27 December 2006

Need a guide? #

A couple of weeks back, I read an article Cybernet News about a search engine which offers the user the choice of searching 'with another person'! Now, as expected, this got me a little apprehensive. It's not like we are searching amateurs, because we have been searching without help since we can remember! But not to come up with judgements before I checked it out, I went ahead and asked for a 'guide' (as they call 'em) while searching for a Psychology paper due in a couple of days. The results, honestly did surprise me! :)


But first a little background. ChaCha (Yea! That's the name...) was started by two entrepreneurs, Scott Jones and Brad Bostic. It is actually a 'deep web' A part of the web filled with databases and document/files which normal search engines do not look into. There are many other engines which search the deep web, like Complete Planet and Incy Wincy. search engine, although the guide I was with couldn't confirm this. Guides mostly use ChaCha's own engine to come up with the results for a user, and if they aren't satisfactory, use other engines (Google seems to be the first choice).

The guides themselves work from home, and are paid on the basis of how the user rates their 'performance' after the session is over. ChaCha monitors the search records as well, so it's pretty hard to rate unfairly. The guides are given, well, guides from ChaCha to help them search more effectively. These aren't the normal guidelines you're used to finding on the net. I'm guessing they're optimised for the ChaCha engine, and tells them how to get the 'best' out of it. They have their own community too! :) ChaCha, as an engine without the guide seems to be pretty evenly matched in the field of deep web search engines today, so nothing earth shattering there. Now, my experience with ChaCha.

Mission: search with guide

You make the choice of searching with a guide from the front page, which is an interface made all too popular by Google! :P You enter your term, and instead of hitting the normal search button, you click 'Search with guide'. You are taken to a page with three columns, the left most being a chat box which you use to communicate with your guide. The middle is for the results that your guide finds for you. The right most is for ads. Now, I began using it with Firefox 2.0, and for some reason the results being sent by the guide weren't reaching me. I switched to IE7 and it began working.

The guide took some time, because she was getting the generic results of Universities offering Psychology courses. It was certainly different this time around since I didn't have to see those results. The guide didn't post them to me, so in a way, the guide is an effective 'filter' for irrelevant results. That definition got stronger as the session continued, and the guide admitted to not getting proper results. She posted links to online libraries and databases I had never received in my searches however, and hence I discovered some new sources of content next time when I'm looking for things. We, however, reached the verge of giving up and ending the session, that she sent me a link to a paper submitted by a Professor which was probably the best reference I could have gotten off the Internet. I was quite happy with the end result, with the session being much more of a success than I had hoped for. I am more inclined to believe that I got lucky and landed up with a good guide, because subsequent guides haven't been that accurate as the first one! :|

The Last Word

ChaCha is definitely a novel approach, which believes in simplifying solutions. Where Google and other biggies crank out research on killer algorithms If you remember, Google recently bought an algorithm to improve their searches by displaying the exact data that matches the search query, and a few more things (Article)., ChaCha puts people in because the smartest processor out there, at the end of the day, is the human mind! Although this does make the experience slow (I had to wait for half an hour to get that one accurate link), and hence shouldn't be used for mission critical tasks, or when you're on a short time leash. But then again, if you are on a short time leash, you won't be searching anyway.

Not forget that ChaCha is very young, and it will only grow and become better from now on. With the engine as well as the guides gaining experience, it can only improve. Although, they'll need a 'lot' of people serving out to people if this method of searching catches on. Eventually they will have to have algorithms to help guides search faster and easier. Plus, with pioneers of tried and tested methods like Google on the stage already, I don't know how much the prospect of a novelty can drive users to it. After all, Google 'is' now synonymous with search, followed by constantly improving and well funded players like Microsoft and Yahoo! (even if they are bad!). It'll be a fight for ChaCha definitely, but it's service like nothing else in the field!

Go ahead! Give it a try, and tell me how it went! ;)

Qunu logo

Update: This is not as unique as I thought. Qunu seems to offer the same thing, but offers 'experts' to help you out. I have yet to try out the service, but it does 'look' more modern with it's shiny graphics and nice pictures :) I bumped into it while looking for good skinnable Jabber clients, of which it gave me a nice list. Note that I didn't search for it on Qunu, but Google. This means that they probably store consolidated 'answers' pages of past queries. Cool!