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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ChaCha launches search into a whole new sphere

    Jake Boyle had a three-hour break between classes, so he decided to sit down at a computer and make some money.

    Boyle, a business management senior, wasn’t day trading or gambling; he was answering question after question that popped up on his computer screen. At the end of the three hours, he had made about $35.

    “”It’s just some extra spending money,”” he said.

    The money comes in as Boyle sits and looks up answers from inquiries ranging from “”What’s the score of the game?”” to “”Does the rectum of a pig anus accommodate a human penis?””

    The constant Q-and-A is the result of a new hybrid service called ChaCha that is changing the way people acquire information.

    The service started in January with the motto, “”Ask Away,”” and established itself as a new means for locating fast facts. Instead of relying on Internet access, a person can text or phone in a question to ChaCha, 242-242, then a human ChaCha guide does the online research and comes back with an answer.

    But the questions that come in aren’t always objective. Like the pig anus question suggests, some people are looking for socializing rather than information.

    “”There’s a lot of conversational questions,”” Boyle said. “”People ask, ‘What’s your favorite color?’ or ‘What’s a blowjob?'””

    A conversation can develop that jumps tangents, as a different guide is forced to respond to the last question. What may start out as a mundane inquiry slowly mutates toward topics such as fellatio and animal anatomy.

    In response to the flood of texts that don’t pertain to facts, ChaCha is now limiting service users to 20 questions per month.

    It’s trying to act as a search engine, Boyle said.

    Even with the hope of slashing aimless conversations, the social aspect of ChaCha remains intact, and that makes Steve Rains curious.

    “”It really does change this notion of expertise,”” said Rains, an assistant professor in the communication department.

    Rains’ research focuses on the integration of new communication technologies, and he has spent a lot of time looking at how health information has evolved with technology.

    In the past, a person who wanted to know about a scrape or a cough went to the family doctor; now, it’s WebMD. And with ChaCha, there’s now a middleman between a person and the pertinent information.

    “”These ChaCha people are really just facilitators, and who are they to say that this is correct or incorrect?”” Rains said.

    ChaCha does require guides like Boyle to provide a source with the information they give out, even for the more conversational texts. And there is a series of screenings and mock questions before a person becomes a guide.

    Boyle doesn’t see himself as some purveyor of truth when roaming the Internet for an answer. ChaCha is just a part-time gig for him. And it doesn’t seem that the demand for ChaCha’s services will slow anytime soon, even with the new limitations.

    “”The questions keep coming one at a time,”” he said. “”You never really get a break.””

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