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Sarah Rich, 24 Jan 07
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Everybody loves a "how-to." Simple instructionals and DIY projects are a requisite occupation for self-sufficient hipsters and hackers. From constructing personal PV arrays to generating pedal-powered electricity, brewing biodiesel to knitting scarves, worldchangers like to do things ourselves.

Hence, my elation at discovering the nascent online project,, set up by a Swiss non-profit supported by Practical Action (formerly ITDG) and the International Network for Technical Information (INTI). Howtopedia's building a wiki-style library of DIY recipes that promote sustainability by helping us all become a little more independent. Howtopedia describe themselves as:

A collaborative platform for practical knowledge and simple technologies, (i.e. technologies that require no complex machine, that are easily explainable and usable by individuals or small communities) for a sustainable and ecological future [...] We are convinced that sharing low-tech know-how across borders and organisations is essential for an independent and self-sufficient form of sustainable development.

So far the library still has a lot of open space where content will eventually be found, and we're all invited to start filling it up by offering our own expertise and editorial skills. Even so, it's fascinating just to look through the placeholders and see what ideas have already begun to populate the platform. General categories include emergency preparedness, cooling, community and small business in addition to more standard DIY flavors like mechanics, food processing and recycling.

Howtopedia is teeming with entries about truly useful tools and low-tech innovations, many of which we've covered on Worldchanging in the context of appropriate development in rural non-industrialized areas, such as the Roundabout Pump, small-scale wind power, the pot-in-pot [desert] refrigerator, and the Rocket Stove. And it's not just hands-on projects, but also strategies and skills for things like improving one's entrepreneurial approach or activating one's community towards a common goal. At the end of many entries there are additional links and resources for further exploration.

Personally, I'm eagerly awaiting an opportunity to try my hand at making aerial ropeways, although low-tech as it is, the risks involved in doing it wrong seem a little steep. For now, I might just try small-scale oilseed processing.

If you've got skills, get in there and add your know-how to the database. This could become one of the coolest how-to resources on the web.

Thank you, Gil.

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thanks for posting this. howtopedia looks like a cool site with a lot of potential. ideally there'd be one web resource that would encompass all the information from worldchanging to howtopedia to every elses personal sites and blogs

Posted by: Josh on 24 Jan 07

Sounds a lot like WikiHow

Posted by: Chris on 24 Jan 07

Have a look at a site I have set up which has a lot more content and is about tips in general that can help benefit the planet.


Posted by: Tom Savage on 25 Jan 07

Thanks Sarah, very interesting.

reminds me of these two projects:

Liberating Voices!
working together to develop one or more "pattern languages" which can help people think about, design, develop, manage and use information and communication systems that more fully meet human needs now — and in the future.

Our "pattern language" is a holistic collection of "patterns" that can be used together to address an information or communication problem. Each "pattern" in this pattern language, when complete, will represent an important insight that will help contribute to a communication revolution.

Building Living Neighbourhoods
(this grew out of the pattern languages group)
Our goal is to help everyone make our neighborhoods places of belonging, places of health and well-being, and places where people will want to live and work. This has become possible through the use of Generative Codes, Christopher Alexander's latest work in the effort to make possible conception and construction of living, beautiful communities that have real guts -- not the sugary sweetness of pseudo-traditional architecture.

The tools offered are intended for the use of ordinary people, families, communities, developers, planners, architects, designers and builders; public officials, local representatives, and neighbors; business owners and people who have commercial interests. The processes here are expressed in the belief that the common-sense, plain truth about laying out a neighborhood, or repairing one, is equally valid for all comers, amateurs and professionals. They help people build or rebuild neighborhoods in ways that contribute something to their lives. Many of the tools have their origin in 30 years of work published in Alexander's The Nature of Order.


- Yishay

Posted by: Yishay on 25 Jan 07

In a larger scale there is already something happening on the web. Check the instructables site:

Ricardo Reis

Posted by: Ricardo Reis on 25 Jan 07

How to Pedia is much like, which I have been running for about 2 years. We have 4,000 online and OFFLINE e-books on all kinds of practical skills for 3rd world development and for alternative energy

Posted by: mr alex weir, harare, zimbabwe on 27 Jan 07

I'll join this list. Appropedia ( is yet another similar site that is focusing on sustainable development and poverty reduction through use of appropriate technology.

Appropedia is now made up of 4 separate wikis that have merged over time. We have just joined forces with WikiGreen, and in the process gained quite a bit of content (with permission) from Alex Weir's CD3WD, with more to come. We've just started a conversing with TipThePlanet (above) to see how we might coordinate for more impact. An earlier query with Howtopedia didn't quite resonate for some reason, but we have a lot of overlapping content with Howtopedia, since both sites have been granted permission to republish some excellent content from (though PA's site does not offer the wiki ability to grow and enhance the content). We also partner a bit with the Sustainable Community Action wiki as well ( The growth and partnering have brought Appropedia close to a quarter of a million page views in well under a year, and the pace continues to accelerate.

There's a reason that there is only one Wikipedia. It makes good sense to consolidate and centralize when collaborating. That will continue in the green / sustainable / appropriate / howto / tiptheplanet space as well, except where there are clear content distinctions, which might be delineated over time. The good news about consolidation is that, wherever someone contributes, it's likely that valuable content will ultimately land in the single uber wiki of the future. The unfortunate part is the short term lost synergy where the community still lacks the centralized clearinghouse.

Have faith. All of us collaborative sustainable do-gooders will get it together before too long :-) It's just too soon to predict what the URL will be.

Posted by: Curt Beckmann on 28 Jan 07



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