Everything Old Is New Again... Including Some Of The Exact Same Startups

from the bubble-redux dept

For the past two years, we've noticed an ongoing trend of new dot coms basically being the same old bubble-era dot com ideas put forth a second time, perhaps with a bit of Ajax, rounded corners and neon design. What's really odd, though, is that almost no one is willing to admit this. They insist that their new ideas are new. It's true that there could certainly be the germ of good ideas in failed bad ideas, but it should involve a little more convincing. At least one VC is specifically digging through old business plans to see if there were ideas that were destroyed by the timing and the climate more than the fundamental reasoning -- though he seems to be one of the rare ones to admit that he's actually doing this.

Today we have what appears to be a first -- which is a company presenting itself as being "new" with a "new" idea, where it looks like both the company and the idea are actually somewhat old. The company, Ether.com, announced its product today to great fanfare on various blogs. The idea is pretty straightforward. You can set up a price at which people can call you. So, if you're an expert in something, you could, conceivably let people call you to pick your brain for a set price for a set time period. Does this sound familiar? Well, it certainly sounds like a web-based version of 1-900 numbers. And, if that sounds familiar, you may recall that greatly overhyped Keen.com hit the scene in late 1999 offering what sounds to be... um... the exact same thing (with over $70 million in funding): anyone could set themselves up as an expert to be called for a fee. It didn't take long before Keen basically became an alternative to the 1-900 system, and rather than "experts" selling their time (as the company pitched when it launched) many of its customers were in the phone sex and psychic hotline business. Okay, so Ether.com is following the same original Keen business model... except the relationship is even closer than that. Ether is Keen. They're both a part of Ingenio, mostly known now for it's pay-per-call advertising service. Emails sent to Techdirt asking for a briefing even came from the keen.com domain. It's just that they've relaunched the old business model with a few minor tweaks, a new brand, and a story for bloggers. It sounds nice to bloggers, too, because who wouldn't want someone to pay them $50 to speak to them on the phone? The problem, though, is actually finding anyone willing to pay out that kind of money to talk to you -- which is why the original Keen plan switched to sex and psychics. So, is there anything actually different this time around that will make the old Keen business model work? And, we go back to our advice from Demo: Don't pretend what isn't new, is new. At least admit the background, especially if it's the same company, and clarify what's different this time around.

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  • identicon
    ChampionSlacker, 1 Mar 2006 @ 2:11pm

    Don't forget exp.com

    Keen became a sex service, but don't forget that other companies through themselves at the call-bridging-for-experts mirage, including exp.com, which burned at least $20 million and created a spectacular crater ...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    calin, 2 Mar 2006 @ 6:54am

    it's just an inter-departments bridge

    This whole ether thing is just a bridge between Google Answers and Google's pay to talk more

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Scott Faber, 2 Mar 2006 @ 6:57pm

    answers on the Ether blog

    Hi Mike,
    Your questions are answered on the Ether blog:

    […] Unlike our directories like Keen.com, Ether is a distributed model. It turns the directories model inside-out, giving tools to sellers to sell their time not at a centralized marketplace, but out in the world — at their blog, website, business card, radio show, etc. — wherever they have customer relationships. And we’ve built an entirely new feature set for sellers to sell whatever they have to say (though selling adult content is not permitted) within this new context.

    Simply, Ether is like PayPal for time, while our directories like Keen.com are more like Ebay. […]

    http://community.ether.com/blogs/ether_blog/default.aspx

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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