This morning I was listening to the Net @ Night podcast (it used to be Inside the Net) when I heard about a new search engine ChaCha. The idea behind ChaCha is that when doing a search the searcher can get live help, via chat, from a “guide” who will assist in finding the info. needed.
As I listened to the cast several things raced through my mind. First, I was sorry I wasn’t listening to the podcast in it’s Sunday night live version because I would have immediately gone into the chat room and said, “Hey, the library does this!” Second, I was thinking why aren’t the hosts wondering why the library doesn’t offer a service like this. Third, I wanted to know why the hosts didn’t know about library virtual reference services. And, fourth, I thought why is ChaCha getting this play when the library isn’t?
As soon as I could I went to ChaCha to try it out. I decided to ask a question that wouldn’t be really easy to answer. I asked the ChaCha Guide to help me find a concise write-up of the pros and cons of Net Neutrality. (I thought this might be difficult because whenever I hear people talk about Net Neutrality they tend to waiver in what they say about the positives and negatives.”)
The Guide went off and did a search and after a couple of minutes brought back two results. (Neither of which was concise or simply pro/con information.) And then, the guide didn’t ask if I needed something else, the chat session simply ended and I had those two results.
Obviously this service leaves something to be desired. But, the real point for me is that it exists and is within a search interface that teens might more readily access than the library’s Ask A Librarian type service. Many people have written about the positive and negative aspects of library 24/7 reference services. The quality of these services vary but libraries can’t wait to figure out how to make it work better. ChaCha isn’t the first and it won’t be the last. If we want teens to use our services virtually we have to be innovative quickly. Take a look at ChaCha and think about what they do right? Think about what will draw teens to this service? What can the library do for teens in virtual reference that ChaCha can’t. More importantly, how can the library provide instantaneous guidance without teens having to do multiple clicks in order to get to help in a search?