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When you boss over a work force of over 30,000 you'd better possess formidable communications skills. When you run an intricate network with perhaps all these thirty thousand working at once - in addition to perhaps hundreds of thousands of clients - you'd better know how to run your network.

And when you sit down with your VCs - perhaps Jeff Bezos amongst them - you'd better have a clear idea of what you want to do and a clear plan of how you're going to go about doing it.

Scott Jones started ChaCha two years ago. Jones certainly has a pedigree: he's worked at Indiana University; co-founded Boston Technology; co-founded Escient Technologies - which later became Gracenote and produced the music recognition software used by Apple's iPod and iTunes, AOL, Yahoo, and the Sony VAIO; founded Precise Path Robotics - which created the IRV; chairs Gracenote, Gazelle TechVentures, IndyRobotics, Grow Indiana Media Ventures; and now ChaCha.

And Jones holds eleven patents, including for voicemail, and sits on the boards of the Indianapolis Zoo and the Indianapolis Children's Museum. So what happened with ChaCha? For something has definitely happened.

ChaCha started as something akin to Google Answers as a 'human guided' online information source. That was the original plan. But it didn't work out too well. So Jones turned the ship in the middle of the night and came up with the idea of a human guided mobile information service instead.

People using handsets contact ChaCha with questions - and hopefully get answers. The questions are filtered through any number of online supervisors who categorise the questions and set them back in the pool. From there the questions go to so called 'guides' who then have a limited time to provide the answer.

Answers must always be qualified: the journalistic 'two independent sources' is not required but at least one 'non-Wikipedia' source must be cited.

Callers can ask about anything.

Does Bobby love me?
How do you best fuck a girl?
What is the point spread on the Steelers game?
What is the ambient temperature of the aardvark?

And so forth. Often the questions don't make any sense (see above) and/or cannot be answered. ChaCha's guides are required to always provide some semblance of an intelligent answer no matter the idiocy of the question.

Why Do It?

ChaCha's callers are often teenagers and preteens. They're an important advertising demographic. A lot of callers are students trying to coast through homework assignments and exams.

ChaCha's guides do it to supplement their income. It's a rather perfect job for single or stay at home mothers. Download the Firefox plugin, go online when you want, answer a few questions, pick up some formula money.

Supervisors get a few pennies for every question they forward; beginner guides get US$0.10 per query adequately answered; the real good guides get twice that. On occasion there are extra prizes and the most productive coworkers each week get more still.

Supposing a few fast workers attain to the elevated tariff of US$0.20 and can maintain a blazing speed of one question per sixty seconds they can pick up an hourly wage of US$12. Which isn't milk and honey but given the liberal working conditions can fall into the category 'why not'.

Given 30,000 or more guides can be answering questions at this rate ChaCha have to shell out US$360,000 per hour.

Given this level of traffic you'd also assume the ChaCha network is reinforced.

CustName:   ChaCha Search, Inc.
Address:    701 Congressional Boulevard
Address:    Suite 100
City:       Carmel
StateProv:  IN
PostalCode: 46032
Country:    US
RegDate:    2007-07-16
Updated:    2007-07-16

NetRange: -
OriginAS:   AS6402
NetName:    NFRAME
NetHandle:  NET-208-40-245-0-1
Parent:     NET-208-40-224-0-1
NetType:    Reassigned
RegDate:    2007-07-16
Updated:    2007-07-16

And given a work force that already two years ago had reached 20,000 you'd expect there'd be a substantial training programme.

But you'd be wrong on all counts.

The guide forums at ChaCha are filled with thousands of complaints of ChaCha technology and company organisation repeatedly going tits up. Some people claim ChaCha owe them thousand of dollars in unpaid but registered revenues; the network's always going down; the latest outage (now brought to the attention of this website) has been going on for over a fortnight.

Callers are getting increasingly frustrated, reading back on their handsets that services are not available; guides who've come to enjoy the supplemental income find they can't really count on ChaCha with failing computer services; even guides who don't know a thing about computer science wonder why the company can't roll back to an earlier system that ostensibly worked; and so forth.

For ChaCha's 'engineers' regularly announce they're going to 'improve' the system; the system ends up tanking instead; the engineers take the weekend off and leave everything falling apart; after the weekend they cryptically announce they're going to 'look into addressing the reported issues'.

Several attempts to obtain further information from this company from within their own website have met with 404s; for some browsers the 'old' ChaCha which is still linked from the bottom of every page of the website no longer exists; and so forth.

ChaCha's sales and marketing officer Jay Highley says the company's growth is 'a clear demonstration of just another step in the execution of what was a well developed plan'.

Yeah right. Shows you can hype just about anything. But at the end of the day ChaCha are dependent on their callers and coworkers. Who are growing increasingly frustrated over the staggering incompetence of the corporation's network engineers.

All the hype in the world won't help you with that.

Postscript 2008-11-21

It seems the clowns in Jones' new startup are both lacking in administration and organisation chops and also can't leave well enough alone. After being scorched by this article six days ago they managed to get their system 'almost' back to normal again (after abandoning it all weekend long for extensive rounds of brewskis) and now six days later they're at it again - 'improving' the system that is.

Reports reaching this site say this is the worst crisis ever with several subsystems knocking each other out. No one can get traffic out of the system; no one can get traffic through to the system; and no one can get through to Scott Jones either. If this clown doesn't want Bezos biting his head off he's going to need to institute some discipline in his wobbly company and fast.

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