A company called BitWine launched an interactive search site about three weeks ago. It is much like Ether in that it is a call-an-expert service, except BitWine is integrated with Skype. In fact BitWine will be a Skype plugin when Skype 3.0 launches, which will likely be in early 2007.
With BitWine, users deem themselves experts in specific categories and establish their per-minute consulting fee. Then when another curious user needs an answer about a given topic, they can browse the experts in that category, select someone whose price and expertise they prefer, and Skype them live. As soon as the transaction is over, the “expert” is paid via PayPal.
“When you look at Google Answers and Yahoo Answers, you don’t really know who is answering because it’s chat based and text based,” Cohen said. “For instance, I asked a question last night and I had to rephrase the question three times for people to understand me. One question and one answer is usually not enough. You need a visual conversation with someone you trust.”
On BitWine, experts get ratings based on their consultancy performance. Cohen sees this as a way for people to make money in their spare time off of their random hobbies. After all, where else are you going to sell your consulting services on model ship making or knitting?
Sites like this really are only as good as their community size. What good is an “operators are standing by” scenario, when no one is calling in?
“This is a big issue that we have many concerns about: the chicken and the egg,” Cohen said. “You want experts there to begin with and you want enough traffic there so that the experts will stay.”
He said the company will target experts through blogs and discussion forums and also attempt to create affiliations with other Web sites’ questions pages.