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Latest ChaCha version taps new source for answers

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ChaCha, the Carmel-based Q&A service that boasts how its human researchers trounce automated competitors when it comes to accuracy, plans to turn to its users for even more information.

The company plans to introduce a system called iKnow alongside other new features with the launch of ChaCha 2.0, which will likely happen in early April, company founder Scott Jones said.

chacha scott jones 15colChaCha founder Scott Jones says the new version of the service will shift its focus even more toward mobile customers. (IBJ Photo/Perry Reichanadter)

In ChaCha's earliest days, starting in December 2005, users would send questions via text messages to ChaCha, and people known as “guides” would earn 2 cents to 20 cents for every answer they dug up. That research created a huge database of answers that are automatically used when those same questions are repeated.

Over the years, ChaCha has developed a website and mobile app that collectively handle about 45 million questions every month, with the automated database serving as the first source of answers and the “guides” as the safety net.

The company has developed an algorithm that tracks how often people ask about a single topic. When enough questions are asked about a particular subject, ChaCha wants to know what its customers know.

Jones used the example of his son, who went through a craze over Houston Rockets Guard Jeremy Lin and blitzed ChaCha with questions about the basketball player.

With the iKnow system, “ChaCha will come back by saying ‘You know a lot about Jeremy Lin. Do you want to answer some questions?’” Jones said.

An estimated 10 percent to 30 percent of users will do so, he added.

“In many cases, it’s better answers. This is a passion for them.”

ChaCha revenue topped $12 million in 2012, which was up from $7 million in 2011, but short of the $15 million to $25 million that Jones predicted early in the year.

The new version of ChaCha needs to help the company better establish itself in a flooded market if it’s going to keep growing, according to Greg Sterling, a senior analysts at Opus Research in San Francisco.

“It’s just been a difficult segment to succeed in,” Sterling said, “not withstanding the fact that, on paper, a lot of this seems very logical. Why wouldn’t you want humans? Humans can better understand a question. But for purposes of scale and economics, you have to balance people and machines.”

Response quality will matter.

ChaCha had a public relations snafu in early 2012 after online tech publication Gizmodo ran a story about controversial responses to questions on sensitive topics such as race and abortion.

The answers actually came from Android-friendly Iris—an answer to Apple voice assistant Siri—but ChaCha was the one providing the results. ChaCha changed the answers that drew the scrutiny and apologized.

Now the message is about accuracy.

ChaCha commissioned the Butler Business Accelerator to prepare a research paper comparing the accuracy of ChaCha and 10 other Q&A services.

ChaCha won by far, scoring 72.8 on an “intelligence index,” with second-place Ask.com scoring 63.9.

“This study’s results support the hypothesis that Q&A platforms cannot rely on algorithmic search results alone to deliver quality answers,” researchers for the Butler University consultation office wrote. “Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) lack deep semantic understanding of ‘natural language’ human questions, and, therefore, cannot account effectively for long-tail questions like those posed in this study.”

But ChaCha needs brand recognition for its human element if consumers are going to support it in an increasingly tougher market, Sterling said.

Major players such as Google (which scored 50.1 on Butler’s intelligence index) have tweaked their search results page to provide Q&A formats at the top, which prevents consumers from having to search through lists of links to find what they want.

“The novelty of sort of searching for things and looking at a lot of different sources is done,” Sterling said. “People want the most reliable answer as quickly as they can get it.”

Blame mobile access, with its demands for quick delivery of information.

Jones said ChaCha, with its new version, is trying to shift its focus even more toward mobile apps and a mobile-friendly website. Two-thirds of the traffic on ChaCha.com comes from smart phones or tablets, with the remainder coming from desktop or laptop computers.

“That’s flip-flopped from before,” he said.

