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ChaCha Gives You Answers Via Text Message

ChaCha Founder Scott Jones says the move marks ChaCha’s entry into the lucrative mobile search market…

“ChaCha is repositioning itself from a Web-based search engine to become a player in the multi-million-dollar -- soon to be multibillion-dollar -- mobile search market…”

Indianapolis -- In a landmark move, on Thursday, ChaCha began inviting mobile users to send questions of just about anything via text message to 242242, which spells “ChaCha” on many phones, which will instantly be routed to a ChaCha guide for review and the answer will be returned via text within minutes.

“One of ChaCha’s thousands of “guides” will find the answer to the question and text it back.”

ChaCha, a new text-based mobile service that promises the same kind of concierge-style help offered by most cellular service providers through dialing 411, has a real opportunity in what is still an open field in mobile search, according to analyst Greg Sterling.

“This really changes everything,” said ChaCha CEO Scott A. Jones. “The ability to ask any question on your mobile phone at any time and receive the answer from a knowledgeable person was unheard of until now. We are giving everyone with a text-enabled cell phone instant access to information at their fingertips. Knowledge is power, and now every mobile phone just got a lot smarter with ChaCha’s text answers service.”

The company envisions that users will ask questions about finding a nearby restaurant or the possibility of getting a massage while waiting for a flight in a specific airport terminal.

“The service is currently available as a free trial.”

Users do not have to pay ChaCha for the service for now, but they will incur costs from their mobile operators for using text messaging.

Unlike services from other search engines that only provide phone numbers, addresses and Web links to maps, ChaCha will answer open-ended questions such as: “What time does PF Chang’s close on Saturday?” or “What gas station is the cheapest within five blocks of College Avenue and Washington Street?”

“Users can send questions in casual language -- even slang, shortcuts, and misspellings -- without any special formatting or rules.”

“What I find interesting about ChaCha’s cell phone service is that it helps you use the power of the Web even though you do not have an expensive smartphone,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, said in a statement.

“This is not about getting people to buy an expensive phone and service,” he said. “It is about making any phone, from the smartest to the simplest, more useful.”

ChaCha users can ask about sports scores, movie times, airline delays, weather, or local information, including the gas prices and pharmacy locations, for example. ChaCha also answers questions about current events, trivia, or just general contact information for local businesses and residences.

The convenience of ChaCha’s new mobile answers service is unparalleled because it offers answers that people cannot easily find otherwise when they have questions on the go.

Because the questions are being answered by skilled people who are trained to use ChaCha’s powerful internal search tools, questions can be asked as if you are posing them to a friend -– even with typical text slang – and ChaCha will provide accurate answers quickly.

“Now that the world’s biggest community of real-time guides and our powerful technology platform are in place, we have put our technology to use in the mobile device,” Jones said. “On the cell phone, users can benefit tremendously from the assistance of another knowledgeable human who can do research for them -– especially when they do not have access to resources, such as a computer, to do the research on their own. ChaCha is here to help when help is needed.”

The responses have a URL at the end where you can go to see the question and answer on the Web. There is also information on that page about who answered the question (first name and last initial), when they started answering questions at ChaCha and how many searches they have conducted.

There are about 8,000 active search experts at ChaCha, who are paid anywhere from $5 to $10 an hour, depending on their performance, said Jones.

For ChaCha, mobile is the future, although a subscription fee or ads will likely be in the picture. “We believe mobile search is much bigger than desktop search ultimately,” Jones says.

ChaCha began offering a similar search service online in late 2006. It is different from other search offerings on the Web that rely mainly on algorithms to find results for users. Real people field ChaCha queries live.

ChaCha joins many others in offering search tailored to the needs of mobile users. Many services, like those from Google and Yahoo, work just like they do from a connected PC, although the companies often use different techniques to display results that are likely to be most useful to mobile users.

But Google also has a service similar to ChaCha’s new mobile text offering. Phone users can text search queries to 466453, which spells’ Google on most phones, and they will receive an answer via text message. The results are different from what they might get on a PC because they usually do not include a list of links to Web sites, Google said.

ChaCha is also not alone among search companies using human power to find answers. Mahalo.com is another search site that uses people to compile results for common search terms. Workers there weed out spam sites, pages with overbearing advertising and sites that use information without giving appropriate credit to the source.

Soon, ChaCha will incorporate voice into the mix. Users will be able to call ChaCha, ask a question, and get an answer within minutes via text message or a recorded voice message.

“They can either make you work at search, or we can give you the answer,” Jones said. “Which do you want as you are driving down the highway?”

ChaCha has a real opportunity in what is still an open field in mobile search, according to principal analyst Sterling, at Sterling Market Intelligence. While the desktop players are well-entrenched, he said, there is not established consumer behavior and brand loyalty in mobile search yet.

“ChaCha is different from most of what is out there,” Sterling went on to say. “It is easy to use and in many ways offers greater efficiency because you are not receiving links that you have to explore.”

The million-dollar question is whether anybody will be willing to pay for the service. “It is possible to develop a subscription model for mobile search in a way that you cannot do on the desktop today,” Sterling said. “But it would be a service that is clearly better than free competitors.”

As an integral part of this launch, ChaCha will be the “Official Text Answers Service of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.” This partnership allows ChaCha to provide a revolutionary service that allows festival goers to text in questions about screenings, festival events, local restaurants – anything connected with the Sundance Film Festival – and get dynamic, relevant answers from ChaCha guides.

With such a suite of services, Jones says, ChaCha will be able to “blast right past” Google in mobile search. He insists this is not a Plan B, adding that deposing Google in the computer-search market was never Plan A.

For more information about ChaCha’s new text service, visit http://www.chacha.com/textChaCha or simply text your question to 242242. ChaCha guides are waiting for your questions.