ChaCha lets you, literally, ask a question

ChaCha launches voice input feature on human-powered search site for people who don't want to send a text message.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read
This post was first updated at 9 a.m. PDT to correct the CEO's last name, which was wrong in information provided by the company's public relations firm. Also corrected was the number of user queries ChaCha has completed thus far. The post was updated again at 10 a.m. PDT with results of tests of the service and a fixed Web site link.

Forget about paying several dollars to use 411!

ChaCha, the human-powered Web search service, has a service that puts all kinds of local search and other information at your fingertips, for free. The company is updating its service at CTIA 2008 in Las Vegas on Tuesday to allow you to ask your questions instead of having to type them in.

To use the new service you can call 800-224-2242 (which spells "chacha") and specify the information you want to an automated attendant. ChaCha then sends you a text message with the answer. You can access your questions and answers on the Web as well.

I tried it out and found it accurate and fast. Within a few minutes of me asking where I could get a veggie burger and a margarita in downtown San Francisco it came back with an answer: Perry's Downtown, 185 Sutter Street "They have a full bar, it's casual and good ratings." Bravo!

The service took a little bit longer with my other question: "What is the genesis of April Fools' Day?" The answer: "Is the day of unknown origin. Yet, most of the western world knows this is a day set aside for good hearted pranks, hoaxes & gags." Fair enough. It's not the best question to use to test out a mobile search service anyway. (For a more information on the obscure origins of the holiday visit Museum of Hoaxes.)

Eventually, you will be able to get the answer via voice too, says Scott Jones, chief executive of ChaCha.

The free service launched in January and so far has signed up more than 40,000 unique users and completed more than 600,000 queries, according to Jones.

There are no ads yet but the company is planning to run them in the second half of the year.

Voice input is great for people who are not accustomed to doing "fat-finger texting" or who are driving.

ChaCha had guides dedicated to the Sundance Film Festival and at South By Southwest but it sounds like Twitter was still the place people turned for information about important events at the show, like which parties had short waiting lines.