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  • Flacky
    Clearly, the comment engine needs to be brought into the 21st century.
  • [insert COMPANY] shows true leadership:
    Innovative. Unique. Essential. The future of of the internet. These terms are inadequate to describe the role of [insert tech client name here] in today's dynamic and ever-changing online landscape. And no one understands this better than [insert name of tech company CEO] whose vision, has delivered incalculable shareholder value. Since humble beginnings in [insert location] adoption of [insert technology] has been been as swift as it has been dramatic. The future clearly belongs to [CEO] and {company] ###
    • Say what you will
      I think the premise of ChaCha is personalized and actually answers the questions. Google may give you the links, but then you have to do the searching yourself, and who knows if what you come across as the supposed answer to your question is accurate. I'd like to see all of the naysayers prove they developed something better AND put it into motion. While you're doubting the success of this company, Scott Jones is employing intelligent people and continuing to develop and believe in ideas that challenge and simplify necessary aspects of our everyday lives. So say what you will, he's on to something.
    • Wow
      Je souris, next time just post a link to the press release.
    • The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades
      Watching the growth of Q&A is something we all do, daily. It's hard to see the significance behind the changes, until we look back and see how far Q&A has really come. The truth is many have tried it, and many have failed, but that's because they lack the cojones that Scott Jones and ChaCha have. As information is in demand at much higher speeds, and from a much broader audience, ChaCha answers the call, and doesn't let bumps in the road stomp them out. Don't we all look for a little personal attention in the things we do? ChaCha is the Q&A service we all are really looking for. I know I appreciate how accurate the answers I receive are, and how effortless it is for me to as the questions I want to in the first place. This company is innovative, and I cannot wait for April! I am eager to be apart of the next Chapter! Thanks ChaCha for being my Q&A choice for the past 4 years.
    • Filling a Void in Real-Time
      I have to second the opinion of LA Admin. If a company with the user reach of ChaCha can make good on the goal of accurately answering questions -objective and subjective- in real-time mobile communication through crowdsourced means, I believe the potential for a platform worth paying considerable attention to could be in our midst. That's definitely a goal the heralded likes of Siri and Google haven't delivered on. I can't really fault anybody for reservations stemming from four and five years ago, but I think the vision at hand may very well vanquish some of the concerns about blunders from a different time. If this plays out how its planned, this company could be a local sleeper that makes big waves.
    • Very Interesting
      I find this very interesting, the concept of successfully using crowdsourced answers is very useful. we have all used our friends in the past to answer questions. I know other have tried it but they really didn't have staying power. My comment would be in the this case if ChaCha can provide these answers in a crowd sourced fashion quickly i do see a use for it. This will be very interesting to watch in unfold. Good luck chacha. being a tech person and using google the keyword search is very useful how ever for the normal user this could be very helpful.
    • Why ChaCha is still in business
      ChaCha is a vanity project for Mr. Jones, nothing more. Any other business losing money for as long as this company has would have folded by now. Mr. Jones' ego and his gazillions won't allow this company to fail. More power to him. If he's employing people, so be it.
    • THE Joe Stackhouse?
      Hey, Joe, I thought you died after flying your plane into the IRS office in Austin. In fact, I'm sure you did. What are you doing here in the middle of nowhere? Is Indiana Purgatory? Is it hell? I don't know, but I do know this...ChaCha doesn't know who you are. You're priceless. ChaCha is worthless.
    • Chawhat?
      John: They're not succeeding. In fact, they are an epic fail. It's embarrassing to be in a state where ChaCha is considered to be a tech company. ChaCha is a tax writeoff, nothing more.
    • ChaCha Never Lets Me Down
      Well, I have found using Chacha to be the most addictive thing I've seen. When I showed my wife Chacha, she went crazy. She uses it constantly, like it's her best friend. She was stuck in traffic in Phoenix and Chacha knew why! Unbeatable awesomesauce comes from Chacha. Chacha Rocks!
    • Google SEO
      I've found that questions I ask in Google now often have ChaCha answers on the front page.. You have to understand that while Google is good at finding keywords, it is not necessarily geared towards finding pages with Q&A content. I have had several searches in the past few days feature a ChaCha answer on the front page of Google (it may not be #1, but it’s on the front page).
      • I don't understand how they're succeeding
        While I agree that mobile technology is a key area to focus on, for a company handling 45 million requests a month, their SEO is ATROCIOUS. If you do a Google search for some of the exact "popular" questions asked on ChaCha last month, I'm presented with a ton of answers, but none of them are from ChaCha. Let me get this straight: They've been around since 2005, handle 45 million requests a month, and can't even get on the front page of Google search results for one of their own misspelled questions? If it wasn't for the strange Gizmodo article a while back, I would've completely forgot this company even existed.
        • Confused
          Why does this "company" exist? Does anybody actually use this service? Are you in any way profitable?

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