I have a tendency to bookmark articles in my Bloglines account that I want to check out at a later date, when I have a moment. As a result, I just discovered the ChaCha site, thanks to a post by Stephen Abrams.
ChaCha is a new search engine site. They have a traditional search engine which looks rather like Ask.com in its interface. The thing that makes ChaCha a bit different is that they have guides you can ask to search for you.
I wondered how many librarians they have as guides. I did an unguided search (librarians as guides) and came up with a four pages of results, the first three entries of which were three bloggers who reported on this a few months ago and who were rather unsettled by the criteria (or lack thereof) for becoming a guide. Not surprisingly, these bloggers were librarians.
Curious, I did a guided search. Here’s a transcript of the conversation:
Status: Looking for a guide …
Status: Connected to guide: LisaB
LisaB: Welcome to ChaCha!
LisaB: Hello! What can I find for you today?
You: Hi Lisa! I’ve just found this service.
You: I have a question – are there any librarians serving as guides?
LisaB: I am sure there are. We have over 13,000 guides.
LisaB: Are you interested in becoming a Guide?
You: How are the guides chosen?
LisaB: Well, you have to be invited by another guide.
LisaB: We are unable to hire at this time but they have promised they will open invitations in mid December. Which should be any day now!!
LisaB: If you want to give me your email, I can put you on my list and send you an invite as soon as they open up.
You: Sure: firstname.lastname@example.org
You: I’m planning on blogging about this service – may I use our conversation?
LisaB: Sure! My email is [deleted per request] (But don’t put that in your blog! LOL) You can contact me with any questions you may have or for an update.
You: Thanks, Lisa!
LisaB: Would you like me to look something up for you today?
You: Nope- that was my only question.
LisaB: OK! Thanks for using ChaCha! You have a great holiday and I will talk to you soon!
LisaB: Thank you for using ChaCha!
Status: Session ended.
Hmmm. So the guides are chosen based on the recommendation of other guides. I would hope that there is some sort of qualifying expertise that would also be involved…..but their site doesn’t seem to indicate that expertise is needed. Their site has a page allowing you to sign up as a guide:
ChaCha Guide Signup
Thank you for your interest in becoming a ChaCha Guide. We are bringing ChaCha Guides into our community at a varying rate according to the order that we receive the applications and when the system will allow new guides. We will contact you as soon as we are ready to bring you into the system.
The following must be checked in order to qualify as a potential ChaCha guide.
At least they require correct grammar. What’s interesting is that their “About Us” page speaks to the expertise of the guides:
By searching with a Guide your query is sent to a real person who is skilled at finding information on the internet and knowledgable on the subject at hand so that you get the few exact results you want, not the millions of results you don’t.
ChaCha only provides quality, human approved results.
Sounds like a librarian, doesn’t it? If you look at the guide profiles, you’ll find stay-at-home moms, college students, and folks who don’t share details about themselves. Frankly, this is looking less like an expert search and more like Yahoo Answers.
In another area, they discuss the issue of trust:
Why should I trust this guide?
The primary reason is that we pay them and their pay is directly related to their performance. At the end of every session, you can select between one and five stars to rate their performance. While we expect you to be honest when rating a Guide, ChaCha can also detect any needlessly malicious ratings.
So, we should trust them because they’re paid information professionals. Sounds like a librarian.
A number of libraries now have IM reference available for their patrons. We are the paid information professionals who do this stuff for a living, not as a hobby or as a way to make a few extra bucks. So the question is: why did these folks feel that this was an unmet need?
Could it be….perhaps….that we are abysmally bad at marketing our services? We already do this! Why don’t people know that we already do this??!!??
How about if our “search engines” were a combination of an OPAC, an online search engine, and a librarian-guided search? Why we aren’t we banging on the respective heads of our respective ILS vendors demanding a federated search plus chat session option?