With Mahalo Answers, the latest Web project from Brooklyn-born blog blowhard Jason Calacanis, you can pay people to Google for you with fictional bucks. Genius!
I've been wondering when this generation of Web companies would come up with an answer to Flooz and Beenz, the made-up Internet currencies of the dotcom bubble. How foolish of me not to realize that Calacanis, who has recycled so many other ideas (Web directories, wikis, crowdsourcing) in his failed quest to create a successful Web business, would be the one to revive this failed idea.
If you don't recall Flooz and Beenz, they were made-up currencies that websites could use to reward users, who would then spend them on real online purchases. Both went under in 2001, leaving their means of exchange worthless.
Mahalo Dollars have a more limited purpose: People with questions they're too lazy to Google can buy Calacanis's fake money with real coin, and then pay freelance Internet researchers to answer their questions.
The pay-to-search business is a lousy one. Google, which tried a similar scheme with real money, gave up on it last year. ChaCha, a Midwestern startup pursuing a similar idea, has had no apparent success.
I'm sure Calacanis will make some money in the short term by skimming currency-exchange fees from the suckers he gets to sign up. Eventually, the currency will collapse faster than the Indonesian rupiah did in the '90s. But by that time, he'll be on to some other scheme.