The dumbest idea I’ve seen so far this year: a human assisted search engine. The idea is simple, when you need to find something on the web, this search engine connects you to a live operator (“guide”) who then will help you find what you need (searches for you). Why is this the dumbest idea ever? Because the company has failed to address a real need, at least without introducing more problems.
What’s the point of search? Finding stuff, right? Let’s take two cases.
I need to find something straight forward: in such a case, a Google search will very likely suffice. On the other hand…
I need to find something very obscure: this is the case where a human powered search engine would shine, right?
Wrong. If I can’t find it on Google, how are you going to find it? This morning, I was looking up if the PHP SERVER[‘REQUEST_TIME’] variable takes time zones into consideration. This wasn’t noted in the PHP documentation and several searches came up empty (the answer is that it uses the system time). Would ChaCha technicians know?
If I can’t find this information, how in the world will a $5/hr search monkey find it for me who has a limited (if at all) understanding of PHP? The answer: of course this won’t work.
The more straight forward something is, the more likely a search engine can do the work. The less straight forward and obscure something is, the more likely a human can help if the person were a super computer far more powerful than Google’s 1,000,000 servers and knew the context of everything I was asking. Well, the good news is that they identified a problem, but the bad news is that their solution isn’t the answer.
Okay, what about those cases where a longer session of Google will net you an answer. What’s a decent search time? Five minutes? Well, according to a former guide of ChaCha, they have an economic incentive to drag your search out for 20 minutes. 20 minutes! So which would you rather gamble on: 20 minutes of Google or chatting with a stranger on ChaCha hoping that they’ll eventually find it for you (in 20 minutes)? For that effort, I’d rather chat with friends who might be able to help me. For that effort, I’d go post my question on Yahoo Answers and wait for a reply (last time I tried, took about 10 minutes).
Lastly, the management of the “employees” are clearly a bust. ChaCha uses volunteers as their “guides.” And this is where it gets sick. I can become a guide. I can help other people find stuff by using my “expert” Google skills. For $5 an hour. They’re paying people a minimal economic incentive to do work that requires a high degree of computer literacy and language comprehension. Not to mention it requires constant focus and attention, good customer interaction skills, excellent written communication skills, fast thinking, and a person who is “current” since searches tend to mirror pop culture (see picture). These are not traits you can come to expect out of a person being paid minimum wage.
If a customer pisses me off, I can just tell them off. If my buddy IMs me, I can just ignore the customer until they go away. If I think a customer is dumb, I can just call them dumb. If they are searching for stuff I disagree with, I can send them the wrong links. Why? Because the site pays so little that nobody would ever equate being a guide with their livelihood. People simply won’t give a crap if the end-user hates the experience. Either way, you get paid $5. For all you future business owners, remember this: you get what you pay for.
In the end, this company addressed one problem with a solution that introduced a dozen new problems.
Like I said, this is a dumb idea with a CEO. Oh, and it’s poorly executed to boot.