A blog I read, Stephen’s Lighthouse, ha …

In Web 2.0 & all that on September 9, 2008 by Danielle Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

A blog I follow, Stephen’s Lighthouse, has made an example of a company called ChaCha, suggesting their business model is untenable. Their setup is this: provide a forum for independent ‘guides’ to occupy and wait for people to ask questions. However, they haven’t being paying the guides as per their contracts and it looks like ChaCha will go bust.

I agree with Stephen about the beauty of “unfettered access.” The reality is different–many of these sorts of companies have large budgets for marketing, and while some libraries may be able to answer questions remotely (and possibly even shout about this), I doubt we have come to expect ‘business-quality’ service from them. Does the average public librarian control a suitable budget, have the right equipment or the time and staff to do a ‘full on’ question-answering service?

Well, actually some do–the Vancouver Public Library, for example, has a live chat called AskAway. But we need to keep in mind that this is a large metropolis of several million people, whose taxes might sustain something like this.

For those who didn’t know that about libraries, or do not have a local library with an accessible reference service, we have ChaCha (hmm) and others like LivePerson. What gap are these services filling? With LivePerson, you can spend from 1 to 3 or more dollars (US, I imagine) to speak to an ‘expert’ who might be a doctor or an editor or even a psychic. Is that because our doctor no longer has time to have a discussion with us, face to face? Or is it because people have lost faith in their library’s reference service, or had simply forgotten they had a library?

I am sort of undecided myself on the reason for the online question-answering service trend. Could it be possible that some companies are cashing in on our increasing reluctance to get up from the computer?


7 Responses to “A blog I read, Stephen’s Lighthouse, ha …”

  1. What better incentive to be accurate than to pay people? The guides must be getting paid because they are definitely still working there and no business could last long if they weren’t paying their workers. I think Cha Cha has a good thing going.. not every librarian knows the answer to “Why did Britney shave her head?” and other services require too much formatting and short codes to actually ask anything interesting, like “Where is the closest place to get a cup of coffee?” or “What year was Pulp Fiction released?” I wish them well, go Cha Cha!

  2. Hmm. I don’t think so. I think that most libraries could answer a simple biographical question. I saw “How old is Neil Diamond” on the Chacha site, as a sample question. Who would be silly enough to spend good money on a question that could be looked up, (a) at a library, (b) by a friend, or (c) by oneself, in seconds?

    If you were to ask “Where is the closest place to get a cup of coffee” of Chacha, don’t you think they would need more contextual information? Such as “where in the world are you?” Wouldn’t it be better to get yourself a GPS or find the right resources on the web to answer your question, if you think the library cannot tell you the answer?

  3. well, I am definitely capable of looking up the answers or asking a librarian. But the idea is that ChaCha makes it easier, all you need is your cell phone. Sure, you would have to give a location for them to find the closest cup of coffee (should have put that example in context) but a GPS could not answer that question. The only way ChaCha costs money is if you don’t have unlimited texting on your cell plan. Obviously, I would go to a library and do my own research for something important but ChaCha is more for the everyday quick questions.

  4. Okay, you make a good point about the pricing structure being free except for mobile phone tariffs. MThat would make it a lot more accessible to people who have and use mobiles. However I really do think a GPS could answer the question of where to go for coffee as any GPS (even the old one I use) can tell you where the nearest cafe/ pub/ supermarket is.

    I’d also question the source. How well are the guides trained? Maybe they are capable of answering a basic question such as ‘what is Neil Diamond’s birthday’, but I would not trust them to answer anything more involved. A newspaper article confirms what I thought–that low-paid, part-time guides are likely to provide inconsistent service:

    It will be interesting to keep an eye out for what becomes of ChaCha.

  5. Have to admit, I’m not too familiar with GPS. But I’m pretty sure you couldn’t ask it where the closest Starbucks is, or where there’s a cafe with free wi-fi access, both questions I have gotten answered by ChaCha.
    I agree about the accuracy, all I know is that guides have to pass tests to work and that they pay more to better guides.
    Thanks for the great discussion! My bet is that ChaCha is only going up, but you probably could have guessed that already.

  6. Interesting that, although you admit to not being familiar with GPS, you seem certain it couldn’t tell you what business is located where. These are what is known as points of interest or waypoints. Most have waypoints built in.

    So, I have found a site to address this:

    “Tracking Basics Even the cheapest handheld GPS devices have basic tracking functionality, providing the user with longitudinal and latitudinal data, speed, bearing, routes and waypoints. Most also provide location-specific recreational data such as sunrise/sunset times and optimal hunting and fishing periods.”


    Cheers for the discussion.

  7. haha very true! Actually, I saw the GPS magic in action this past weekend. Much more impressive than I anticipated. Not sure if it’s just a smart phone only thing (that might be something services like ChaCha still have over it). It IS possible to find the closest pizza joint to your location, and with GPS you don’t need to know your address. I still say that ChaCha has a lot of benefits even to those with smart phones and GPS. They’re biggest competitor is google, not GPS, and they have components that are not seen anywhere else. Like their conversational attribute, which makes the possibilities for questions limitless.

    Anyways, they don’t seem to be going under any time soon:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: