Mobile // Mobile Applications
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8/1/2008
11:06 AM
Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
Commentary
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ChaCha Offers Alternative Version Of Mobile Search, Complete With Personal Mobile Assistant

Remember that old college helpline you used to use to settle bets? You'd call, and they'd look up the answer to some inane question while you waited. ChaCha is the 21st century version of that, but it adds a personal assistant to facilitate mobile purchases and other services that one-ups Google.

Remember that old college helpline you used to use to settle bets? You'd call, and they'd look up the answer to some inane question while you waited. ChaCha is the 21st century version of that, but it adds a personal assistant to facilitate mobile purchases and other services that one-ups Google.When I was in college, my fraternity brothers and I used the helpline as our go-to source whenever we had a dispute about something. I recently used ChaCha to settle a similar dispute. It really couldn't be easier. Send a text message with any question to ChaCha (242242), and it returns the answer in a few moments. Alternately, you can call 1-800-224-2242, and use the automated attendant to ask your question.

How on earth does all this work? ChaCha has recruited thousands of experts that have knowledge in a wide variety of topics. In fact, there are 25,000 active "Guides" throughout the country, with thousands working every week and hundreds available online at any time. These experts are registered and ChaCha knows how to funnel questions to the right expert when one comes in.

For example, a friend and I were debating the birthplace of Carlos Santana. I thought it was Mexico, my friend thought it was somewhere else in Central or Southern America, but couldn't remember exactly where. I sent a query to ChaCha: "Where was Santana born?" I didn't specify which Santana I was referring to. The answer came back in a few moments. Turns out, he was born in Autlan de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico, on July 20, 1947. I didn't ask for his birthday, but that was a nice bonus as part of the message.

Another question that came up: "Who founded DefJam Records?" I knew that Rick Rubin was one party, but couldn't remember the name of the other producer who joined him. Turns out it was Russel Simmons. The two formed DefJam in 1985, which was later merged with Island and Universal Records.

I also asked what the horsepower of a 1987 Porsche 944 was. Knowing that several different models existed in 1987, I left this question purposely vague to see what would happen. The answer I received correctly identified the horsepower of the most powerful version of the 1987 Porsche 944. It didn't give me the results for any of the other models, though.

OK, so maybe not the most important searches in the world, but it was nice to be able to ask a specific question and be given specific results, instead of a mishmash of search results. You also can look up the answers to your searches later via the company's Web site.

This, however, is all just scratching the surface. ChaCha is set to roll out a concierge-type assistant service. It will require registering a credit card with the service, but you'll be able to call ChaCha, or text message ChaCha, and ask for tickets to be purchased, or reservations to be made, or countless other services such as this. ChaCha expects to be rolling out this new feature in steps over time.

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