Ingenio’s Ether Now Out of Beta
The ether “private beta” has been running for several months, but now comes the public beta. There’s no marketing or marketplace here; it’s essentially a distributed billing and calling infrastructure that allows experts and service providers (where advice is the primary product) to do “e-commerce.”
Think “life coaches,” attorneys, therapists, financial counselors and anybody else who might sell expertise in person or over the phone.
There might be some legal issues in some cases, where state-regulated professionals cross state lines in practicing (e.g., lawyers, therapists). There are also some potentially new consumer behaviors here that represent minor hurdles to adoption. Regardless, it’s pretty interesting and gives services a way (although earlier versions of this have existed in the past) to participate in e-commerce.
It’s also interesting as an alternative way to monetize blogs for those who have a following.
Greg Sterling is the founding principal of Sterling Market Intelligence, a consulting and research firm focused on online consumer and advertiser behavior and the relationship between the Internet and traditional media, with an emphasis on the local marketplace.
Press Release from Ingenio’s Ether:
Ingenio, Inc. today announced Ether(TM), a new voice-commerce application that enables the sale of services over the Internet. The announcement was made at the Supernova 2006 Conference, where Ether was selected from hundreds of companies to participate in the Connected Innovators program due to its extraordinary potential to create new markets and shape the connected future of distributed computing, communications, media and business.
By combining today’s most powerful communications tools — the Internet and the telephone — Ether empowers people to sell what they say. With Ether, anyone with something valuable to say can make money from live phone conversations with their customers. Traditional service providers like computer consultants, therapists, and accountants, as well as online personalities, such as bloggers and celebrities, can use Ether to monetize their web presence and engage audiences in a meaningful way.
“Tools like AdSense have sought to make it possible for people to monetize user-generated content based on clicks, but Ether helps people leverage content to monetize their time,” said Greg Sterling, founder, Sterling Market Intelligence. “It creates a range of interesting e-commerce opportunities for experts who sell advice rather than products.”
As a distributed technology, Ether facilitates connections where sellers have already established trust with their audience, such as blogs, websites or talk-radio shows. Sellers earn money while Ether takes care of the rest, managing the scheduling, communication, billing and payments between sellers and their customers.
“Ether’s combination of phone advice plus the ability to charge for digital content opens up all kinds of possibilities for web users,” said Michael Arrington, author of the TechCrunch blog. “By connecting people via calls or email and setting up a billing mechanism between the two parties, Ether’s functionality is bringing something entirely new to the table.”
How Ether Works
Sellers visit www.ether.com to get an Ether Phone Number (1-888-MY-ETHER with a unique extension, such as 1234). The seller sets a rate that a customer must first pay before the call is forwarded to the seller’s actual phone number, be it a cell, work, home, or SkypeIn number. Ether offers the only billing system that allows sellers the ability to charge for blocks of time spent on the phone — such as $75 per hour — as opposed to a per-minute pricing structure. The seller can also set a schedule of availability to ensure calls only come in during specified times.
Sellers are then free to embed their Ether Phone Numbers on their websites, blogs or business cards. The numbers can be broadcasted virtually anywhere — on radio or television shows, book jackets, or newspaper classifieds. If multiple buyers call a seller at the same time, the buyers are placed in a queue and will receive callbacks from the seller when it is their turn.
Ether Phone Numbers are free. Sellers only pay a 15 percent commission after transactions successfully occur. Ether’s commission covers all functionality, long-distance costs, and credit-card processing fees. There are no setup fees or monthly service charges.
Ether also includes “Pay-to-View” functionality, which enables people to sell and deliver digital content such as documents, photos, computer code, podcasts or video. “Pay-to-View” combines both payment and product delivery; buyers can read a description of the digital content for sale on a website, but only view it after paying the seller’s specified price.
“Whether it’s health advice, tax help, computer support, or wine recommendations, Ether makes it simple for people to get paid for the time they spend sharing their unique insights and expertise,” said Scott Faber, co-founder of Ingenio and General Manager of the Ether division. “The key ingredients of today’s economy are intellectual capital and time, and Ether provides a direct way to monetize them.”
Though they address different market needs, all Ingenio applications capitalize on the voice-based commerce (v-commerce) opportunity by turning a phone call into a revenue-generating event.
“In this day and age of Skype and Vonage, we’re seeing the price of a phone call — basic telephone connectivity — going to zero,” said Faber. “The next era in communications will be to add value to a phone conversation by transforming simple pipes into meaningful, targeted connections with actual monetary worth.”
Ingenio V-Commerce Applications include:
Ingenio Pay Per Call Advertising Network: Businesses seeking to acquire customer leads from the Web can tap into Ingenio’s industry-leading Pay Per Call Advertising Network to advertise online, and pay only for phone calls received.
Ingenio Live!Advice(TM) Directories: These Ingenio-powered e-commerce marketplaces enable individual sellers and businesses to earn revenue by selling expertise online via real-time phone conversations. With Live!Advice, Ingenio sources consumer traffic through its own online directories.
Ether(TM): The newest addition to the Ingenio family, Ether turns the Live!Advice model “inside out” by enabling individuals with their own online traffic to connect with their audiences by phone and sell what they say.
The Ingenio v-commerce platform is designed to work with traditional phone lines, but is also compatible with VOIP, thus enabling 100 percent of the market to use Ingenio’s voice commerce applications regardless of telecom infrastructure.