New search tool uses human guides [MIT Technology Review]

ChaCha
At search engine ChaCha, live humans guide visitors to the information they need. But will users slow down enough for real conversations?

Some entrepreneurs believe it’s time to replace the algorithmic search engine with humans.

ChaCha, a free advertising-supported service launched last year by former MIT AI Lab research scientist Scott Jones and software entrepreneur Brad Bostic, doesn’t exactly give up on the concept of computerised search. Web wanderers in search of answers are free to settle for the algorithmic results served up by ChaCha’s own search engine. But the site’s real calling card is its collection of 29,000 human guides, who earn $5 to $10 per hour working with users in live chat sessions to locate the Web’s best answers to their queries. […]

“About one-third of the time, people are getting what I call the ‘magical experience,’ where they’ve tried finding the information in other places, they come to ChaCha, and they’re shown something extraordinary and different,” says Scott Jones, a former MIT AI Lab research scientist who founded the company with software entrepreneur Brad Bostic. […]

In the ideal case, according to Jones, a visitor to ChaCha enters a question or keywords, clicks the “Search With Guide” button, and is quickly routed to a guide with expertise on the general area of the visitor’s query. The guide may go straight to work or may send instant messages helping the visitor narrow down the question. As the guide locates Web resources, links appear on the users’ screens. Depending on the usefulness of the results, the visitor can rate the guide’s performance as “bad,” “OK,” or “great.”

However, ChaCha’s performance is mixed.

Jones says the company is working to correct technical problems and make the “magical experiences” more common. […]

The results of every successful guided search are loaded back into ChaCha’s conventional search index so that future algorithmic searches on the same subjects include “human-touched” results, as Jones puts it. As the number of completed searches and experienced guides increases–the company is recruiting guides at a rate of 10,000 per month, Jones says–the quality of ChaCha’s index should rise.

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  1. […] [MIT Technology Review] “Un’esperienza magica” è quella fornita da ChaCha, servizio realizzato lo scorso anno da Scott Jones, ex ricercatore del MIT, e da Brad Bost, software enterpreneur. Il servizio consente all’utente di effettuare ricerche con il classico motore algoritmico di ricerca, ma anche di interrogare, una delle 29,000 ‘guide umane’, tramite chat live. […]