Do the cha-cha

By Jessica Chesko
March 15, 2007

The recent release of a new search engine has got anyone who has tried it doing the ChaCha. Aimed at outdoing Google, ChaCha uses live human guides to perform the search.

ChaCha is a free advertising-supported service launched last year. It was created by former Massachusetts Institute of Technology Artificial Intelligence Lab research scientist Scott Jones and software entrepreneur Brad Bostic, who were not at all satisfied with some of the irrelevant search results provided by other search engines. They believed that a better experience could be created by tapping into human intelligence, according to ChaCha’s web site.

ChaCha employs over 29,000 human guides, paying them $5 to $10 per hour. According to Technology Review, the company is recruiting guides at a rate of 10,000 per month. The guides work with the users in live chat sessions similar to America Online’s Instant Messenger.

“I love it,” said ChaCha guide Paulette. “I heard about it on Good Morning America. It was something different.”

After the user enters a query, they are connected to a guide who specializes in that area. The guide will then either get straight to work finding the best results or they will chat with the user in order to help narrow down their search. As the guide locates matches to the query, the links appear on the users screen. The user can then rate the guide’s performance.

So why call it ChaCha? According to the site, “Cha” means “search” in Chinese. It was also named for the fast paced dance of the same name.

“I checked out the site, and I found it to be very useful,” said freshman secondary education and mathematics major Ileen Marshak. “It seems to be dependable in the results that pop up. I would definitely continue to use this as a search engine.”

However, ChaCha is not without its faults. There are still some mechanical type errors in that sometimes there are problems when trying to connect to a guide or the connection is lost during a conversation.

“I don’t really want to talk on the guide thingy. I don’t know the person on the other end; it’s kinda creepy,” said sophomore graphic design major Christina Mastro.

Whether or not ChaCha will ever outdo Google is still unknown, but it is certainly a unique new search engine.

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Jessica Chesko

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