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The Past Ten Years: Empowered Individuals
A decade ago something amazing happened: ordinary people were handed tools that allowed them to "bypass the middleman" and go into business for themselves online. Ten years and one e-commerce revolution later, more than a half-million people now make their living by selling "things" on the web – everything from baseball cards to diamond rings to that rusty trumpet in the attic. For the first time in human history, a carpet weaver in Honduras can now sell her wares directly to a home-owner in New Hampshire.

So why can't a business accountant in New Hampshire sell his knowledge directly to that newly prosperous Honduran carpet weaver? What about the things we have to say; the wisdom, advice, and insights all of us have accumulated over a lifetime? The surge of blogging over the past few years – over 50 million blogs, a new one created every second – has revealed a vast pool of expression and knowledge that for the most part has yet to find a proper commercial outlet. The sale of insights and expertise – the service economy – is actually bigger than the physical-goods market. So why haven't we yet seen it blossom online?

The answer is that the tools to sell services online are more complex than the tools to sell things. To deliver computer help, tax advice, diet tips or wine recommendations, you have to talk with your customers, which still isn't so easy over the Web. You could put your phone number online, but then you'd get calls at all hours from all kinds of people, some with no intention of paying you, and you'd lack the ability to easily collect payment even from real customers. Ideally there'd be a way to only receive calls from paying customers during the hours you choose, with a billing system that automatically collects payment for the time you spend talking.

Enter Ether
Ether is the key to the next step in online commerce. Using a seamless combination of the web and the telephone, we enable anyone with something valuable to say to sell their services online. Most importantly, Ether provides a phone number with a rate you can set for people to pay to talk to you. Your phone only rings when you're earning money, and only during the hours you choose. Ether also provides all the online tools you need to sell your digital content – written documents, photographs, tax returns, videos, podcasts. Anyone can now sell what they have to say – on their website, blog, business card, radio show, or wherever customers for their services may be found.
The Next Ten Years: Alive and Aloud
What will the online services economy look like? If the past is any guide, people will use our tools to sell pretty much everything. Geeks will sell computer help from their dorm rooms for $20 per phone call. Specialty bloggers will sell in-depth reports for $50 per document. Nutritionists will counsel distant clients for $80 per 50-minute phone session. The web will come alive and aloud, with anyone who has something valuable to say able to sell it to the person in the world who most needs it right now.

And since, unlike physical goods, services can be transmitted digitally, knowledge can and will be bought and sold by buyers and sellers on opposite sides of the world. A Manhattan therapist working in the morning will counsel an Australian housewife who's having an anxiety attack in the middle of the night. A Bangladeshi math major will tutor a London schoolchild. And yes, that New Hampshire accountant will help balance the books of that newly prosperous Honduran carpet-weaver – though they might need to conference in a Spanish-English translator for 25 cents per minute.

And Ether's current offerings are just the first step – the tools we offer to sell what you say will only get better. Soon you'll have video tools to offer face-to-face conversations. You'll even be able to service many people at a time. A motivational speaker could offer a lecture to 100 people at once. A tour guide in China could take Chicago schoolkids on a video tour of the Great Wall, and they could direct him where to walk: "Look up to the left and zoom in on that tower." Who wants to give a one-minute pep talk to that Red Sox pitcher between the eighth and ninth innings? Announce it before the commercial break and hold an instant online charity auction to determine which superfan's phone will ring.

It's About Time
In this emerging world of online services, the key drivers become intellectual capital – what you have to say – and time. At the end of the day, time seems to be the most valuable "thing" of them all. Finally there's a way to value it – literally. You can sell it when you want and any which way you want: one-to-one, one-to-many, one-to-the-highest-bidder, even in recorded form. Where you're from or who you know won't matter – just what you know. A master carpenter retired in Florida will be able to monetize decades of wisdom by offering house-building advice whenever the phone rings – and do so from his fishing boat in Key Biscayne. You can be a parent at home with three kids and still offer what you have to say. And it'll be judged not by your boss but by your customers, because you'll be, after all, your own boss.

So what do you say? Offer it out into the ether.

Scott Faber
Creator, Ether

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