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Can Bitwine succeed where Google Answers failed?

Paid advice service showcased at NY Tech Meetup.

At last night's NY Tech Meetup, one of the New York Web start-ups showcased was BitWine, a networking service based on providing paid advice; or, as exec Alon Cohen put it, "a market for knowledge." A Web user may come to BitWine looking for advice that ranges from how to train for a marathon to how to pitch a new company to investors; experts in all subjects may come to BitWine to find a way to cash in on their esoteric and not-so-esoteric knowledge. The site was established about a year ago and launched in full about eight weeks back. According to Cohen, it has over 10,000 users already.

You're probably thinking that this is awfully similar to Google Answers, another paid-answer service and one of Google's few failures: it shut down at the end of 2006. But BitWine insists it's different because of its multimedia business model, which includes video chat through a deal with Skype as well as a downloadable toolbar designed to make BitWine's services easily accessible at all times. The truth is, in my opinion, that any "paid advice" site is going to experience difficulty because the Web is so rife with free knowledge that's just a Google search away, in addition to free advice sites like Yahoo Answers. But if BitWine manages to build up a base of legitimately reputable experts, it could experience some impressive growth.

On the flip side, if BitWine does get big, it'll have some tougher problems to face. As one audience member put it at the NY Tech Meetup, "How long do you think before this starts getting used for porn?" After all, BitWine is heavily connected with video chat. Cohen seemed to indicate that this has not yet been a problem, and that members engaging in pornographic activity will have their accounts banned, but at the same time, this will potentially be a much harder issue to tackle.