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Website offers IT pros peer advice -- no vendors allowed

Wisegate tries to blend the firsthand knowledge of goods and services that Yelp.com provides with the personal vetting that goes on at Match.com and aims it all at IT executives looking for a little help as they plan projects and make purchasing decisions.

That's what Sara Gates had in mind when she thought up the idea in the summer of 2010 for a site where members could find peers in experience, expertise and responsibility, find them quickly and get advice they could believe because the other members have been screened. No vendors would be allowed so the hype noise would be tuned way down.

And that's pretty much what the site offers now that it's in public beta with members numbering in the hundreds, she says. "The focus is on quality not quantity," Gates says. "We don't ever want millions of member subscriptions."

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The upside is that members can get practical advice on specific projects that save time and helps avoid mistakes. For instance, Kristin Knight, privacy director for Phillips Electronics North America, says big-picture advice she got on data loss prevention gear helped her step back to shape a DLP program.

She was asking about technology, but got broader, more important advice. "Hold on a second," she says Wisegate members told her. "You'll be inundated with big problems. Do you have the resource to handle it? That was a great heads-up."

So far, Wisegate has handpicked members through invitation, but members can recommend colleagues and individuals can request an invitation. In both cases, Wisegate staff verifies applicants' qualifications, Gates says. The process takes about two business days. Membership costs $1,000 per year.

Unlike general social networks, introductions to others are not required. Membership gives access to all other members' full profiles and their email addresses.

The site allows members to dive right in with detailed questions about projects and products without having to approach individuals they might already know, streamlining the process by hitting a group of peers all at once.

The site can, for example, forward queries to members who fit the right area of interest, company type and size, and experience. Similarly, members receive requests for help from other members based on their own expertise areas of interest.

Members can request reviews of specific products which include what's good about them, problems encountered and lessons learned. Some of the input is gathered via interviews conducted by Wisegate staff and then posted on the site as podcasts. Members can also contact each other directly.

The site supports polls, so a member seeking peers' opinions on technical subjects and as the membership at large quickly.

Wisegate's site features micro communities based on subject matter including information security, identity management, network and data security, mobility and mobile security. Most of the communities have 25 to 50 members.

Gates says she thought of the idea for the site when she was working at Sun as vice president of identity management products. Customers would as to be connected to other customers they could quiz about products. And she realized that much of what it took to lead a product category was marketing hype and recommendations of analysts.

"I started to see that perception is reality," she says. "What was needed was less varnish."

The company is venture funded with $1.5 million led by Trellis Partners of Austin, Texas.

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