A great resource

by Eszter Hargittai on July 6, 2005

There is a pointer on Lifehacker today that made me smile: an Ask MetaFilter discussion about a question regarding the use of Excel. The Ask MeFi community was able to answer the query so it proved to be useful, as it often is. Regardless, my reaction to seeing that pointer was that the person asking this question probably does not know about the ultimate resource for advice about Excel: MrExcel.com. It is THE place to search for, and if unsuccessful, to ask about advice regarding Excel. I have already blogged about it.. but looking back in my archives I realize now that it was three years ago. I think the site is worth another mention (if nothing else because now compared to three years ago there are many more people reading what I blog about).

The people on the Mr.Excel forum (not necessarily all misters from what I can tell) give free advice about using the program from the fairly trivial to the extremely complex. They will write original code for you if that’s what’s most helpful. I have had some incredibly wonderful experiences with the site getting crucial help with cleaning up some dissertation data way back when and recently while editing some spreadsheets to a more manageable format. I highly recommend that resource if you are stumped by any Excel features (or even if you are not just to see what shortcuts you may be able to dig up).

As I noted in my post a few years ago, I hope there are people studying communities like this. There seems to be quite a bit of work, for example, on the free/open source community. There is also quite a bit of work on various online communities. But I have seen little scholarship (granted, I have not looked actively) about studies of online communities that provide so much tangible value for free to active members and outsiders alike.

PS. Random observation: My initial post about Mr.Excel was on July 10, 2002 and my post last year about online communities was on July 6. I guess I like to blog about this stuff in July. I’ll leave it to Kieran to run a more systematic analysis on the topics of interest by time of year among Timberites.:-)



John Quiggin 07.07.05 at 1:28 am

I haven’t done a proper analysis of this, but I’d say that all realworld common-purpose communities (sporting and social clubs, union branches and so on) operate on something like a 20-80 rule: 20 per cent of members do 80 per cent of the work.

The special feature of the Internet is that this kind of thing can survive with proportions more like 2-98, because additional “lurkers” have essentially zero marginal cost.


Karim 07.07.05 at 7:20 am


Thanks for the plug on the open source community. You may be interested in the following three papers that address help prvoisioning in communities:

1)This one (by Eric von Hippel and I) is about help provision for Apache Software. Key finding – help providers were on the forum to learn about problems being faced in general with the software. Help providers mostly provided information they already knew. Large asymetrey in costs and benefits: Help providers took about 5 mins to respond – Help seekers saved about 180 mins of time.

2)This one by Nik Franke and Sonali Shah examines community help provision in the creation of innovations in various sports equipment.

3)Constant et al have a piece in Org Science about the “Kindness of Strangers” – is about online help in a company.

You may also be intersted in a sister website of opensource.mit.edu : http://userinnovation.mit.edu – which looks at the broader phenomenon of user driven innovation and has many papers which show a strong community effect.


Eszter 07.09.05 at 12:45 pm

Thanks for those pointers, they’re helpful and interesting.

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