it seems, someone is always trying to teach us something.
Turn on your TV, and someone we don't know personally is
trying to teach us about our relationships. Tony Robbins is selling his
services as your "personal success coach." (Save your money.
His formula is: (1) Be 6'10"; (2) Shave
hourly; (3) Smile a lot.) And then there's Ann Landers, the lady
who popularized the acronym "MYOB" but never found herself short on advice in any
field, particularly when it came to people's personal business. The world-famous
meta-expert from Illinois would occasionally consult a District
Attorney or the Surgeon General when stumped, but most of the
time we got the feeling that she was pretty much winging it.
While there may be an oversupply of experts these
days, people do seem to be increasingly interested in making use of experts.
They save us time by staying focused on one thing. It seems natural, then, that
the popularity of various web-based "expert services" is soaring. They now come
in many flavors.
Expert Guides (and still the champs): About.com
About.com is perhaps the leading
brand in the "expert" field since it has had a strong
following since its early days when it launched as The Mining
Company. They are extending their lead on others by building new
features onto the existing platform of 700 topic-specific guide
sites. One such addition is the recent development of 500 how-to
guides, leveraging the expertise of their large network of
respected experts. And each expert continues to publish a
newsletter which can keep interested readers abreast of the most
important developments in the "field." To me, that's
pretty cool. Interested in psychology? You don't have to get a
PhD, join the American Psychological Association, and subscribe
to some stuffy journal to keep track of the latest. You don't
even have to take night courses. Just go to the About.com Psychology Site. You can't beat the tuition fees. Like
most everything on the Internet, About.com will give you a
healthy dose of expertise for free.
101 is continuing to plug
away in this category. They aren't different enough from About.com
to stand out, but it is, as previously mentioned, a cosy little
community with a number of good experts, and we hear that recent
growth is strong.
"Ask an Expert" sites
The format is slightly different
at "ask an expert" sites. There tend to be more experts
vying for attention by making themselves available to answer
users' specific questions. ExpertCentral, for example, has gathered 7,000 experts.
A few become "featured" experts, writing articles and
making themselves more visible. Users can find a specific expert
to help them with a problem, or post a question on the "public
board" for experts to view and decide whether to respond.
Since experts' responses are rated by users, there is incentive
to provide thorough responses. ExpertCentral was acquired by
About.com, giving it more exposure and a leg up on the
competition. Longer term, it would appear that ExpertCentral has
a chance to transact a higher volume of paid consultations. If it
can't do that, the novelty of the service might wear off as it
becomes just another unfocused web-based "toy." In any
case, I have both given and received advice on ExpertCentral, and
so far it has proved rewarding.
There are several other sites
doing essentially the same thing as ExpertCentral: EXP, Askme.com (formerly Xpertsite), AllExperts, and more. It seems unlikely that they can
all survive. Each nonetheless has something to distinguish it. EXP is very
large, with "tens of thousands" of experts (see what I
mean about an oversupply?) and offers the ability to connect live
with an expert. Of course, people have been finding smart people
online for a long time, and sharing info with them. Veteran
netizens may not find these attempts to codify and "brand"
the informal sharing of expertise to their liking. Gurus may like
the opportunity it gives them to showcase their services by
providing free advice.
You, too, can be a guide: Clip2
Now you too can be a guide. At
this service, you don't have to pretend to be an expert (phew!). Clip2 allows anyone with a hobby or interest to
collect and annotate links on that topic - sort of like setting
up your own Geocities web site but without all the hassles. The
most popular guides - as measured by click rates - are featured
on the main Clip2 page. In essence then your public will rate
your work. If it isn't up to scratch, everyone will know!
This is a handy tool, but with a
proliferation of online bookmark services and guide sites out
there, they may have a tough time generating enough buzz around
the place to make it worth dropping in. Not only is Clip2 duking
it out with services like Yahoo Clubs, Excite Communities, and
Xoom Sharehouse, but also against the expert and guide sites AND
the many online bookmarking services: Blink, Backflip, Hotlinks, and Power Favorites.
At best, Clip2 is an "Open
Directory with a twist." At worst, it's a glorified online
Certainly, the emergence of such
services is proof that there is little need for people to set up
a web site in many cases when they simply wish to share their
interests with others by keeping bookmark collections, files, and
photos in a handy online location. Web design is a hassle, and
beyond many novices' abilities. The clippers and bookmarkers and
clubs and collections and so on are deliriously handy. It's
really an embarrassment of riches. That said, we implore you,
keep using Traffick Favorites. It's really cool! There are new features being
added all the time. If it were up to us, we'd pay you to use it,
but our spin doctors tell us we should avoid being associated
with "rash dot com business models." So free will have
Not to be outdone, several
startups have tried to build up their brands around the "how-to"
concept. One of the best seems to be ehow. And they don't even call you a "Dummy"
or a "Complete Idiot." Three of the top ten "ehows" are "build and define your abs,"
"ask someone on a date," and "dig a flower garden." They may have skipped a couple of steps, but
they seem to have the progression about right. A friendly and functional site.
Phone an Expert: Keen.com
This Keen.com is the goofiest thing yet. A teen chat
service masquerading as some kind of expert thing? You've got all
these would-be experts on here just daring you to call them and
ask them about something - and you are going to have to pay them
for the pleasure! Many of the so-called experts are palpably
unqualified. Few are highly rated by users.
I suppose it's no crazier than,
say, your high school guidance counsellor helping you make career
On closer examination, this does
reveal some pretty strange new economics. On Windows 2000
problems, for example, there are 250 experts available to help
you. So in other words, if I have problems with my computer, I'll
bypass the appropriate computer support line, phone Keen.com,
choose one of these 250 Windows experts, and then shell out their
per minute charge?
It does make me wonder - who would
want a job as an on-call helpdesk specialist at a rate of 50
cents a minute?
Well, beyond the 250 Windows experts on call at
Keen.com, I can think of one guy. A friend of mine
is writing a doctoral thesis on donuts (hey, it's quite serious).
I can see him making a few bucks answering donut questions
over his morning coffee. Or to branch out a bit, coffee
questions over his morning donut.
Come to think of it, maybe I'll hire myself out as an
expert devoted to answering the question "Do you have Dr. Ballard in a can?"
Nope, but I have your $1.50. Cha-ching, smart aleck.