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9/5/2006
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Real Live Search

Every startup taking on Google, Yahoo, and the other search engines talks about how search still has a long way to go and how far too many searches fail. ChaCha.com CEO Scott Jones is no different. But his solution is decidedly different: Throw people at the problem.

ChaCha's search engine launches this week and, in addition to the standard algorithmic search box, includes an option to direct queries to live search "guides." Guides get paid based on how many questions they answer, using chat and software that Jones says directs queries to someone with "domain-specific experience."

Guides are supposed to return one or several answers in roughly 20 seconds. Meanwhile, the user is served video ads. Guides will rate one another's work through a gated online network Jones calls the ChaCha Underground. Think of it as a cross between MySpace.com and Wikipedia, with cash to sweeten the deal.

Gartner analyst Allen Weiner says ChaCha addresses a big problem: little authority and credibility in most social search applications. Yet Weiner wonders if it's an idea better suited for specialized search, like health care or travel. We'll have to wait for an answer to that question. Meantime, feel free to watch the commercials.

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