Last week, Q&A vet ChaCha closed a new $14 million round of funding showing that there are still believers in the Q&A space. We had the opportunity to speak with founder and CEO Scott Jones about what ChaCha has in store, and what it intends to do with that money.
Q&A is, in some ways, very similar to search. It's all about seeking answers, and this is something Google and the rest of its search peers continue to try to improve upon. Yet some of the biggest names on the Internet, including Google have only stumbled when trying to take on Q&A. Jones thinks it has to go beyond the algorithm and include a human touch. He says that for Q&A, ChaCha is doing a much better job than Apple's Siri, which he says will "basically punt," and search the web (though he acknowledges that the product is good for device-internal purposes).
Google, as you may recall, bought Aardvark a few years ago to get pretty much into ChaCha's space. It didn't work, and Google shut it down. Facebook has tried the Q&A space to no avail. LinkedIn just killed its answers service as recently as last week. These other companies just "aren't built for realtime Q&A," says Jones. "They try to bolt something on, and it just doesn't work that way."
ChaCha certainly isn't the last man standing (Ask, for example, is still grinding it out, and has even been doing some TV advertising lately). Quora has been getting a lot of attention, but Jones says he doesn't really view it as a competitor, in that it's more about long form answers (a point validated by Quora's recent launch of a blogging feature) as opposed to ChaCha's realtime quick answer style.
But ChaCha thinks it has the Q&A formula down, or at least closer than anyone else. According to Jones, while you may not have seen that from ChaCha yet, you will soon.
The new funding is all about growth, and a significant part of that is a new upcoming mobile experience, which will inevitably take over ChaCha's web presence. They've been cooking up a new mobile app, which is codenamed "Go Big," but is essentially a complete overhaul of the ChaCha apps that are out there today. It will first come to iPhone, then Android and others. It is a much more social media-oriented experience, and utilizes the Social Reactor feature the company unveiled not long ago. More on that here.
The biggest change ChaCha users will see is that the Q&A experience is moving from a faceless/nameless experience to a social one, so you know who's answering the question.
"None of us are good enough for consumers," Jones says of Q&A services, in reference to delivering useful answers consistently. He says people need these answers to come at least nine out of ten times, and the new app gets ChaCha "darn close". He's been using an early beta version.
Look for the new app to hit the iPhone in March, then Android and the web later. Jones says he isn't all that proud of the current ChaCha web experience, going so far as to call it "kind of crappy". But the experience that comes with the new app will hopefully change all of that once it hits the web.
It's going to be interesting to see if ChaCha can make a bigger mark. The service is already getting two to three million questions on an average day.