Human-powered search engine ChaCha launched in late 2006 to somewhat mixed reviews. It sought to entice users to search with expert guides in real time via IM chat windows. It also offered algorithmic search but the human-guided search was the hook. The concept was great but the practical experience was often uneven.
In January ChaCha released “TextChaCha,” an SMS service that offered the same guided search but in mobile. Today the company has released ChaCha Mobile Answers (1-800-2ChaCha), which offers a voice front end — making it like mobile 411, only much broader.
The idea is that anything you can search for on the desktop ChaCha lets you do in mobile, either via TextChaCha or Mobile Answers. The latter is easier to use because queries can be spoken. Indeed, ChaCha is repositioning itself make mobile the centerpiece of its service.
Questions are acknowledged via text message in real time and results are returned usually in under a minute via text, sometimes with WAP links to more information. The range of questions that can be asked is essentially unlimited, making the service much more flexible than free DA competitors such as Goog411, 1-800-Free-411, AT&T’s 800-Yellowpages, or Microsoft’s 800-Call-411, which still largely follow the traditional 411 model, but also offer business category search.
ChaCha’s service is free but will eventually be supported by advertising.
Given that there’s no dominant player yet in mobile search, especially in voice search, ChaCha has an opportunity that it never had on the desktop to gain adoption. Research that I’ve conducted with Opus Research shows that about three quarters of mobile consumers are unaware of the various free directory assistance services. But free directory assistance or voice search is the broadest entry point for mobile search today because it is device and platform independent.
I’ve written a bit more at LocalMobileSearch.