ChaCha rolls out search service for cell phones

Human-assisted Internet search engine ChaCha today is launching a service allowing users to make inquiries via text messages on their mobile phones.

“Whether you’re walking through the mall or driving down the highway, you can very quickly get answers through ChaCha,” said ChaCha CEO Scott Jones.

To attract interest, Carmel-based ChaCha will offer the service in a free trial during the next few months. Users can submit questions by texting 242242, which spells “ChaCha” on most mobile phones. One of ChaCha’s paid human guides will respond quickly with answers to inquiries and send links to relevant maps and Web sites to Web-enabled phones.

Eventually, the company plans to charge $5 to $10 monthly subscription fees for its mobile service. ChaCha also is exploring how to add advertising to its mobile device responses. ChaCha has been quietly testing its mobile service for several months.

“We’re intending to get the service out there, let people understand how useful it is and get used to it,” Jones said. “We find that those who use it for about 30 days don’t want to live without it. They feel naked without their cell phone.”

Jones said he’s planned to introduce the mobile phone service since the company’s inception in the September 2006.

ChaCha now has raised more than $16 million from its investors. It has trained 40,000 guides, about 5,000 of whom are active at any given time. ChaCha has about 60 employees at its Carmel headquarters plus two support sites in India.

In its current desktop form, ChaCha responds to about 1.5 million inquires each month. Jones expects the introduction of mobile text service to add 50,000 to 100,000 inquiries in January, with exponential increases thereafter.

ChaCha plans to publicize its new mobile service at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, from Jan. 17 to Jan. 27. ChaCha plans to send guides to mingle with the anticipated crowd of 50,000 actors and entertainment industry executives. The guides then will offer festival attendees information via mobile phone text messages about which films are performing well, which have the shortest lines and which parties are drawing the most celebrities.

“We started the company to be in the mobile domain,” Jones said. “That’s been our target all along.”

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