On Sale Now: Advice

Most of us are familiar with affiliate programs:

Webmasters provide links to e-commerce sites, and every time someone buys something due to that link, the Webmaster gets a (usually tiny) cut of the profits. Fortune's William Gurley is enamored of this scheme and its latest incarnation, which requires more effort on the user's part and probably pays no better.

"Next year, consumers will start to see the Internet in a brave new light - not as a place to browse or shop but as a place to make money," wrote Gurley. Next year? Affiliate programs have been around since 1996. But when Gurley said, "This could be the most powerful Net wave to date," he wasn't really talking about affiliate programs that pay pocket change for your links or about companies like AllAdvantage that pay you to watch online ads.

Gurley implied the next big e-commerce products would be information and opinions. Keen.com users get paid by the minute for giving advice over the phone, and a glance at its Web site indicates that it also pays $5 for each person you refer to the site. The Web site also reveals its princely per-minute phone fee: usually around 5 cents. The consumer feedback site Epinions pays its amateur pundits when others read their reviews, says Gurley. The Epinions Web site explains its affiliate program for links, but not a compensation scheme for reviewers. In September, News.com featured Epinions in an article about Internet companies who rely on volunteers to create content. Has Epinions changed its compensation model since September, or did Gurley get it wrong?

News.com also covered Keen.com's November launch, zeroing in on the gee-whiz factor of the live phone calls and the potential usefulness of the service - not the cash factor.

Gurley may be "convinced by the self-reinforcing nature of these economically driven communities," but would he or any of his coworkers at Fortune give advice for 5 cents a minute? Perhaps Keen.com has a psychologist in its ranks who can explain the appeal of shilling for corporations at a fraction of minimum wage.

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