ChaCha, a human-powered search engine, launches
ChaCha, a new Web search engine, launched today, and thanks to an aggressive PR campaign, the "alpha" site has been unavailable this morning, overwhelmed by more traffic than its servers could handle.
If it weren't for the impressive resume of site founder Scott Jones, the search engine's rocky start and counterintuitive premise might have proven fatal.
Jones, a serial entrepreneur now working out of Indiana University, was one of the key early players in consumer voicemail, and then went on to launch CDDB, the database behind the massively popular Gracenote service which fills in track names on iTunes and other online music services.
Jones' new vision may yet prove just crazy enough to work. The idea is to build a network of paid search guides who can help users -- in real time -- get results on complex queries. USA Today's Kevin Maney describes it as "combining Google with Wikipedia and a little Amway thrown in."
At the heart of the ChaCha vision are two surprising statistics: First, only 30% of web searches are "complex" -- the rest are mostly "search as navigation," as Jones puts it. Of the 30% of "real" searches, Jones says "half of the people don't get the result they're looking for." It seems that even after all this time, Google, Yahoo et. al. still have difficulty delivering the goods.
The ChaCha model puts a cadre of live guides in front of the standard search engines. Looking for information on an obscure disease, you can chat in real time with a ChaCha guide who is meant to pass along several promising search results. At heart, the model turns on the creation of a network of experts, each working by the hour, on their own schedule. Jones' incarnation of the long tail involves college students and stay-at-home moms, all working for $5 to $10 an hour, and working their way up from "apprentice" to "master." ChaCha has launched with nearly 3,000 guides, but Jones says he estimates the network could grow to 500,000 guides when the service is fully mature.
The blogosphere's response is understandably guarded. Says Mashable: "These social systems are extremely complicated to administer -- even with a hierarchical system in place, it'll be hard to guarantee quality in the results." Can't argue with that -- especially when the ChaCha homepage reads "We're looking forward to helping with your search, but ask that you check back soon."
CNNMoney.com Comment Policy: CNNMoney.com encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. Please note that CNNMoney.com makes reasonable efforts to review all comments prior to posting and CNNMoney.com may edit comments for clarity or to keep out questionable or off-topic material. All comments should be relevant to the post and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNNMoney.com the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying information via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNNMoney.com Privacy Statement.