Have any questions? Keen has the answers

In a new twist of the growing "ask-the-experts" genre, Keen.com goes global into 229 countries, with a little help from the telephone
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Dotcom pioneers are discovering that one of the cheapest and most appealing ways to make content available to customers is via a network of self-appointed "experts". That kind of "C2C" (consumer-to-consumer) strategy helped About.Com make a name for itself on the Web. And other companies, such as Askanything.com and Expertcentral.com, are taking a similar tack.

But now Keen.com, another company in this genre, is building a database of experts on everything from how to make sushi to how to fix a flat tyre. However, unlike most of its competitors, Keen is attempting to marry traditional telephone technology with the Web.

At Keen.com, consumers can look up information on a wide variety of topics. Once users select a particular expert, Keen.com makes the local, national or international phone call, so users don't have to reveal their phone numbers or private information. The self-appointed experts earn money by creating listings and charging a per-minute fee for the phone calls. "First there were Web sites that found pages. Then there were things like Ask Jeeves and e-pinion sites (like About.com). Now there are online answers and true interactivity," said Keen.com president and chief executive, Karl Jacob, a former Microsoft exec.

On Monday, Keen took another step at differentiating itself from the myriad of competitors by taking its question-and-answer marketplace global. Just 90 days after its launch, Keen.com announced it is expanding simultaneously into 228 countries outside of the US. By adding international consumers and experts to its "LiveAnswer Community", Keen is facilitating scenarios such as connecting a US-based MBA with a Tel Aviv-based venture capitalist who could help the MBA contemplating a hot idea for a business in Israel, Keen officials say.

The company also announced two new features of its service that officials say will help the company continue to outrun competitors. The first is a "recorded answers" capability, where Keen's experts can prerecord a message of any kind, which can then be accessed by consumers 24 hours a day for a set price. Information that lends itself to this type of presentation ranges from stock tips and horoscopes to tax preparation advice.

Keen has also added Keen Mail, a new service that may appeal to customers who seek answers to questions that require research, or that are best answered in written format. Experts and consumers can exchange information via Keen's private email system when using this service, with users deciding whether to accept and pay for a given email or reject it. They can even suggest a different price.

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