Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cha-Cha: The human search engine

The Open Source movement is all about harnessing the power of many, or crowdsourcing. A company called ChaCha is crowdsourcing in a way I never would have thought of: a human-powered search engine.

Just call them up from a mobile phone, or text ChaCha (242242) with your question, and they'll get back to you with an answer within three minutes. The answers are found by human "Guides" who must pass a series of tests, attend ChaCha's "Search University," and go through search simulations before they can begin work as guides. Even then, the guides only get between three and eight dollars per hour.

I'm not clear on what their business model is, and it certainly isn't on their website (although one blogger suggests they plan to profit somehow from advertising). I was going to text 242242 and ask them how they make money, but alas - the service is only available in the United States, and I'm in Canada.

I'd be interested to see something like this that can handle longer form queries and more importantly, answers. There are free services out there like Google Answers, but for whatever reason I haven't been impressed by the quality of answers people get on there. And that's interesting, considering the success of Wikipedia. What makes these two efforts at crowdsourcing different? (Obviously ChaCha is a different animal because the guides are trained and paid, albeit a pittance)

(Via Josh at the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship)

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