ChaCha: Human assisted search

If you have the time, check out ChaCha, a web search engine I came across through an article on Technology Review.

ChaCha on ICT4Peace

As this picture shows, the human assisted search function for ICT for Peacebuilding brought up three entries from my blog, but none that linked to the ICT4Peace Foundation, which ranks No. 1 on Google.

ChaCha’s potential lies in bringing in human comprehension to web searches. Provided the person searching for the information communicates it well, and provided the human agent comprehends the search, and provided ChaCha’s software gives useful results, which are then judged by the human agent as best he / she can to be relevant to the query, there’s the possibility to get far more useful information from ChaCha’s human assisted search than through, say, Google or Yahoo.

But that’s a shed-load of “ifs” and as the article points out, they are still in the very early stages of human assisted searching.

It’s interesting whether the same model can be used for a smaller range of issues – say, to train a few people who then increasingly become experts in searching for information in specific areas, like human rights. A search operation thus built could be useful for niche audiences, and can, amongst other ways, be accessed via email, SMS or fax. Useful, I would imagine, for a raft of people including students who want a framework of references for background reading in a related topic.

Wonder if ChaCha will follow the specialisation route, or will attempt to be a Google run by humans. Either way, as the article ends:

The seeming strength of ChaCha’s operation is that its guides earn real money, and therefore–unlike contributors to Digg or Wikipedia or Yahoo Answers–have a vested interest in finding the best results. Its weakness may be that in an era of divided attention and instantaneous electronic self-service–when teenagers prefer three-minute YouTube videos to network TV and drivers pay hundreds of dollars for automated GPS devices rather than pull over to ask for directions–ChaCha’s guided searches move at an excruciatingly human pace.

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