Advice Resides in Expertcity

SAN FRANCISCO (08/29/2000) - Your computer is acting up. Who are you going to call? If you don't want to sit on hold forever, the Web offers an around-the-clock option at Expertcity.com.

Launched in December 1999, Expertcity Inc. offers help with a wide range of technical problems through its Web site. You can go to the site, describe your problem, and within two minutes, you'll get bids from several experts who will help (for a fee). Fees are set by the experts, who are screened and trained to be able to help you quickly.

Expertcity upgraded to version 2.0 this week. It now offers options for how you connect with an expert, and also supports all operating systems. Expertcity also now licenses its technology, so other companies can build their technical support solutions using Expertcity's system of "virtual house calls."

To use the service, you must register with your name and e-mail address. Your first use is free, but after that you have to pay with a credit card.

You describe your problem in a text box on the main page and wait for bids. Experts name the price of their service, and you can select. The experts are located around the world in many different time zones to provide 24/7 support, says Omid Rahmat, the vice president of corporate planning for Expertcity.

Many Choices for Solutions

When I tested the service on a Monday morning, I found 48 experts waiting for work. I also tested it late on a Friday night and found, surprisingly, the number of available experts hadn't dropped much--32 were available. I posed a question to the available experts and waited. Within 45 seconds I had four bids, ranging from $5 to $10. Prices average from $8 to $12, according to Rahmat. And if you aren't satisfied with the results, you can negotiate not to pay.

Customers rate the experts, so I could see how many cases they worked on, read their resumes, and sometimes even see snapshots of their helpful faces.

I was instantly connected with my expert via ChatLink, an instant messaging client that pops right up on the screen. He offered some hints and suggested some Web sites to visit. The expert has the capability to push Web pages to your computer. If that's enough to solve your problem, you are done. If your problem is more complex, you can grant the expert remote access to your PC, or talk by phone.

I gave my expert access to my PC. I had to download a small .exe file (it took less than a minute over a 56-kilobits-per-second connection), and then watched him work. He moved the mouse, entered URLs, and pointed out items on pages. It was quick and easy, and my problem was solved.

All in all, the experience was positive, but I found myself a little worried about granting access to my desktop. Expertcity warns you to close anything that contains confidential information, but it's still unnerving to let a stranger in.

That very option to decline access is also a change for Expertcity; in the earlier version, you didn't have it. Instead, you selected your expert and immediately proceeded to the desktop sharing feature.

The service is an easy way to find quick solutions to minor problems. But if your Internet access isn't working, you're out of luck.

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