At a conference today about South Korean tech companies, I got a demo of TalkBean, a marketplace that connects people who want to learn English with those who can teach it.
I'll get the snarky bit out of the way up front: The site needs to take its own lessons. Marketing slogans like, "TalkBean will do our best to provide you with diverse culture and profitable experiences," and error messages such as "You need to put number for this section," seem out of place on a site that's trying to help its customers play in the global job market for English speakers.
That said, the economics of such a matchmaking service are interesting. Eighty percent of all Koreans are "English Learners," the company says, while 6.8 million "Native English Speaker are unemployed in USA." Obviously only a small subset of those are qualified to teach English (I can see an amusing Saturday Night Live sketch emerging here), but why not hook up learners and teachers?
Working in TalkBean's favor is its technology. The site connects students to teachers via voice, video, and text chat, and there's a screen-sharing window for exercises (text or drawing) where tutors can mark up a student's work. There's a nice scheduling system. Also, TalkBean has an arrangement with Korea's government bank so learners can easily pay for their lessons online, even though the money is going to overseas contractors.
Working against TalkBean is a lack of guidance for teachers. There are no prebuilt lesson plans and there's no guidance for pricing. Tutors can charge between 5 cents and 10 dollars a minute (TalkBean collects a commission of 27 percent). What should you charge if you want to try this service out? Good question, although the pitch I heard said that some of the 500 teachers already online were making $300 a day when they worked, so do the math. Also, the beta site is painfully slow.
Skype, and other services such as Ether, also offer marketplaces for voice and video consulting. TalkBean's focus is good, though. While the site needs to mature quite a bit, it looks like a marketplace with a strong base of both buyers and sellers.