-Mobile’s site because I didn’t go to Reddit’s first. I was trying to opt out of my wireless carrier’s new targeted-advertising scheme, but I could not find any way to do so when logged into my business account–and like any dummy perplexed by an unintuitive interface, I kept trying the same thing over and over instead of asking for help.

Screenshot of the icon for Reddit's r/tmobile subreddit: Snoo the alien, but wearing a magenta T-Mobile t-shirt under a jacket while holding a cell phone.

The answer I needed was waiting in a thread on Reddit’s r/tmobile subreddit, in which one T-Mo customer replied to a comment about the unhelpfulness of the carrier’s site for this opt-out by saying “I had to use the app and eventually found it in the privacy section.” As in, the T-Mobile app I’d had on my phone all long but had forgotten about, and which coverage I’d read about this issue had not clarified would be the only way for a business customer to adjust this setting.

(In case you’re still puzzling this through, open the app, sign in, tap the “More” button at the bottom right, and then tap “Advertising & Analytics.”)

This wasn’t the first time I’ve found Reddit’s company- or service-specific forums exceptionally useful for tech support. While smart companies maintain their own forums where people can sort out problems and share tips, Reddit has three things going for it that many other discussion boards lack: scale, a search that works, and crowdsourced measures of the value of a comment and its author.

Reddit upvotes, downvotes and the karma score they feed into can be abused like any other social-media system to protect toxic behavior–it was only last June that Reddit nuked r/The_Donald and some 2,000 other subreddits for repeated hate-speech violations. (Of course, there’s a subreddit on which you can debate those risks of abuse at length.) But in the context of a subreddit set up for users of the same app, service or gadget to solve each other’s problems, these collective accountability features seem to function well enough. I also keep wondering if Twitter could use some version of a karma score–and that, decades ago, Usenet could have had one as well.

Plus, many of these product-specific subreddits also feature wikis maintained by their more-frequent contributors, something you almost never see at the forums a company maintains for its customers.

In addition to T-Mobile tech support, I’ve found Reddit a good resource for help with my HP laptop, and some of my earlier smartphones. Reddit’s also proved useful as a journalistic resource when I’ve needed to find people using a service with limited availability, like Verizon’s 5G Home fixed-wireless service or SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband. I try to pay that assistance back by showing up in threads other people have started about my own stories–yes, “robpegoraro” there is me–and offering to answer whatever questions people have.

Writing this post made me realize I’ve probably neglected Reddit’s potential to help me puzzle through one app I use all the time: this blogging platform. Maybe r/Wordpress can help me feel less grumpy about the Block Editor?

Weekly output: SXSW, cable modems

Spending the first half of the week out of town for SXSW put more of a dent in my schedule than I realized–as you can see from the unusually late time I’m posting this. Seriously, where did the second half of the week go?

Yahoo Tech SXSW post3/10/2014: The News from SXSW: Technology Will Liberate Us! Unless It Enslaves Us First., Yahoo Tech

I pretty much had to focus my writeup of the conference on the remote interviews of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden–both outspoken critics of the surveillance state, both beset by glitches with their Internet-video links. It’s crazy to think that a year ago, almost nobody at SXSW had any idea of what the NSA had been up to; the mood in Austin seemed a lot cheerier about the prospects of technology back then.

3/16/2014: Buyer beware: ‘Gray market’ cable modem can trip you up, USA Today

A reader had bought a cable modem after reading my recommendation to do so last August. Then Comcast said she couldn’t use her purchase. And things got really weird. A reader has since complained that the column left him “totally confused” about whether he can buy a modem on Comcast’s approved-devices list and have it work; I’m going to have to tell him he has correctly read a confusing situation.

Help me help you: tech-support support

Your computer vendor may charge you for technical help, but I won’t. And I don’t mind–really. The Q&A column I used to write for the Post and the one I do for USA Today both require readers to ask me how to get their computer/phone/TV/app/service working properly.

Question-mark key

But there are a few things you can do to make my work easier.

One thing I’ve harped on before is being specific. There are a million ways something can “not work” in a computer, so I’ll need to know more about how things failed. What was the text of the error message you saw? What’s the last thing that happened before things went awry? What exactly did the service rep tell you?

If in doubt, take a screenshot. In Windows, hit the Print Screen key and then paste into an e-mail in Windows; on a Mac, hit Shift-Command-3 and look for the new image file on your desktop; in iOS press the home and power buttons; in Android hold down the power and volume-down buttons. I won’t share that image with anybody else unless you’re okay with that.

If I don’t have those details, I’ll probably answer your first e-mail with a round of follow-up queries to elicit that extra information.

But I also need to know if my suggested remedy worked for you, and I’ve had a couple of readers leave me hanging in recent weeks. Sometimes I can try to recreate the issue on my own hardware and software, but in other cases that’s impossible–for example, I can’t subscribe to an Internet service not available anywhere near D.C. to see what’s wrong with its e-mail.

And on a personal level, I like hearing from readers that I was able to help them out. So please don’t forget to send that last “it worked, thanks” message you might think unnecessary.

Weekly output: Instagram, Twitter, default apps, family tech support

There’s no way that two popular social networks would dare commit news the week before Christmas, right?

Instagram post12/18/2012: Insta-Hate For Instagram’s New Rules, Discovery News

No consumer-focused service should be surprised when its users read an intimidatingly long terms-of-service document in the unfriendliest way possible, but Instagram apparently was. The schadenfreude factor here was higher than usual, between my amazement at Instagram’s failure to learn from new corporate parent Facebook’s past missteps and my “you dang kids, get off my f-stop!” distaste for the idea of expressing one’s photographic creativity by applying somebody else’s canned filter to a picture.

(No, I don’t see this episode as any sort of a win for Instagram. While its old, now-reinstated terms of service give it more latitude in some ways, the PR hit here is lasting. And if Instagram actually engages in the sort of sketchy advertising reuse of its users’ photos that people feared this time, it will get crushed all over again.)

12/19/2012: Twitter Gives Your History Back, Discovery News

I’d been hoping I’d be able to write this post since hearing Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tell Online News Association conference attendees that he hoped to see the option to download your entire Twitter archive happen this year. Details I probably should have added to this post: The first few years of the archive don’t include clickable links, and photo previews don’t start showing up until late 2011.

12/20/2012: Google Maps Shows How Locked-Down Defaults Deter Competition, Disruptive Competition Project

This post, in which I compared your inability to change the default Web, e-mail and mapping apps in iOS to the locked search defaults in Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system and in earlier versions of Google’s Android, reminds me of some of the wonkier stuff I did at the Post. I was flattered to see it get as much attention as it did.

12/23/2012: A ‘to-do list’ for helping family with tech support, USA Today

Several years ago, Gina Trapani wrote a great post for Lifehacker about how to fix Mom and Dad’s computer over Thanksgiving. I thought that was an idea worth imitating, so I started writing my own holiday-computer-troubleshooting tips for the Post–first in the newsletter I used to do, then on my blog there. Note how much of my advice this time around focuses on uninstalling software instead of adding or updating it.