Dotcom pioneers are discovering 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 ranging from Askanything.com to Expertcentral.com are taking a similar tack.
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. But 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 that 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 CEO Karl Jacob, a former Microsoft Corp. executive.
Call local, go global
On Monday, Keen took another step at differentiating itself from its myriad of competitors by taking its question-and-answer marketplace global.
Ninety days after Keen.com's launch, the company announced it is expanding simultaneously into 228 countries outside of the United States.
By adding international consumers and experts to its "LiveAnswer Community," Keen is facilitating scenarios such as connecting a U.S.-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 its officials say will help the company continue to outrun its competitors.
Keen added a "recorded answers" capability to its service. Keen's experts can pre-record a message of any kind, which can 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 to horoscopes to tax-preparation advice.
New mail service added, too
Keen also added Keen Mail, a new service that may appeal to customers who seek answers to questions that require research, or to questions that are best answered in written format.
Experts and consumers can exchange information via Keen's private e-mail system using this service, with users deciding whether to accept and pay for a given e-mail or reject it, possibly suggesting a different price.