Commentary

If Search Engines Could Talk: Confessions Of A ChaCha Clickstream

I recently had a conversation with the newly launched techno-human hybrid chat search engine, ChaCha. For those not familiar with ChaCha, this engine uses human researchers in a side chat interface as a live search engine results page is built before your eyes. My purpose was to test a search funnel process over several keywords and phrases to see if the guide would lead me to a satisfying result.

"ChaChaguide" was my live human guide who built the search engine results page by reformulating my query information, and her real screen name was changed for this article. Casual punctuation and capitalization was also changed.

ChaChaGuide: Welcome to ChaCha!
ChaChaGuide:
Hi.
RG:
Hi.
ChaChaGuide:
What can I search for you today?
RG:
I need to search for 'bass.'
ChaChaGuide:
Bass fish?

Coincidentally, two of my favorite things are playing "electric bass," and "bass fishing." Caught slightly off guard from my original intention of funneling into one of the holy grails of electric basses, the stack-knobbed vintage sunburst 1960 Fender Jazz Bass, I was momentarily tempted to say "yes" and go for the fish search.

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RG:
No.
ChaChaGuide:
Shoes?
RG:
No.

Given the choice, I might have also gone for a "Bass ale" search, but waited instead to satisfy that thirst later in the evening.

ChaChaGuide: Please be more specific as to what you're looking for on this topic.

If other search engines could talk, they would have asked the same thing.

RG: Okay. Let me refine a little. A musical instrument--a Fender bass.
ChaChaGuide:
Okay. Please wait a moment while I search for your results.

I scanned the results--approximately five to six in a pageless interface--and was ready to move on.

ChaChaGuide: Is there a style you are looking for?
RG:
Yes. I'm looking for a Fender Jazz Bass.

ChaChaGuide: Do you want to see some used ones?
RG:
Yes. You read my mind.

I got a few stock results that were no better than what Google, MSN, and Yahoo would have returned. There wasn't much on used Fender Jazz basses in the results set, but again, it was no worse than the other engines. I clicked on a few and found a lot of new basses for sale.

RG: BTW--are these paid results?
ChaChaGuide:
We are paid by ChaCha, but not by Fender.
ChaChaGuide:
We answer all sorts of questions.

I didn't get a specific answer about whether or not the "natural' results are paid or not (feed, syndication, etc), though I did not pursue it any further.

ChaChaGuide: I do alot (sic) of homework help
ChaChaGuide:
people wrighting (sic) essays that type of thing

A word of caution here to students: Sometimes engines misspell words, so it may be a good idea to "wright" your own essays.

ChaChaGuide: Is there anything else on this topic I can find for you today?

It was now time to test a true long-tail vintage bass search.

RG: I'm still not finding what I'm looking for, though I will admit it is a bit of a challenge. Could we refine the search down to a 'used vintage Fender Jazz Bass, with a sunburst finish, 1960, or 1961'? Would also consider a 1962 if that helps broaden the query.

ChaChaGuide: I found one.

She found one. Sorta.

It wasn't a sunburst, but it was the real deal--a 1960 Fender Jazz Bass, hanging on the wall in a Chicago music store. I had missed this one earlier while simultaneously searching in a side browser because the store's URLs, titles and Meta descriptions contained too much noise. There was no way to discern that this page contained a bass that would make Fender aficionados slobber on their keyboards and plunk down the cash, if they were so inclined. Ultimately, my search intention was satisfied.

I've since conducted a few other ChaCha searches, mostly when I've hit a dead end on a hard-to-find search. Even though the editors are not always topic experts, they have been able to build a results set that offered some level of satisfaction, though it takes some time to build manually. I also had to feed the live guide a lot of information.

So is ChaCha the Google killer? I wouldn't bet on it, but I would bet that they find a niche in the market with a loyal user base, and that we may see more innovation from them to come in the form of user interface, and/or behavioral research.

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