METAGUIDE - Searching for a Better Way #5 - Expert Guide Sites
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.)
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.
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.
Guides (and still the champs): About.com
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
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.
an Expert" sites
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.
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 bookmarks utility.
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 to do.
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.
an Expert: 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
I suppose it's
no crazier than, say, your high school guidance counsellor helping
you make career choices.
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
It does make
me wonder - who would want a job as an on-call helpdesk specialist
at a rate of 50 cents a minute?
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.
featured in this article
Suite101 - http://www.suite101.com
ExpertCentral - http://www.expertcentral.com
AllExperts - http://www.allexperts.com
EXP - http://www.exp.com
Clip2 - http://www.clip2.com
Keen.com - http://www.keen.com
Traffick Favorites - http://www.traffickfavorites.com
THE REST OF THE SERIES:
Searching for a Better Way
2. Meta Search Engines
3. Meaning-Based Search Engines
4. Natural-Language Search Engines
5. Expert Guide Sites
6. Pay-Per-Click Search Engines
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