BUSINESS ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB:

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October 21, 1999 -- Selling content/getting paid for content on the Web


Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, October 21, 1999. These sessions are normally scheduled for 12 noon-1 PM Eastern Time every Thursday. Please note that the US is now on Daylight Savings Time. So in international terms, we are on at GMT -4.

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Threads (reconstructed after the fact):


Today's participants


Introductions

Richard Seltzer -- All -- we'll be starting in about 20 minutes (at noon Eastern Time). Today we'll be talking about selling content/getting paid for content on the Web. Our invited guests are from ExpertCentral, www.expertcentral.com If you've arrived here early, you might want to take a look at their site, then return.

Richard Seltzer -- It's time to get started. Welcome Carloyn Unger (from ExpertCentral), Bob Zwick, Mitchell, and Matthew. Please introduce yourselves and let us know your interests. That will help us get off to a quick start.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Jesse and Jim. Please introduce yourselves. All -- please dive in. Have any of you visited ExpertCentral? Have any of you signed up as experts or asked questions there?

Greg Schmergel-- Richard, I'm Greg Schmergel, the CEO of ExpertCentral, joining in.


How ExpertCentral works

Richard Seltzer -- Carolyn -- I understand that you had your official launch on October 8. Congratulations. Can you give us a quick overview of what ExpertCentral is and how it works? I'm fascinated by the underlying business model of your site. This looks like a way that people can get paid for informal help and advice, and also a way to build relationships with folks who might want your help in a more formal, consulting way later on.

Carolyn Unger -- Thanks, Richard! Already, at its launch, ExpertCentral.com is the largest expert resource site on the Web. Our site is a venue for people seeking specific answers and information to connect to experts in a whole range of topics. You get to ask a question of a real person. It's not static information.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- GREG - How does ExpertCentral benefit (financially) ?

Greg Schmergel -- Bob: ExpertCentral benefits financially in two ways--first from advertising/sponsorships, and second from a 15% transaction fee on every for-pay transaction. And we do handle the transaction processing for the expert--we bill the user's credit card and then pay the expert every month.

Ron Rothenberg -- I got an invitation to join ExpertCentral as a real estate expert through membership in NAEBA (Nat'l Ass'n of Exclusive Buyer Agents)

Greg Schmergel -- Ron: Great! You have signed up, right? 

Ron Rothenberg -- no, haven't had time. I've been too busy gaining expertise.

Ron Rothenberg -- it looks like many NAEBA members have signed up - I know most of the people on the REAL ESTATE experts site. 


Giving value to informal, spontaneous content

Richard Seltzer -- I see this as an example of how to get paid for content -- in this case, informal content. And the informality of it probably by-passes the restrictions that many employers place on their employees, preventing them from consulting; and that colleges place on professors, preventing them from teaching for other institutions. It's an informal exchange, which the writers of rules probably never anticipated.

Richard Seltzer -- Carolyn -- In some ways, your site reminds me of the early days of the Internet, when people posed those same kinds of questions in newsgroups. Yes, newsgroups are still around, but the vast majority of Internet users never heard of them and wouldn't know how to use them. Also, by a bizarre twist, it seems that the newcomers almost prefer to pay. They come from an environment where they expect to pay for useful information and might consider information that they didn't have to pay for as less reliable. It's a strange world. But I'd guess that your model is well suited for it.

Greg Schmergel -- Yes, you're exactly right, our site is intended to bring back some of the early benefits of the Internet, when it was actually possible to track down the right people to answer your questions. Now it's virtually impossible to find a qualified, helpful person in a chatroom or on Usenet, and Usenet has other drawbacks as well.

Greg Schmergel -- The other part of your question, about paying, is also relevant. It's not just that information that is paid for is more reliable, but also that information from a known source is more valuable. When you can see the person's credentials and ratings, you're more likely to value (and pay for) the information.

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- Yes, one of the advantages of your site is that someone with a question can search through your database tor browser through a category, checking the credentials and background of the "experts" and then can submit a question to someone in particular. Or if it's just a quick question they have that many may be able to answer, they can post it for all to see. 


Marketing tool for consultants

Richard Seltzer -- Many of the people who join these chat sessions are consultants or would-be consultants, experts of one kind or another. I'd think that your site would be a good place to look for leads and make the first contact with potential customers. You can go to a category and see all the open questions. If the answer is easy, you can just answer. If it's going to require some time, you can propose what you'd do and for what price. Has anyone here tried that yet? 

Getting questions answered

Jesse -- Hi all. Greg, good point. I just registered for your site and need to look it over a little more. As an engineer, I am interested with what I see so far in using ExpertCentral to complement my TechOnLine.com membership where I can get unlimited training and information for free. What tends to be the turn around rate for getting questions answered, though?

