Bits mentioned the human-guided search engine, ChaCha, today. ChaCha offers both browser-based and SMS search. Text a question to 242242 and ChaCha will answer.

I was interested in just how fast a person could answer a tough question. Today, I asked ChaCha three such questions via SMS and, in all cases, the answer came back within 90 seconds:

  1. “Where can I get the best burger in NYC?” ChaCha came back with a definitive answer: “Donovan’s Pub in Woodside Queens has the best burger in New York.” Interesting choice. Their reference is an article in the Post. This question is highly subjective, and I won’t even speculate on the best burger in New York, I’ll give ChaCha a maybe on this one–I’ll also try the burger at Donovan’s.
  2. “What is the cheapest way to get from Manhattan to JFK?” Once again, ChaCha came back with one answer: “Cabs are the best way, with a set fare, to get from JFK to Manhattan” referencing a UK Yahoo! site. This didn’t really answer my question, I was looking for the cheapest, not the best. Depending on who you ask, a taxi may or may not be the best way to get to and from JFK, but they certainly aren’t the cheapest. ChaCha got this one wrong.
  3. “What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?” We all know there is only one answer to this and ChaCha got it right: “42.” They didn’t really need a reference here, but they provided a link to IMDB anyway.

One correct, one wrong and one maybe, a passable job given the questions. These answers do seem to reflect 20 cents worth of research. That’s what ChaCha pays their human guides per SMS answer (see FAQ). For that kind of money, I’m surprised they got close at all.

I don’t see ChaCha replacing any of the popular search engines. Then again, I don’t think that is their goal. The SMS feature is nice and I really like the simple, definitive answers that come back. Even if they aren’t 100% correct, at least they sound confident. Just don’t ask any life or death questions like “How do I apply a tourniquet?”

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