Online makes some things so easy - especially if they're easily categorised, or virtual. But has completely failed to make any head way with anything that exists in the real world - anything human.
If you want to buy a new camera, online is awesome. There are a clearly defined list of cameras that you can buy, and you can research them to your heart's content - checking different specifications, browsing Flickr for sample images, comparing pricing. And then, when you're happy, you press buy and it comes to you - either to your desk or to your door.
If you want to buy an online service - such as cloud storage - then online is the only way to go, and you don't even need to worry about delivery. It's just instantly provisioned and just works.
But anything that needs a human touch - maybe finding a builder, hiring a new person, renting an office, or sourcing a designer - is still an unsolved problem. The online services that address - unless they're very niche and very focussed - usually don't work. And it remains something that is a pain to initiate, whether you've got something to buy or something to sell.
We want to give someone money! We just don't know who to. Why should it be this difficult?
Don't get me wrong - it's not an online problem. It's hard in the real world too. But it's a problem that we haven't yet solved, but that should be solvable with technology. Just because these problems don't fit into a defined category surely doesn't mean that we should accept it being difficult. Humanity has solved some of the most difficult problems in the world, and most modern developed economies are service economies, but we've yet to solve the issue of buying and selling services.
Any yes - I know it's not a glamorous issue to resolve. It's not curing AIDS or cancer, and it's not flying to Mars. But surely the less time you spend renting a photocopier, the more time you can spend on your projects that really matter.
So I was quite excited to hear about a new startup that's under development called eTender, and which aims to solve these problems. The startup is still in stealth mode - and there's not much I can say about how it works or what it's going to do yet - but I was lucky enough to meet up with the founder of the company, and it's safe to say that they've got some pretty cool ideas about making these problems go away. Or at least a lot easier.
So watch this space - maybe buying services won't be so much harder after all.