Greg Schmergel -- Jesse, the turnaround time varies a lot by expert. Some experts check their account every day and respond immediately, whereas some are checking once a week. We are hoping to encourage everyone to check more and more frequently to get the response time down.


Building the reputation of a reputation system

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- Yes, the ratings are another important piece in the puzzle. But I'd expect that that will play a larger role over time. At this point, I understand that folks who had signed up as experts by the time of launch were given initial ratings of "3" (on a scale of 5). It will be interesting to see how that evolve and how useful the particular feedback comments are over time. At eBay, the feedback system is at the heart of their business. In your case, the feedback becomes immediately important to an expert, because when someone with a question checks a category of experts, they are presented with the top ranked experts on the top of the list. That's good motivation to provide bunches of free answers to raise your rating, and hence raise your chances for getting paid assignments.

Greg Schmergel -- Richard, pre-launch experts were given an initial rating of 3, yes, since we invited them based on their credentials and their record of answering questions in other fora in the past, and we wanted to recognize that. Most of them have excellent histories of helping people elsewhere prior to ExpertCentral. Another point relevant to your comment is that on eBay people with higher ratings can actually sell the same item for more money--we expect the same thing to happen, where Gold level experts can charge more than Bronze level, for example.

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- Yes, I've seen the effect of ratings at eBay. In my case, I was able to sell the same kind of item for 5-10 times as much after I had established my reputation there. But it takes a while for the reputation of your reputation system to get established. It isn't automatic.

Greg Schmergel -- On your eBay comment: 5-10x! Wow! That is amazing, and a great example of the power of ratings. Yes, it does take a while--any thoughts on how the reputation of a reputation system gets built? Is it just time?

Ron Rothenberg -- reputation of a reputation systems gets built by encouraging factual and helpful feedback. I don't think anyone really believes much of ebay's current system -- everyone is the most wonderful seller or buyer in the world! but i must admit, that it does have its effect -- (ronrsr (+1115 on ebay).

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- I believe that in the early stages the actual raw comments mean more than points, and points actually might get in the way. That is the case with Amazon, which has been trying this for a few months now. Starting people with 3 stars might actually be negative.

Richard Seltzer -- Ron -- Yes, there is a strong tendency at eBay for everybody to give good feedback. But that is in large part due to the fact that everybody bends over backwards not to do anything that would get them negative feedback. Beyond a certain point the numbers become irrelevant. But someone with over 100 positive feedbacks is experienced, knows what they are doing, and can be relied upon.

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- Amazon is a bit bizarre with their ratings. To get jumpstarted, their system (of five stars) is an average of the ratings that someone has received. If one person rates you and likes what you do, you are immediately five stars. That's not anywhere near as credible as the eBay style, where there is benefit from participating often as buyer or seller (both kinds of feedback are treated the same).

Richard Seltzer -- Ron -- Wow! Congratulations on cracking 1000 at ebay. (I bet there's a good deal of revenue associated with that as well :-)

Greg Schmergel -- Ron: Congrats on your +1115! That's a lot of positive feedback....

Ron Rothenberg -- yes. Richard says credibility and experience starts at a rating of 100. I think it's 1000, or more specifically, 10 less than whatever rating i have at the moment.

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: We have both ratings and rankings--let me explain. Experts are rated after every question from one to five. Accumulating more questions at good ratings allows them to progress from unrated to Bronze to Silver to Gold level--so actually the ranking (Bronze, etc.) is closer to the eBay style. At the moment, we only have expert ratings/rankings, but may add user ratings as well. 


Guidance -- "experts of experts"?

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- Regarding credibility and certification, and also as a way to help people sort through long lists of experts, have you considered adding a Guide system, a la About.com (AKA The Mining Company). In other words, you might have an "expert of experts" for each category, who could act as a guide and referee, pointing people to specific experts, based on what they say they need and what he/she knows about the experts. Databases can be useful. But personal recommendations are much more useful, especially when the number of choices gets very large and when (as Ron mentioned happened at eBay) the feedback system tends to level out, with all the regulars having the same high rating.

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: You are bringing up a very interesting point, and yes, we are looking at a few options for providing guidance as to which expert to select.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- GREG - would your guidence be a keyword search?

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- If you are looking to build partnerships, the guide concept might be a very logical approach. Select a partner for each category. They provide the expert who acts as the guide to experts in their area of strength. That's a position that would require time and effort. But they'd be willing to do it for the reputation it could provide them (while enhancing your reputation as well).

Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- keyword search is useful, but I believe that a personal recommendation from someone I trust would be far better. This is especially true if the site becomes very successful and has many, many experts, many of whom has tagged themselves with the same keywords.

Greg Schmergel -- Bob: Yes, we have a keyword search feature, accessible right from the home page. We are expanding its capability over the next few weeks to become a full-featured keyword search engine that will accomplish exactly what you suggest.

Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- I think a balance is necessary, between database and personal. And any personal recommendations that started to feel like Good Ole Boy, would soon lose credibility. (Guide could and should be rated as well as the experts themselves.)


Subject categories and certification that you're an "expert"?

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- At this point, your categories range all over the place. It looks like just about everything is covered. Do you plan to do anything special with fields where experts normally need to be certified? e.g., medical, legal, and technical question. Will you avoid those? Or will you set up special procedures for ensuring that your experts are in fact experts?

Richard Seltzer -- Also, do you have any plans to do something special with homework type questions? In other words, might you set up a section where the experts are in fact teachers, and where a parent could pick and pay for a tutor or online helper for his/her child, one who understands the difference between helping someone with homework (explaining concepts and leading them to learn) as opposed to doing it for them.

Greg Schmergel Greg Schmergel-- Richard: Yes, we cover all the main topics of interest to Internet users with our 18 categories. We are not avoiding medical and legal areas--in fact, we have numerous very well-known, very well qualified experts in both of those areas. We have a top asthma expert who runs an Allergy Center, some well-known lawyers, and some world-famous veterinarians. But it is true that experts in those areas must exercise extra caution, and obviously we do not want anyone, even a qualified expert, to provide medical diagnoses or treatment plans on the site, for example.

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: Homework and tutoring is certainly an area we hope to expand, it is a natural for the site. Really, the entire educational field, from K-12 through college, makes a lot of sense--knowledge sharing through the Internet cannot help but be huge in that arena.

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- In most areas, the experts are self-declared. Yes, they describe their credentials. And that's fine if I want to know how to get a stain out of a shirt, or how to do something fancy with my Web browser. But I'd think that medical and legal advice are a bit different. There are plenty of folks with home remedies and their own unique ideas about how the law ought to work. How do you or can you distinguish between a real doctor and someone who might be a quack? Seems like that could be a challenge, unless for certain areas you have a stringent certification process (which would also help build credibility).

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: If you browse through the profiles of the experts (everyone fills out a lengthy profile form), you can quickly see for yourself who is self-declared versus who has degrees and certifications. We may at some point add an official verification process to check on the degrees and make sure they're real.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Richard - I would be wary of the "Good Ole Boy" reccommendations rather than an objective list of who can and has answered questions about a keyword. 


Use of instant messaging?

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Hi - Bob Zwick - Independent consultant here.
GREG - You mention experts checking their calls, does that mean that there in no expedient way to contact an expert? For example vie e-mail, ICQ, AIM, or MSN

Greg Schmergel -- Bob: Currently, experts check their messages by logging in to the site and going to their MyExpertCentral page. We are planning to add ICQ/AIM-type functionality in the near future--that is next on the agenda, and then we will expand to other modes of communication. Experts also get email alerts letting them know there is a message waiting on the site. 


Partnering with ExpertCentral?

JimPellrin -- Hi all from Jim Pellerin, Presidet of Pellerin Consulting Group. I currently have a consulting practise specializing in Project Turnaround Consulting (basically for Projects in trouble). I am currently in the process of building an online course in Project Management. One of the features of the course will be the online mentoring feature which is facilitated through bulleting boards, chat and emails. What are your thoughts on how I could integrate ExpertCentral into my offering. One thought is to use ExpertCentral for students after they finish the course. I could use the same "mentors".

Greg Schmergel -- Jim: Yes, certainly that would be a good option. The same mentors who give the course can then offer expanded service to the students after the course through ExpertCentral, at whatever rates they chose.

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- are you forming any regular alliances/partnerships with sites that have a particular expertise as the core of their business? e.g., startup AuctionRover provides answers for people selling at auction sites, and CompareItAll which is scheduled for launch in December will provide answers for online shoppers. Also, sites which provide training courses of various kinds. There ought to be some way to work together for your mutual benefit.

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: We are certainly working on alliances with all sorts of sites. I had not heard of the two you mention, but yes, those are good examples. A lot of sites are interested in working with us, because our model brings a much more human dimension to currently static-content-oriented sites. Ecommerce sites that offer good Q&A do better, for example, and with out mixed free/for-pay model it's also a potential additional revenue stream in addition to a traffic-generator/relationship-builder.


The competition -- other expert sites

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- How do you position your site with regard to other similar startups, such as exp.com, inforocket.com, and tutor.com?

