AskMe.com Doles Out Advice Online

SAN FRANCISCO (04/07/2000) - I need some advice, but I don't know where to turn. My problems vary. First, I'm having some trouble with my apartment, and I need some help dealing with my landlord. I'm also looking for advice on becoming a faster runner. And I want to buy an old arcade video game, but I don't know where to find one or what I should expect to pay.

Where do I turn? To the Web, of course.

More specifically, to AskMe.com Inc., where you can find an expert in just about anything, ready and willing to answer your questions. An expert in "classic" video games gave me handy advice on finding an old game, and told me just how much my very own Ms. Pac Man machine might cost. I also found a lawyer willing to offer tips on dealing with stingy landlords, and a running coach with some pointers.

AskMe was launched last November as XpertSite.com. Recently, the site changed its name and focus to offer Web surfers helpful hints from real, live human beings. It offers experts in almost any topic you can imagine: AskMe's 44,000 advisors cover more than 2000 categories.

"Millions of people have millions of questions every day. And there are millions of people out there who have the answers. This is a way to bring them together," says Walter Conner, AskMe's vice president of marketing strategies.

Check 'em Out and Choose

To find an expert, you simply choose your topic from the site's home page menu and drill down through the subcategories. Once you reach your desired topic, you find a list of available experts. You can read their profiles and see how other customers rate them. You can even see their question-and-answer history.

AskMe.com does not screen its experts; anyone can sign up. Once you select your expert, you pose your question on an automated form. The experts' profiles tell you how long they take, on the average, to respond to inquiries.

My video game expert claimed an average response time of 15 hours, and in fact I got a concise, detailed response in 30 minutes. The running coach listed 9 hours, and I received his answer in 8 hours. The real estate expert listed 12 hours, but so far 48 hours have passed without a word.

The responses I got were better than what I'd hoped for. (The running coach even asked me to respond to him and let him know if his tips were working!) But I have given up hope on hearing back from the real estate guru.

AskMe.com sells itself on supplying you with the knowledge of people. While people may be the site's greatest asset, they can also be the site's biggest weaknesses. People are inconsistent; so are the results you get from AskMe.

AskMe acknowledges that this inconsistency is a downside to the site, but says the community must work to police itself. Conner says that it is impossible for the staff to individually check all of the experts who sign on. Users can read the profiles, examine the average response times, and use the rating system when choosing an expert. After that, you just have to hope you've chosen well.

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