Can You Really Make Money with Chacha.com?

For those who haven’t heard yet, Chacha.com is the latest Web 2.0 experiment – a human-powered search engine recommended by James Scholes. The idea is simple, searchers (called InfoSeekers) can use a traditional style search or can search with a ‘trained’ human guide in a chat room-like interface. 

The guide categorizes the query and finds relevant results that are sent directly to the InfoSeeker and Chacha’s database. Simple idea and honestly, I wouldn’t have given it a second glance if it weren’t for one fact, guides are paid $5 to $10 per search hour.

Never one to pass up the opportunity for quick and easy money I promptly applied to become a guide through a craigslist listing. With visions of money pouring in as I breezed through query after query I jumped in with both feet and hoped for the best. So far I’ve been disappointed.

There are a few major obstacles blocking this from being a viable cash cow. The first being that bit about “per search hour.” At first, I didn’t realize this would be a problem but the reality is you can sit there for hours and only be paid for a handful of legitimate searches. Not only that but to be chosen as the guide for the search you must click that “accept” button faster than the other guides out there, otherwise you’re left in the dust. Often times you don’t even have enough time to review the query’s topic before it’s taken by another guide. Oh, and nothing is more disappointing than hearing that alert go off, jumping up from what you doing to get the search first, and seeing something like “asdf” or “help me find naked girls.” Sigh. Decline.

Great, so you’ve been sitting there for hours with your trigger finger anxiously waiting for that chime alerting of you a new query and you’ve finally got one. Now, assuming it isn’t just another prank, you’ve got yourself a legitimate InfoSeeker. There’s one catch, you’ve only paid for the first 6 minutes of a search. They claim this is to guarantee guides do their best to be speedy, but what this really means is the max you can ever make on a search is 50 cents! (or a buck for an ‘elite’ keyword’ which I’ve never had). So even if you spend 30 minutes searching a particularly tough query or specific InfoSeeker you’re only getting 50 cents.

No matter how good you think you are at searching, these longer than 6-minute searches can happen more than you’d think. For example, one time I had an InfoSeeker who wanted a silhouette picture of a mobster. Doesn’t sound too bad, until he wants it a specific size, with a specific pose, in a specific outfit, and a cigar in his mouth. I tried recommending him to forums where people may be willing to make it to his standards for free or a small fee, but he insisted I find one. Another time an InfoSeeker was looking for a Mac alternative to a specific program that simply didn’t exist. Despite showing him proof that it did not exist and offering a few different solutions he insisted on continuing the search.

So why put up with these impossible to satisfy InfoSeekers? It all comes down to Chacha’s flawed rating system. At the end of a search, InfoSeekers are given the opportunity to rate their guide as Poor, Good, or Excellent. Guides depend on these ratings for promotions but too many bad ratings can also lead to demotion. No matter how much you try to help some people there are those that will insist on rating you poorly.

Then there are the pranksters, the ‘clever’ of which keep their searches as legitimate as possible while still being annoyingly prolonged and infuriating. Guides are trained to treat all searches as real unless they can be 100% certain it is not a prank. When you have someone sending you on a wild goose chase with a query with no answer you tend to get annoyed. No matter how well you track down an answer, you know you’re getting a poor rating and 50 cents. There are also the less clever pranksters who will have your search for the most ridiculous things and then scream at you when the pocket protector you found them isn’t the right color. You try to keep up your “professionalism” but you know you just got yourself a poor rating.

While the going has been slow and my initial enthusiasm is completely exhausted there is still some hope. Chacha is working to revamp its system with a few changes that might work out for the better. The first is having users sign-up before they can search with a guide. This should help eliminate some of the pranks, but may also cut back on the already slow search offers. They’re also adding a points system that will allow guides to earn money between searches by recategorizing previous queries and other similar tasks.

It’s not the quickest or most enjoyable way to make money, at least for me, but I’m not giving up. It’s earned me less than $20 but its still money and there is no risk involved.