Saturday, October 20, 2007

ChaCha for Outdoorsmen

I am out in Mitchell, South Dakota on a hunting trip this weekend. It's an annual tradition that has been ongoing since I was old enough to walk. I haven't been on the trip in a couple years (and I am really not a bigger hunter - I mainly go to see old friends and spend some time with my Dad) so when I went to prepare for the trip I was unsure of the gear I needed to pack. I turned to my cousin Andrew for advice.

The ultimate sportsman, he can tell you exactly what type of gear to buy to prepare for your pheasant hunting trip on the opening weekend in South Dakota this year. Since Andrew is from Minnesota and he hunts in his home state or South Dakota almost every weekend, he knew that this year it is going to be unseasonably warm and (since it has rained heavily) extremely muddy. Thanks to Andrew I arrived prepared with waterproof rubber boots and lightweight hunting clothes.


Andrew is also a ChaCha Guide so it occurred to me that hunters using ChaCha would be much better prepared than those who might use an algorithmic-only search engine. You would need to tap into a dynamic source with deep, current knowledge of the hunting conditions to prepare properly for this trip. I think this is a great example of human powered search delivering answers that standard search engines such as Google cannot. If you Google "what should I wear for opening weekend of pheasant hunting in South Dakota this year" you currently get results about pheasant hunting in South Dakota but nothing about what you need to be wearing this season.

So whether you are planning to go hunting or heading to Desolation Canyon for a white water river rafting trip, give human powered search a try. You will be glad you did!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

So what is human powered search anyway? PART 1

Overview
There is a lot of talk about "human powered search" these days. Since co-founding ChaCha, which is lumped into this formative category, I have come to find that human powered search means many things to many people.

These meanings include human edited web pages, message board-style services like Yahoo! Answers where anyone can answer any question (and often-times the person
answering is doing so more for the entertainment value of their "answer" than anything), and true expert services where questions are asked on specific topics and people who are knowledgeable on those specific topics respond with answers.

Ask.com is not human powered search
One thing that really needs to be cleared up is the notion that Ask.com (formerly AskJeeves.com) somehow utilizes people who provide answers. It is tough to tell exactly what Ask Jeeves had in mind when it first launched since IAC offers only a brief company overview. Ask.com definitely does not fit in the human powered search category today.

Hand-written and human edited content
Many services exist today that utilize people to write web pages on specific topics. These are considered part of the human powered search category. About.com is the best known service utilizing this approach. I would include Wikipedia in this group as well. Mahalo is another recently launched service that follows this basic approach to creating web content framed in a search context. Valuable content can be created by people writing and editing web pages and this content is attractive to Google. The SEO power afforded to such human-edited sites is the primary value equation that allows them to create a niche on the web. It will never be the case that human written topical web pages positioned as search sites will change the way people access information. They definitely do not make a big impact where access to information and answers is soon to matter most - on mobile devices. Also, quality and validity of the information on Wikipedia is being called into question so frequently that it is banned by many universities as a valid information source.

Message boards
Message boards have been around since the dawn of the web. Today some message boards are oriented toward people asking questions for others to answer. These are included in the human powered search category. Examples include Yahoo! Answers and the now defunct Google Answers. Yahoo! Answers has tapped into the massive traffic of Yahoo! to gain a large base of users (90M or so). Anyone can answer questions on Yahoo! Answers once they great a login.

Paid expert services
There are also services that require users to pay for access to specific experts. These services are proving that users are willing to pay a premium for efficient access to experts online that can answer complex questions accurately.

More to come on this topic...