Free for the Asking: ChaCha Answers, Texted to Your Phone

At the YPulse Mashup, I thought I might see mobile search companies like Thrumm MMS (multimedia messaging service/cameraphones) ChaCha the human-search engine in beta, and even Yap voice to text speech recognition to keep those “66% of teens who text while driving” safely at bay…

Especially since mobile search texting answers to your phone seems like a natural for this teen-focused crowd! Alas, they were awol…

This interview with the ChaCha CEO via the Kelsey Group blog gives the ‘how it works and why you’d want it’ essentials, but basically, it’s about getting your search data from human guides, rather than sifting through Google algorithms, kind of a wikipedia for cellphone searches…

You can literally ‘call or text in a question’ and receive a text message response that shows up in your phone in a jiff. The FAQs, press, and accolades should explain the buzz…

For teens, I could see uses for asking ChaCha real time questions (wait times on rides, whether an event’s sold out, logistics, and such) and I’m sure kids might have some er…interesting or arcane ‘need to know’ body image or health queries. (way beyond ‘average weight of a primate’ at the local zoo, or Who is pitching in the Oakland A’s season opener against the Red Sox tonight?” ya know?)

Last week in my post about youth mobile activism and new developments, I looked for some of the questions teens might ask, to see how accurate the answers would be. (in 162 characters via SMS text, conciseness counts!)

As the Mobility Site tests it out, my reaction is similar, “why wasn’t this around when I was in school?” Oh yeah, they didn’t even HAVE cellphones back then. (again, insert dinosaur roar)

ChaCha uses human ‘guides’ (15,000+ of them currently) to process the context, maneuver the search strings, and deliver an ‘up close and personal’ text answer to a random request.

Similar to the free Goog411, (see comparisons to TellMe and Free411 in this article in ProBargainHunter) ChaCha allows for ANY queries via voice or text…like this trial tidbit from AltSearch Engines who baited with the clever query, “Will search engine ChaCha defeat Google?”

Talk about testing out the human side of mobile search…

Bonus for youth? ChaCha users might end up BEING ChaCha ‘guides’ themselves, as web-savvy students LOVE to ‘fit in flex-time jobs’ with their class schedules.

Teens: It says here they’re building a ‘world class mobile answers’ service; guides get paid $.20 per SMS transaction via e-direct deposits…Which may sound like sweatshop piece labor until you factor in proficiency of teen info-sourcing and core knowledge among webbies who could make a tidy stash without scoopin’ ice cream for a summer job, ya know? Hmn…

What’s your take on it, teen texters?

Red flags for teens and parents?

Though they make it clear on their site, the “forward to a friend” feature didn’t make it clear that text rates and voice minutes may apply to your own plan, so caveat emptor if you give it a whirl.

Specifically the e-mail referral I received says, “ChaCha is a free mobile search service…You call or text your question and they text you back the answer. I’ve had good luck with it. You can ask them any question. You can call or text your questions. Text: ChaCha (242 242) Call: 800-2ChaCha.”

Looking into the money matters behind the human search engine ‘rev gen,’ the CEO’s mention of “future third-party conveniences and partnerships” (like booking travel with one-stop ease) makes me wonder…

Will human-search shift to influence peddling for monetization? Rise to the top of search as a short list selection?

If so, there goes the objectivity of the human ‘guides.’

On the other hand…ChaCha seems very aware of these nuances…

Fast Company has a solid interview with ChaCha founder Scott Jones on whether their human guides can compete with Google’s algorithms, including dicey, direct questions in the ‘how do you draw revenue’ conundrum of SMS/ad texting…

They know that handled incorrectly, this cut be off-putting, so it was refreshing to see Mr. Jones admit it’s “not there yet,” and say he’s seeking the most inoffensive way to deliver content that’s relevant and helpful instead of in your face.

Fill me in folks, if any of you have given this a go yet, as it’s only in its first quarter of launch, and still in ‘beta.’

We’ll play with it a bit at Shaping Youth, too, especially since they snagged the $25K grand prize in ‘hot applications’ from the Fast Pitch web dev CTIA Wireless contest…

It also strongly resembles ‘virtual reference’ that any teen librarian knows is under utilized but worthy.

Will teens ‘go for’ this type of instant answer service using human search?

Tomorrow, I’ll add a few other “up and coming” educational mobile applications for student study communities that I wish I would’ve heard more about at the YPulse Mashup

…Like the new Mobile Prep cellphone flashcards for studious souls (though I did notice was there) and ‘Study Stack’ for collegiate 12Bs or 1ABs (“wannabe” according to Teen Eyes text translation…)

I’ll also fill you in on my all time favorite YPulse session led by HopeLabs’ Liz Song at lunch, where we shared best practices in a kids’ health roundtable about using technology for teen outreach…

Meanwhile, ChaCha…shall we dance?

Related Resources

The Rising Cost of Texting: CNET 7-08

Next Great Thing: Youth. Mobile. Trends.

AT&T Dev Central: Video of Fast Pitch April 2008 Mobile Winners

Walt Mossberg’s WSJ All Things Digital: How Does ChaCha Make Money?

Take a Picture, Search it with Thrumm (MediaBistro)

NetLingo: Top 20 Internet Acronyms for Texting Parents Need to Know

Pew Internet Report: Writing, Technology & Teens (83pp pdf) (teens do NOT consider texting to be ‘writing’

A Parent’s Guide to Teen Speak by Text Message: NYT



  1. Heads up folks!!! Today Tech Crunch lambasted Cha-Cha for not paying their guides promptly and editing complaint screenshots…so whether it’s true or false, circumspect wisdom always applies…check out the link:

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