ChaCha, originally a computer-based answer service, has moved to the mobile phone world. Since January, ChaCha has answered over 27 million questions via text message. You simply call 1-800-2CHA-CHA (1-800-224-2242) or text 242242 from any cell phone, any time of day, and ask a question. The service is free, not counting your phone carrier’s normal text messaging charges, and you receive an answer within minutes.
I tested ChaCha by calling and asking, “How many number 1 songs has Bruce Springsteen had?” It recognized me as a first time user and told me it would send me a welcome message and a confirmation that my question had been received. That’s two text message charges I don’t want, but it was nice to know my question was understood and was in the queue.
ChaCha’s web site explains that my question is routed to a ChaCha Guide who will search the Internet for my answer. These Guides, often stay-at-home moms or college students, have gone through a training program called Search University. ChaCha reports a 93% answer accuracy rate. In addition to answering questions, ChaCha offers text message updates on the weather and the stock market. You may also text “joke” to 242242 and receive “a real knee-slapper.”
It’s been 10 minutes and I’m still waiting for my answer.
So. I ask ChaCha a question. It gets sent to a Guide. The Guide searches the Internet for the answer and texts me back. Couldn’t I just look it up myself? Yes, if I was near a computer or had the web on my phone. If I wasn’t or if I didn’t, ChaCha would be perfect. The service, if anything, is convenient. But how will I know the answer I get is legitimate? Will my answer come back with a citation? A real person, rather than a web search engine, sends me my answer. Presumably, that person has waded through pages of search engine results for me and has found a legitimate source. Again, convenient. But, I’m skeptical. And, what if I need more information? Do I have to keep calling, or will they refer me to somewhere or someone else?
Taking referrals and wading through results is something librarians do every day, and we’ll help you do it any day. ChaCha will not replace that. But, for quick questions in the absence of a librarian or the Internet, ChaCha may get you answers. I didn’t say “can” or “quick” because it’s been 30 minutes and I’m still waiting. I know the answer to my question (it’s zero), but it seems to have tripped up ChaCha. Try it yourself and let us know what you think.