In the latter half of the 20th century, if you wanted to learn about which was the best spark plug to use on your car, or who the best oil manufacturer was for your motorcycle’s specific engine, you really only had three ways to find out. Call your local parts store and trust in their expert (or sometimes not so expert) advice, ask your friend that knows everything about that brand of car or bike, or read it in a magazine.
However, the internet, in its most limited form, arrived in the 1990s, and all of a sudden the collective knowledge of the world was available. This served to both enlighten many, confuse many others, and started the information superhighway concept. Still, during these formative days, the local shop expert or the magazine with the advice was the trusted way to go.
It wasn’t until the moving what used to be called Bulletin Board Services online into the world wide web and relabelling them as forums around the turn of the century did the dynamic shift. All of a sudden, all that advice regarding cars, bikes, boats, and pretty much anything with a motor started to be shared en masse. Yet, even in this 21st century explosion of knowledge could sometimes overwhelm the average internet user.
Something needed to be done to streamline the knowledge, to focus on specific things, to take that massive plethora of knowledge, and make it easier to use.
The Search Engine Boom
Anyone that was around during the original “DotCom Bubble” remembers that there were about 300 search engines, all of them vying for the top step of dominance. Yahoo, AskJeeves, NetCrawler, and a little fledgling company founded in 1998 called Google. What all these search engines did, however, was allow those savvy enough to understand what was happening to build up web pages and databases online that used the right keywords to get search engine attention.
Often, the most successful of these pages expanded to form forums during the first few years of the millennium. This allowed for the page to both share in the enthusiasm of the particular car, bike, or vehicular interest expressed, as well as gain insight into what people were talking the most about. Knowledge was king in the early modern internet, and if you knew the right things to write about or target, you got the traffic you wanted.
This, in turn, led to these sites growing, and being able to now afford interview time or guest articles by industry experts to get the best knowledge out there. As much as the forum explosion was allowing people to share their opinions and thoughts, these were still limited communities behind sometimes huge, sometimes tiny, pages that were starting to take the big articles and article writers away from traditional print media in the form of magazines.
In fact, during these years, from 2000 to 2005, the first eZines started to be created, to focus the knowledge about the best spark plugs and who the best oil manufacturer actually was. Often, these were free, somewhat crude emails with special guest writers or thorough research into one specific subject. There was still no widespread knowledge base to refer to.
The Social Explosion Tied To Newer Vehicle Technologies
Before the millennium, most cars, trucks, and motorcycles continued to be made in the most traditional of senses. When you bought a new vehicle, it was still a fairly rudimentary thing, with basic controls, airbags, and you could buy almost any car with the option of a manual transmission. During those days, if you had a reasonable head on your shoulders, you would most likely be able to figure out all the important maintenance tasks and parts needed without too much difficulty.
Fast forward to 2005, and most cars were now coming with a car computer to control a variety of electronic systems, while the first forms of the in-dash LCD screen started appearing in some high-end vehicles. You could start to get parking sensors, electronically controlled cruise control, and engines so sophisticated that they could vary their valve timings on the fly, a thousand times a second, with complex sensors and control units.
The “open the hood and figure it out” home mechanic was starting to get a little lost about how to take care of all these new and amazing systems. It’s fortunate, then, that around the year 2005 two major websites appeared out of the blue. The first of these was a little experiment that came out of the dormitories of Harvard University, named Facebook. The second, probably far more valuable one for the home mechanic, was a small video sharing platform called YouTube.
Both of these platforms allowed for those with the actual knowledge about what to do with these newfangled, fancy, high-tech cars and bikes to share their knowledge openly. Through Facebook, these experts started to form groups and communities, some of which still exist today as some of the largest specific interest groups on the platform.
However, YouTube is where the proof is quite literally portrayed in video. Founded in 2005, it was a relatively small platform until Google, the winner of the search engine wars of the turn of the century, saw exactly what it could be and bought the site for a measly $1.65 billion. All of a sudden, when you searched for that specific bit of knowledge about why cylinder #3 on your 2006 truck was misfiring, if someone had made a video about it, you were directed to that video and could watch how to fix it.
To say that both sites allowed for automotive enthusiasts to share and communicate more easily than ever before is the understatement of the century. What used to be the sacred knowledge of the mechanic and the engineer, was now a 10 minute video and a group post online that you could reference, and you could even ask the original person that posted it for advice.
The Present & The Future
All this rapidly developing technology, and the relentless drive to make the largest amount of information available to the largest amount of people, led to the creation of an entirely new type of information sharing. Building your own little corner of the internet became easier and easier, and there seemed to always be an audience for anything posted on the internet.
In terms of automotive knowledge, this led to the creation of huge, searchable, maintained repositories of information by passionate fans of a specific brand, even of a specific car or bike. There were videos of car restorations, car builds, bike modifications, and everything you could think of appearing online almost every day, many of them tied to those specific knowledge websites.
Another phenomenon of knowledge sharing happened throughout the 2010s. Websites started to become easier and easier to create, which allowed for the emergence of the blogosphere. Blogs and social websites where you could read an opinion, comment on it, and share that knowledge with others allowed for even more sharing of information.
Sites such as carwrenching.com emerged during this time, specialized sites allowing both for the original creators and community members to post guides, reviews, suggestions, and articles on car parts and other automotive-related topics. These created open communities that, to this day, still post regular updates regarding the best exhausts, the best oils, the best spark plugs, and all the guides you could think about regarding maintenance for pretty much any vehicle out there.
As well, many of these sites either have helpful links to other sites they are cooperating with, and some even have communities that can be joined through a variety of entry points. Even now, if you look up a certain car and issue online, you will more than likely find new suggestions regarding fixes or things you can try, all within the last 24 hours. True access to a wealth of knowledge is allowing even the most obscure vehicles to have information about them out there.
This does create a small conundrum regarding the future of the information and knowledge shared. Even now, there is commentary that there is, in fact, too much knowledge out there to be found. It is starting to crop up in that searching for a very generic term will return thousands, even hundreds of thousands of results. This has led to search terms to become more and more specific, and in doing so, can cause important information to sometimes be buried under mountains of results.
As well, looking to the far future, autonomous vehicles may be the norm in 30 or 40 years. This would lead to there no longer being a need for massive knowledge databases and sites regarding these vehicles. This would be because, in the worst case scenario, the autonomous vehicle simply would not start, or would pull over to the side of the road and call for a pickup from a maintenance vehicle. In the best case, it would be because an issue with an autonomous vehicle would either be fixed over the air, or the vehicle itself would report to a maintenance facility to be fixed.
So, in turn, it would seem that the specialized mechanic may, in the future, be making a return. Only time knows.