A few months back I decided that I would sign up as a Search Guide for ChaCha simply to see what they had to offer searchers and get a bit of an inside look at the inner workings of the application. The concept is that “experts” in certain topics will be guides to those of us that can’t seem to find the information on the web that they are looking for on their own. When you go to the site you have the option to chat with a Live Guide and have them do the search for you. These guides then build the directory for the search with out a guide function so the guides are basically filling the system with the internal software by doing searches for real users.
To make money, Chacha relies 100% on banner ads. These show up on the search listing and when chatting with a live guide which are supposed to be relevant to the search terms. They even use video in these chats that are so annoying that any infoseeker may just want to close the window and give up on it. Guides are subject to these videos every time they do a search as well, which is more annoying than you can imagine.
Nice concept, but it has very little use for most. The application itself on the guide side of it is somewhat user friendly, but the guides themselves are subject to extreme human error. Categorizing information that is easily searchable is a debatable function in the system and many guides don’t even bother with it. You could search with a guide about “DVDs” and the guide might just categorize it under parenting because they are in a hurry. This then shows a DVD query in the parenting section when the actual search may have been about something totally unrelated.
Guides are treated as if they are sweatshop workers. They are paid $5 per SEARCH hour. This means that they are only paid when they are in an active search. Considering the system is extremely buggy and that the guides frequently get dropped from searches this $5 per hour is closer to $2 per hour if a guide sits there and takes searches the entire time. Guides can get to a level stated as “Elite” and receive $10 per search hour, but the way the system is set up they only get paid that amount on a particular search term they have selected and trained on. Based on experience in the system your search terms are rarely searched, and it is set up only to pay guides that way if the term is exact. It is not by category.
When I started guides had unlimited time to do searches and consequently would milk the system for the most part. To get around that ChaCha set a max time limit of 20 minutes for a search, which really was a decent time if real searchers came in and needed some difficult to find information. After about a month it was dropped to 10 minutes, and now it is set at 6 minutes. So basically a guide has 6 minutes to confirm what the searcher really wants, because we know many searches are very broad, do the search, post the results, and confirm that the infoseeker is satisfied. This may seem like a reasonable amount of time to perform the search, and it is in many circumstances, but guides are asked to work for free more times than not when a more detailed search is needed.
From my experience at least 90% of infoseekers are pranksters. It is a fun way for message board users to mess with guides while they post their conversations. So guides are spending more time reporting people than they are doing actual searches. Since all the searchers are pranksters, and guides are rated by infoseekers , many guides get awful ratings simply becasue the pranksters think it is funny. I welcomed pranksters during my limited time as a guide because if I didn’t I wouldn’t ever get anything to search for. They were the bright spot of the day and gave me some nice laughs.
Every once in a while I check in with ChaCha and try a search with a live guide just to see how it goes. I know what the guide application is like so I know how long it should take for searches I send in. I usually send in very simple searches that I could find in Google in seconds. Oh did I forget to mention that all the guides pretty much use Google to get your results for you? Yup. The application is set up where you use other search engines to find the information since the ChaCha index really isn’t that beneficial. It has built up a bit, but overall you can’t really give relevant links to an info seeker based on what is in the system. If another guide hasn’t searched it before it isn’t in the system so you have to use an outside source.
Anyways, back to the last couple times I did a search. I entered a very easy search. “How to make ice cream”. Easy enough and if you put that in Google you would have it in seconds. If I were doing the search from inside ChaCha it would probably take me closer to a minute since you have to go through all kinds of unnecessary steps to get to actually posting links. The first guide used a standard reply that guides have in their drop down menu and really never acknowledged my existence. After 3 minutes the guide never listed a link for me, nor did they respond to anything I had said. So I clicked on “New Guide” because this is unacceptable. The next guide was almost exactly the same. 3 minutes, no info, no response. New guide again. This is where I got the big surprise. The guide got into the system and is just an inside prankster. They posted a link to Yahoo! in the chat widow and told me to search for it myself. On top of that the guide called me the “N” word. So basically after 10 minutes and 3 guides I had no relevant links, and have been called a racial slur. Sounds like a great experience eh?
One other thing I wanted to mention about this was that when I first joined ChaCha had no message board for guides to discuss issues regarding anything. They had a message in their “Knowledge” base that stated there would be a forum within a week from when I signed up. They do have a forum now, but that took 3 moths to get rolling. 3 months to create a message board that even a remedial internet user could do within a couple hours. Since there was no place to talk with other guides I did a search on Google back then for ChaCha to find a message board that maybe a guide created. I ended up finding that most guides had gone to a forum created on WAHM.com so they could figure out what the heck was going on. This was because ChaCha simply didn’t provide guides with any information.
What is most interesting about all this is that guides posting on this forum caused ChaCha to implement a policy that I think shows exactly what ChaCha is all about. Even though they did not provide guides a private forum to speak about issues and the fact that the feedback e-mail box was always full, ChaCha decided to announce a Public Discussion Policy. This policy stated that any guide caught speaking negatively about ChaCha on a public forum would be terminated immediately. Can you believe that? They provide no place to discuss things privately and then have the nerve to threaten the guides who have complaints that would go unanswered when contacting ChaCha directly. I’m not against a policy of this sort by any means, but if you aren’t going to provide a community or support for guides you can’t expect them not to complain about it where they can. In this case it was a public forum since there was no other place to get information.
In my final opinion, ChaCha is not a useful service. It will never succeed because it really has no practical use and the people running it really don’t have a plan to treat either guides fairly, nor does the system really work in a way that is inviting to an infoseeker. They jumped on the marketing train early while the system was unstable and had promos on shows as big as Good Morning America. The day that aired the system was down most of the day. They have always been way ahead of their programmers and just do not understand their own limitations. OK concept in theory, but ultimately it is only worth using if you have some time on your hands and want to be a troll.
This site is pretty accurate as far as the truth goes:
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