RealTime IT News

Knowledge Sharing Sites Heat Up

A few years ago, Ramesh Parameswaran, now president of AskMe.com, saw a story about eBay that intrigued him. He came up with the idea of building a similar infrastructure, but for ideas. The result was a site called XpertSite.com, a place where people could link up with others that have the answers to their questions.

XpertSite.com, which now goes under the name of AskMe.com, is at the forefront of one of the hottest segments of the Internet.

Knowledge sharing sites have been popping up left and right in the past few months. With approximately 50 sites having appeared in the past 100 days, the segment has attracted the eyes of many investors and entrepreneurs alike.

"There was no way to use the millions of people connected to the Internet in a commercial way," says Rob Shavell, who conducted research on the space for DataMonitor. "This is bringing personal commerce to the web by using the pieces of available time that millions of 'experts' have to get answers."

The result, Shavell says, is more relevant information. "The people using the Internet become the computer instead of the web pages and web servers."

Walter Conner, VP of Marketing for AskMe.com, couldn't agree more. The reason, he explains, is that there is information that is not easily accessed through a search engine.

"Browsers are pretty good at finding data, and alright at finding information if there is context, but they are terrible at finding knowledge."

The companies rely on their experts to give users the exact information they are asking for, providing accuracy that simply can't be found with automated queries.

For AskMe.com, the abundance of 'experts,' those who answer the questions, has been essential to their success.

At present AskMe.com boasts an impressive 110,000 experts in over 1000 categories.

Experts sign up to answer questions through the AskMe.com website, and receive and respond to the questions at their own leisure.

So what keeps them answering the questions? A point system, which rewards rapid and quality responses, helps keep the experts coming back. The point system not only determines certain prizes experts can qualify for, but also rates the experts, the results of which are available to anyone visiting the sight. While AskMe.com currently doesn't charge a fee, Conner says the company will start allowing their top 'experts' to charge for their advice.

Being an expert, however, can be a frustrating experience for some. Jared Black, a lawyer with Dorsey and Whitney, LOP, found that while the experience could be rewarding, there were a number of drawbacks.

"I became inundated with questions I shouldn't or couldn't answer. It is difficult to deliver law advice over the Internet," says Black. While some of these problems were specific to the arena of the law, there were other drawbacks.

"If you're spending an hour a day on the website, you're productivity goes down," says Black.

While there have been some drawbacks, the huge number of unpaid experts indicates many see value in it.

With implementation of paid advice in the future, there may be more value for the experts. In addition, AskMe.com plans on becoming a lead-generation tool, by allowing paid links to commerce sites.

"We will allow someone to serve up either a shopping basket or a link to the product," says Conner, who believes this will be a winning situation for all involved.

So exactly how hot is the industry? "I think, and the research we've done indicates, that it will be one of the fastest growing sectors in the entire business-to-consumer Internet marketplace over the next 3 to 4 years," says Shavell. "There's absolutely no question that this is a rocket ship area."

The numbers reinforce Shavell's enthusiasm, with estimsates around $5 billion for the companies involved, and a total of $50 billion for the total amount of commerce and transactionsthrough