Hoosier-powered search engine ChaCha has unveiled a feature developed with the help of $2 million in Indiana state funds: mobile-phone-based searches. Scott Jones, the serial entrepreneur behind ChaCha, would like everyone to believe that this is a whole new category of search. Actually, it's something Google has been doing for years. (Try texting a search query to 46645 on your phone.) ChaCha's innovation? Instead of getting an answer back in seconds from a Google server, you have to wait minutes for a human "guide" to respond.
They can either make you work at search, or we can give you the answer. Which do you want as you're driving down the highway?
Since I'm already cruising down the highway, I probably need directions right away, not minutes later. By the time a ChaCha guide responds, I may have missed my exit. And I don't particularly want to pay 99 cents a search (the eventual price Jones proposes; for the time being, the service is free). The ubiquitous GPS devices in cars do this pretty well. As for things like movie showtimes, weather, directory assistance — searches that ChaCha and the rest of the industry identify as the most likely to be made on a phone— well, that doesn't take much work. I already have free phone numbers or apps for those requests that provide an instant response.
This is the problem with rich entrepreneurs: They're out of touch with their customers. 99 cents may be nothing to Jones, a millionaire with a Midwestern mansion. But for those of us watching our pennies, why would we bother? ChaCha's new mobile service targets the idle rich: People, like Jones, who are used to making other people perform menial tasks.