November 12, 2006

ChaCha !! Need some human being to assist you while searching ?

ChaCha, which describes itself as "the world's largest live search engine," is now available in beta form. The interesting feature is the defining one - ChaCha can supply "a human guide who assists you in real-time via an instant-message chat."

"Even expert searchers don't always have the answers," reasoned CEO Scott A. Jones. "ChaCha's search-with-a-guide process connects you to a live person who has knowledge about your particular topic and who knows the best resources on the web for that topic."

Search Engine Watch's Greg Sterling has reviewed the site in both its alpha and beta forms, and writes that "there have been some significant improvements." He provided a transcript of his experience with one guide, though, and it's not overly encouraging - Sterling's inquiry about non-toxic household cleaning products led to what he called a "philosophical argument."

The experience calls into question whether a "live search engine" is even a desirable thing. According to Jones, ChaCha users feel it is. "I would have thought 95% would search without the guide, but it's been more like 40% using the guides," he told Sterling.

The company's guides come from an interesting mix of backgrounds. "I thought our target market for guides was going to be college students, but the thing that took off was work-at-home moms," Jones continued.

Although the guides are paid (on the basis of user ratings), ChaCha is free. What's interesting is that a significant number of users seem to be looking for other search engines: Sterling reports that the most popular search on ChaCha is [] :-)