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: EXP.com is probably the most similar, but focuses much more on for-pay, expensive advice--they also have far fewer experts than we do at this point (probably related points). InfoRocket has not launched yet, so I'm not too familiar with them, but they appear to be doing reverse auctions on advice. I don't know much about tutor.com--is that focused on students?

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- for now, tutor.com is for hooking students up with real-world tutors (someone in your zip code who you can interact with face-to-face in a traditional tutor relationship). But their model could easily to expanded to online tutoring and maybe even mentoring, moving more in your direction. 


What's hot?

JimPellrin -- Do you have activity statistics for ExpertCentral? Which expertise is most requested? Which experts are hot?

Greg Schmergel -- Jim: The hottest experts are the three you see on the home page. We will actually start rotating them so they don't get overwhelmed. We have dozens more waiting to be spotlighted. So far the traffic is pretty even across the categories, although the most requested are the ones you might expect, like business, arts & entertainment, sports & fitness...... 


Searchable content? (avoiding repetition)

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- Is there an easy way to search through previous questions and answers to see if someone already provided the answer I need?

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- A corollary to that last question -- clearly you capture and store the questions, but do you capture answers as well? Don't those get delivered directly from the answerer to the questioner by email? Or how does that work?

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Richard - storing the question and who provided the answer would be more feasible. I assume they wouldn't want to give it away. I would think my answers are copyrighted and therefor I shouold get compensated for each time it is used.

Richard Seltzer -- Bob - I was thinking about the free answers that people provide. The ones that are paid for should remain private.

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: Both question and answer are captured and stored. If it is a free and public question, it is then searchable by keyword through our Knowledge Base. So if the question has been asked and answered previously, you can see it immediately and we will actually show it to you whenever you do a keyword search. There is no direct delivery by email--only alerts by email. We manage the message traffic, which allows us to manage the ratings system and the transaction processing too.

Greg Schmergel -- Bob and Richard: Please note I said only free public questions are viewable--if you answer something for pay or privately, only the questioner and you can see it. That way your intellectual property is protected (and yes, you own the copyright).

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- So the answers are all delivered by way of your site? how do you make that happen? It would seem that as soon as people exchange email addresses the discussion moves to email. Is that a problem?

Greg Schmergel-- People can exchange emails if they like, but then the expert loses the ability to charge the user's credit card, to have their answers stored in the knowledge base (if they so choose), to have their answers rated (thus building their reputation), to protect their privacy, and many other benefits. So yes, it's possible to leave the site and just go through email, but we want it to be much more fun and efficient to go through the site. Email addresses are not viewable, by the way, although they can be exchanged within messages. 


Opentutor.com?

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- thinking along those line of online tutoring (a more formal variant of what you are doing now, and a natural area into which you could expand), I have reserved the domain name opentutor.com Interested? :-)

Greg Schmergel -- ard: how about tutorcentral.com? 

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- is there a tutorcentral? I don't know about that one.

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: I was kidding about tutorcentral.com, I don't know if it exists.


Wrapup

Richard Seltzer -- All -- time is passing far too quickly. I want to continue our discussion about getting paid for content/advice on the Web next week. I hope that you all will be able to join us again. And I will invite one or more additional company to join us to tell about another unique approach (I'm thinking of ISyndicate and Leanlots. Please let me know your suggestions).

Richard Seltzer -- All-- before you sign off, please post here your email address and URL so we can keep in touch. (Don't presume that the software captured that.)

Richard Seltzer -- All -- as usual, I'll edit and post the transcript from today. Please check www.samizdat.com/chat.html.

Richard Seltzer -- All -- thanks very much for joining us today. And special thanks to the folks at ExpertCentral. Any chance that you would be able to come back again next week?

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: Sure, we would love to visit again next week and keep chatting.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Greg - I am hosting a live chat about DE (Distance Education) which has a good sample of academic and comercial participants. You are welcome to join us tonight from 8pm-9pm EDT at http://www.cottagemicro.com/education This chat is also hosted by Web-Net.

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: OK, I'm signing off (greg@ExpertCentral.com from www.ExpertCentral.com).

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- thanks again. I'm going to have to head back to ExpertCentral, answer some questions and try to build up some feedback. (Maybe I can beat Ron to 100 here. He has me totally beat at eBay :-)

JimPellrin -- Richard: Good session. Thought provoking and informative.
Jim Pellerin, pellerin@pellerin.net, www.pellerin.net

Richard Seltzer -- Signing off. Thanks again to all. 


Previous transcripts and schedule of upcoming chats -- www.samizdat.com/chat.html

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