The Next Step: Personalized Internet Answers from a Human Expert

Apps that charge by the minute for one-on-one video calls with experts are set to change how we live.

Photo: iStock

What's the one thing missing from the internet as we move through the 2020s? Personalization. You have the accumulated wisdom of the last 10,000 years in a device that fits in the palm of your hand. That same device, of course, offers access to tutorials, online courses, and other web-based education programs… many of which are free. But personalized solutions are an untapped industry, and companies are racing to find ways to provide them. Some ideas for personalizing the web will be tech-based. AI tools will do things like make a workout playlist based on your recent moods or inform you that you're running out of milk while on the way home and passing the grocery store. Near-perfect language translation – in real-time – is not far from being a reality. But those examples don’t cover the kind of personalization we're talking about. What's missing from the internet is a human touch. Chatbots have gotten pretty good, and even when there is a real person behind the keyboard at a help center answering questions, there's still an element missing. You want to look someone you know is knowledgeable in the eye and ask them a question that is specific to your needs. You want to watch that informed person as they ponder your problem – perhaps ask you a few follow-up questions – before they look back at you and offer a selection of solutions.

More than a few companies have taken a stab at offering one-on-one online training or coaching, but the cost of such services has – until now – been out of the reach of the average person. A solution, however, has emerged in the form of what people are calling a learning app. This is an app that connects you to a multitude of experts – across more fields than you can imagine. The app uses an extremely ‘human’ touch; a one-on-one video call with an expert who will answer whatever question you might have. You pay by the minute… for as little as US$1 a minute. That's the kind of personalization we're talking about, and it’s going to change everything. Perhaps you’ve heard talk about ‘hard skills’ vs. ‘soft skills,’ the difference between a person with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering versus the person in HR who thinks on her feet and has a way with people. And interestingly – mostly thanks to technology – it looks like the people with soft skills are going to inherit the earth. But there are always going to be times when soft skills people need help from someone with hard skills.

Photo: ShutterStock

You might be a creative, critical thinker who is flexible and good at communicating with others… but sometimes, everyone needs an expert. This new concept of a learning app that lets you video chat one-on-one with an expert (and pay by the minute) could be revolutionary, as despite having all of the excellent ‘soft’ skill traits listed above, if you need some help with – for example – producing a video and are having a hard time with the software, it sure helps to have someone who knows the hard skill. Maybe your company is trying to work on affiliate marketing but you’re feeling flummoxed – with this ‘ask an expert’ concept, you don't need to go out and hire a new employee, you simply search the app for a person who can guide you through the process for as long or short as it takes. And this doesn't just apply to the office. Perhaps you’re looking for someone to teach you barre chords on the guitar. Sure, you can watch YouTube tutorials – but why not spend US$10 and soak up the one-on-one experience of a musician who's been playing for 25 years? Maybe you love refurbishing bikes from the 1960s, but one of them is giving you a problem. You could spend a couple of hours searching online… then spend another hour tinkering, or you could hop on the app and show the problem with your phone camera to an expert – a person who perhaps used to fix bikes back in the '60s themselves. Boom! Problem found and solution discovered.

If there is one thing the internet has done most successfully it's building bridges, metaphorically speaking of course. It was just 26 years ago when US President Bill Clinton, then running for reelection, uttered that line about “building a bridge to the 21st century” and pledging that one day “every 12-year-old kid would be able to get online.” When Clinton made those comments, few could have imagined where we would be today. You can find a bridge via the web to virtually anything. The “information superhighway” as some used to call it back in the day has definitely lived up to that name, but this final step of connecting a person with a specific issue to a person with specific knowledge is a new bridge that could lead to a radical change in how we get answers from the web.
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