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Net firm to connect users by phone

A new Net start-up, Keen.com, is jumping on the trend of offering expert advice--but it says it will connect information seekers with experts over the phone.

Karl Jacob, who launched one of the first Java start-ups and sold it to Microsoft, today launched a new Net venture, Keen.com.

As previously reported by CNET News.com, the start-up will focus on a trend among e-commerce firms: providing expert advice and services through the Internet. The difference between Keen.com and other expert-advice sites--such as Xpertsite.com and Exp.com--is that the information is delivered over the phone.

Keen.com will offer what it calls the Live Answer Community, in which people can find others with similar interests or information to share about a given topic, and the company sets up a phone call between the parties. Keen.com calls both participants, so neither has to reveal his or her identity or phone number, the company said.

"The phone is the natural way for consumers to communicate and is much more personal and effective than any of the current means of communicating on the Internet," Jacob, chief executive of Keen.com, said in an email interview.

Jacob previously spent two years as a top executive at Microsoft after the software giant bought his company, Dimension X. Among the first Java start-ups, Dimension X was a software and professional services firm. In July he became an entrepreneur-in-residence at venture firm Benchmark Capital, which is funding Keen.com. Benchmark's other ventures include eBay, E-Loan, Red Hat Software, Webvan, and PlanetRx.

"Anyone can come to the site and find people who share their interests or make money by listing themselves in areas where they know more than others," Jacob added. "This could be as simple as a person who lives in New York and can talk with you about the top places to go to on a Friday night or having an in-depth conversation with a physician about why you are feeling ill at 4 a.m. in the morning."

During the conversations in which one participant is charging the other for the information being imparted, Keen.com will collect a percentage of that per-minute fee, Jacob said.

The company also will offer user-generated ratings of other members to better ensure the quality of the information, the company said. A member wanting information about a topic from another member will be able to see if others have dealt with that member and how they rated the experience.

Keen.com--as in sharp-witted or mentally acute--is based on an idea from a New York-based entrepreneur named Scott Faber. Under Faber, another name had been considered as well: Ether.com.