Starting this week, business portals have a new tool to offer their users. FIND/SVP, Inc., the global business advisory and research firm, has launched its new Ask the Experts service. FIND/SVP is part of the SVP Network, which serves 75,000 executives worldwide and answers 5,000 questions a day.
Business-to-business portals, electronic auctions, community marketplaces, and other business sites may offer the Ask the Experts service on a private label or on a partnership basis. The host provider can even choose to give the service a customized look and feel to appeal to its clients. The provider sites' end-users can then subscribe to the service for an annual fee of $150 to $250, which enables them to ask up to 10 questions per month.
Both the site provider and FIND/SVP stand to benefit in this scenario because the host site pays FIND/SVP, yet retains a percentage of the revenue itself. FIND/SVP also furnishes reports to the provider on the types of questions that subscribers ask and, by extrapolation, what interests subscribers. According to Andy Garvin, FIND/SVP's president, the site provider can make money beginning with the first subscriber because no initial investment is required.
There's a proliferation of "ask an expert" Web sites (see http://directory.google.com/Top/Reference/Ask_An_Expert). Some of them are free (e.g., The New York Times' Abuzz at http://www.abuzz.com and Ask Jeeves' AnswerPoint at http://answerpoint.ask.com), some of them are fee-based (e.g., InfoRocket at http://www.inforocket.com and Keen at http://www.keen.com), and some already offer expert services for business (e.g., AskMe.com at http://www.askme.com). Although exp.com's EXP Systems product is similar to Ask the Experts, FIND/SVP maintains that its longevity and staff of global experts distinguish it from the competition.
Sources at FIND/SVP said that while many dot-coms have come and gone, the history of the company dates back to 1935 when Maurice de Turckheim founded SVP (S'il Vous Plaît) in Paris. In 1970, FIND/SVP's first corporate client, Lever Brothers, led to a U.S. office and, in 1986, the company moved to New York, where it remains with a total of 2,100 client firms.
FIND/SVP's experts are employees, not freelancers or volunteers. Garvin said: "People with business questions simply e-mail their questions via a Web form. That's it. There's no need for the person asking the question to choose from subject categories or lists of experts. Our system delivers the questions to one of the global SVP network's 1,100 professionals most versed in the subject. The response is e-mailed back."
Other FIND/SVP services, such as its Live AnswerDesk, focus on providing clients with lifestyle information, but the new Ask the Experts service is priced lower and will be business oriented. Typical questions might be: "What are recent technical advances in car door power locks?" or "What demographic trends affect the beverage industry?" Typical answers will run a few paragraphs long and include links to helpful Web sites.
Several corporate librarians declined to comment on whether they viewed this new service as an ally or rival. It's unlikely that public and academic librarians would feature this product since their clienteles have come to expect free service.