Out in the Ether?

Rob Hof

First flagged by TechCrunch, Ether has just launched as a sort of eBay for services. You can sign up, get an Internet phone number, and start offering your expertise over the Net.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Keen.com, the precursor to Ingenio, which is the company launching Ether, tried the same basic idea in the late 1990s--and it devolved into an Internet psychic line. After that, the company morphed into Ingenio, which offers pay-per-call services. Except at Keen, you can click a link for "professional services" and get what looks like yet another service that looks similar to Ether, provided by ... Ingenio. Yikes. Are you confused too?

Although I can see the potential value in an easy way for people to offer (and find) expertise with a simple phone call, I'm not sure that somewhat slicker technology will overcome the basic obstacles: Why would I want to pay in advance to talk to someone or get content from them if I don't know who they are? And under what circumstances will I want this over the phone?

Apologies to Ingenio/Ether if I'm missing something before having talked to them about it. Mitch Ratcliffe offers some interesting possibilities for it, and so do Robert Scoble and Pete Cashmore. Ether's blog also explains that Ether is much more distributed than Ingenio's related services, potentially contained right inside blogs and other Web sites. Maybe that's the key to the reputation problem. But I don't know if this will end up being the killer Web app for services that has so far eluded so many.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.