Lee Odden reported at Online Marketing Blog today that "Assisted-Search" provider ChaCha was funded with $6 Million in private funding organized by Bezos Expeditions in 2006. This story was also covered by Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land.
ChaCha has been the subject of an ongoing spirited discussion at the Search Engine Watch Forums. This has raised some interesting questions about the differences in search sophistication levels, and the availability of useful systems that can provide novice searchers with real-time human assistance not driven by marketing dollars and possible spyware incentives.
When ChaCha was first introduced to the forum, the initial response from Moderator David Wallace was something the majority of experienced searchers probably first felt when they learned of the system:
why would someone want to wait while someone else searches for them when search engines can deliver results in nano seconds?
In fact, I also made a comment suggesting that maybe the product would be good for an older demographic, and that I would probably never use it. The idea that search engines could be better if someone was there to help find the answers may seem foreign to many that read online publications such as this one and the two mentioned in the introduction. We are all well beyond needing help searching, right?
Others have spoken of the disparity between expert and casual searchers. It exists within users of advanced Business Intelligence systems, as Google's BI expert Matt Glotzbach points out:
BI systems contain much valuable information about a company's process, workflow, etc., but that information is untapped by the average employee. If you look at the traditional BI implementation, a very small number of users actually access the BI system and use its data, so the question becomes how to make this extremely valuable information accessible to the broader user base.(Source: Software Magazine )
Does this translate to Internet search? Many would think so. Perhaps familiarizing oneself with searching by using human help could lead to future ability to dig deeper and find the information that is behind the long tail keyword varieties that many advanced searchers perform within the first or second query.
Back to the SEW Forums thread, one of the next entrants into the discussion was a (somewhat self-painted) naÃ¯ve evangelist who had recently begun performing the duties of being a guide for ChaCha, who claimed to get nervous while awaiting queries from unknown users of the system. This person provided a good glimpse at the supposed average profile of a ChaCha guide: someone who is interested in a topic and has gained some experience using the system in order to be able to help searchers find results for particular topics. It is a community in a way similar to DMOZ editorship, based on category familiarization, it would seem.
The rest of the thread is worth a read (although a warning that it is long and sometimes argumentative), as it delves into the overall usefulness of the search results provided by the guides. It also possibly helped to shape some of the ways that ChaCha could present itself in future forums, since the discussion got a little heated thanks to consistent pushing by one member in regards to its usefulness.
One thing that should probably worry ChaCha a little, however, is page 8 of the thread , which has been revived; partially it seems due to new affiliate arrangements for guides enticing them to receive compensation for Toolbar downloads. Understandably, this is a way to further monetize the system and help support it, but one Moderator makes some serious claims about the system's download and possible attachments.
Hopefully ChaCha will stay committed to providing a useful and safe community for inexperienced searchers to learn how to make queries. Additionally, it would be nice if they disclosed clearly that some/many of the results presented are sponsored. Lastly, please get rid of any potentially malicious spyware in the download packet if that allegation is true!
(added 1/9: ChaChaInsider at SEW Forums denies that any sort of Spy/Malware is attached to the toolbar download - great news.)
Hopefully anyone wishing to comment on this will do so in the referenced forum discussion.
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