Is having your own personal reference librarian for the Internet an idea whose time has come? chacha.com certainly hopes so. The premise behind this unusual search portal is that you search on a term, then are put in contact with a guide who will run the search for you, pull up the most likely results, and help you refine the search to find more of what you need. These people are paid as contractors, earning $5 an hour (or $10 an hour if they build up a really good record as excellent searchers) plus recruitment incentives for the searches they run—though a big difference between this and other pay-for-contributions sites such as the late lamented Themestream or ePinions is that guides will have the option of being paid instantly via a transfer to a debit card (with a $2 fee per transfer).

The site was only started earlier this month, and there are a few questions as to whether it will last very long. The premise reminds me a good deal of Themestream, a site from just prior to the big dot-com bust that paid writers for blogging before anyone even knew what blogging was. I actually managed to make a couple of thousand dollars from that site, due to writing two articles and getting them slashdotted. But Themestream burned through its venture capital and fizzled like a meteor hitting the ocean. Is Cha-Cha going to do the same?

Also, the search interface is slightly clunky. In order to get a guide, you should probably search on a very broad and general term, then ask the guide to refine it for you. (i.e. if you want a plot synopsis of Naruto, search on “anime” and then ask the guide for the synopsis.) The software interface for guides is a little clunky, too, consisting of a currently-Windows-only Java application that serves as a chat tool and wrapper for Internet Explorer. It’s a little tricky to work with.

On the other hand, the idea of having, or serving as, an Internet reference librarian on topics of interest to oneself is a remarkably cool idea. And if $5-$10 an hour is chickenfeed, it’s not bad for sitting-at-your-computer-anyway money. I’m definitely going to ride this rocket until it flames out, while hoping the idea catches on.

Incidentally, if any of my readers (yes, both of you) would like a guide invitation, please drop me a line and I’ll be happy to shoot one off to you.

Edit: Also, ChaCha just appeared on Good Morning America—though it did so in the time slot that my local station pre-empts for its local news segment. Oh well, at least I can read their article about it.

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