Ingenio has unveiled "Ether," a new distributed pay-per-call service that allows companies and individual service providers to accept paid customer calls through their own web sites. The idea is to leverage the service providers' existing relationship with users, be they blog readers, information/expertise seekers, consulting clients, astrology addicts, etc.
One of the reasons Ingenio's existing service-provider directory (keen.com) has not become a smash hit is that it forces users to go to the Ingenio (or keen) site and find the service provider. As a quick scan through the listings reveals, many of the keen.com service providers appear to care so little about professionalism, accuracy, etc., that they can't even be bothered to spell correctly. (Which does not fill one with the confidence necessary to pony up $2 a minute.) Also, unlike most eBay sellers, the service providers are selling themselves, not branded products that can be bought anywhere, and potential customers are therefore often taking a greater leap of faith than eBay buyers. Even so, the former keen.com is doing well--profitable and generating approx. $100mm of revenue a year.
The new service, Ether, seems flexible and easy-to-use, and it should give a certain type of service provider a new way to monetize their expertise. The service provider can control pricing, scheduling, hours, time-of-call, etc., and Ether handles the entire back end. The service also does not require the service provider to publish a phone number, which should reduce the anxiety about 2am calls.
Ether will manage everything and take a 15% cut of the per-call take.