What does Cha Cha have that librarians don't?

On public radio's Marketplace program yesterday, I heard this story about ChaCha, a mobile research service that we've seen discussed here before: [1] [2] [3].

How can librarians compete with this service? Since many users seem to treat it as a joke, do we even need to? Discuss.


Was I the only one who noticed a disconnect between the "serious" financial-oriented question presented as an example by the reporter in his introduction to the story and the silly/trivial stuff that people were actually asking the "guides"?

"When is God coming back?"

"Is this a good day to take off my shirt?"

Such B.S.

Yes, when I worked a public library reference desk many moons ago, we got the occasional "settle-a-bar-bet" question -- e.g., How many #1 singles did Elvis have? But at least these were requests for actual information.

One question mentioned in the MP segment asked the guide which city was better -- Cleveland or Pittsburgh? Oh, ferheavenssake...a completely subjective value judgment, and someone is asking a disembodied voice for this?

What was scary is when the Cha Cha guy talked about building a database of all these queries and answers so others could draw on this high quality information. I think the real point is what he said about peddling this data to marketers who want to see what "consumers" are thinking about...and also using the service to steer people to local stores, which generates a kick-back for Cha Cha.


One site I think librarians should take a look at is eNotes.com. My school's teachers send students there to get additional free help from other teachers. Teachers can also participate and be paid for helping students, it's a great resource because it's fact checked and "serious" unlike Yahoo Answers or Cha Cha.

Thing is, when you ask for the wisdom of crowds, be prepared for the madness thereof too. One of my favourites was on Digg a while back, a user on Yahoo Questions posted something a question like "On a scale of 1 to 10, how ticklish is a 4 year old?"

So of course that generated a storm of furious response about the sickness of the poster etc.

Sigh... if anyone had bothered to look at the user name of the person asking the question. They called themselves "Obvious Troll Is Obvious"

Some books contain the machinery required to create and sustain universes. Tycho (Jerry Holkins) @ Penny Arcade

>What does Cha Cha have that librarians don't?

Relevance to people's day to day real life information needs. I use Cha Cha all the time to answer real questions. The tone taken against Cha Cha from librarians reminds me of tone taken against all the other technologies that have come along and the library world has not become involved enough in. City libraries should offer service equivalent to what Cha Cha is doing. And if librarians got creative and used the resources available to them maybe they could make an even more robust service. Then instead of people saying that they got their info from Cha Cha they can say they got their info from the library.

Immediacy. It may not necessarily have quality staff able to distinguish nuance, but when the question has an easily found answer it seems to be fairly accurate.

More accurate than the staff at some libraries, I might add.

This leads to a perception problem. Cha Cha *is* better than what one can expect from some libraries due to our profession's long-term lack of quality control for reference personnel ... you might say that we don't "own" a nationally recognized quality brand. We do, however, have some very good local ones.

What I can't figure out is Cha Cha's business plan. Even public libraries have income.