Is ChaCha ‘Imploding’ or Growing?

A post on TechCrunch yesterday suggested ChaCha was cutting the pay rate of its human guides to save costs as a prelude to “implosion.” When I had last spoken to ChaCha the company had presented a very different picture so I decided to investigate and contacted co-founder Brad Bostic.

Bostic told me that ChaCha had been seeing near triple digit growth in query volume and that the company was beginning to introduce advertising, having done a successful mobile campaign with Coke around MyCokeRewards in connection with a Nascar event. He also said ChaCha was gearing up for mobile commerce.

Regarding the compensation of guides, Bostic said that the company was trying to improve the compensation of efficient and successful guides and do the opposite with those who weren’t performing. He told me this was just another step in an ongoing process of refining their compensation system.

Based on my history of conversations with Bostic and dealings with ChaCha I have no reason to doubt the veracity of what he’s telling me. But if one was a skeptic one might want additional, “empirical” confirmation of Bostic’s growth claims. I asked the company for some data.

Here’s a range of information that ChaCha provided to me:

  • Millions of queries per month
  • 90% month on month query growth from Jan-June
  • Over 10,000 new users per day
  • Over 25,000 guides in the system

Advertising:

  • Early advertising trials showed 5.2% conversion rates in mobile
  • ChaCha also said that Nielsen Mobile found that Google SMS has approximately 37 million queries per month. This was achieved over a period of several years
  • ChaCha’s “mobile answers” service launched in January this year and the company said it expects to hit 30 million queries by December, this year

User profile:

  • 53% are repeat users
  • 83% say they consider mobile ChaCha to be “very valuable”
  • Average usage now more than 30 times per month. Compare average mobile search volume is nine times per month
  • 88% hear about the service from a friend
  • Users are 18-34; use it socially and for utilitarian purposes

These data are from the company and I don’t have independent verification. But based on my experience I don’t have reason to doubt their accuracy. The stats are impressive and indicate that ChaCha is growing rather dramatically.

ChaCha began as a desktop search tool that was a very strong concept but offered relatively weak execution. But that has totally changed in mobile.

As a case-in-point, I was at a ShopLocal conference recently. In the evening we had a dinner event on a boat on Lake Michigan. Among the attendees were higher-ups from comScore, including Chairman Gian Fulgoni and EVP Linda Abraham.

Abraham was carrying an interesting purse. She was able to change the “skins” to match outfits or for different occasions. I asked her who invented it: whether it was a man or woman. She didn’t know. We searched on the mobile versions of the major search engines and were unable to find the information. I called ChaCha and it successfully provided an answer. In another situation there was a question and debate about how many employees Google had. Mobile ChaCha provided a definitive answer more quickly than could be discovered through conventional mobile searching.

On the desktop users can do dozens of searches quickly themselves, so ChaCha wasn’t as useful as it is in mobile where it’s painful to search multiple times and wade through links and the text of webpages in turn.

38 Responses to “Is ChaCha ‘Imploding’ or Growing?”

  1. troy Says:

    Not trying to be mean spirited but ChaCha’s business model was dead man walking since day one. I think their best chance of survial is to lobby the government to make their search services available to handicapped or financially disadvantaged people that have no PC.

  2. Morgan Says:

    How is cutting pay in half rewarding guides? For all that matter, how is giving someone who does exceptional the SAME pay they’ve been getting a reward? If a guide takes a vacation, has a sick child, or is otherwise away from their computer for an extended time and cannot make their quote of 300 queries per week (with an above 95% accuracy) – then they are docked 50% of their pay for the next week! Wouldn’t it be great to return from vacation to your real job and find that your pay is cut 50% for being gone? And the accuracy thing is a joke! ChaCha’s system freezes, kicks you off, or is unavailable, and usually it happens DURING a search. And GUESS WHAT? Those count as unanswered queries, and go against your accuracy. The guides are FURIOUS! And amazingly, the ChaCha forum has been “temporarily unavailable” this whole day!

  3. Greg Sterling Says:

    Are you a guide?

  4. Chuck Says:

    I think this new payment structure is a joke. Why would you cut the rate in half, and say that if you do 300 searches at 95% accuracy we’ll pay you what you are making now. They cut out a huge chunk of questions answered by guides by doing auto answers for weather, now they are going to cut the pay. If you only do it part time, and can’t answer 300 questions a week at the ambiguous 95% accuracy rate, then what’s the point? Even if 60 questions in an hour are answered (which is impossible), that’s only $6.00. That’s less then minimum wage. We might as well go work at a gas station, or McDonalds for more then that. What a way to push out 90% of your workforce. I hope this goes national on the news, and turns everyone off to this travesty. They can take their $0.10 a question, and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Maybe they can’t outsource it to India, where that’s a lot of money. I’m waiting for the class action lawsuit to start up, because it’s coming.

  5. Greg Sterling Says:

    You’re a guide then?

  6. tomjr Says:

    I was a ChaCha guide until today. The servers never work and HQ never responds to our concerns – but that is beside the point. My biggest issue is that you state the users are between the ages of 18 and 34. Not unless 18 to 34 year olds spend their days asking about the Jonas Brothers or Miley Cyrus, how to masturbate, how to tell if a boy likes them, or they wanted their name Googled. At least 90% of my questions came from children – mostly from Utah and Indiana, oddly enough – that ranged in age from 11 to 15. ChaCha won’t last – these kids will get bored with prank questions and move on, especially once their parents purchase smart phones.

  7. Chuck Says:

    Yeah, I’m a guide, until the 14th. There are many other things I can do to make money, that will actually put more in my pocket. It’s a shame, since it was nice to work on my schedule after putting in 40 hours at my FT job. I feel bad for the people that do it full time, it was good for stay at home moms and people out of work that needed some money. Now they are going to have to do something else to make some extra cash. My wife was doing this full time, now she’ll have to either make top guide every week, or find something else. I’m going to have her find something else. She was truly dedicated to this company, and now she doesn’t even have the drive to turn her computer on. Way to go Bostic, nice way to “boost” morale. It would have made more sense to leave people at the 0.20 and weed out the bad guides. Regardless, they’d be paying out the same amount. With how mad most of the guides are, the quality of the answers is going to greatly decline. Not a great selling point to prospective advertisers.

  8. Greg Sterling Says:

    Sorry that happened.

  9. Jane Says:

    The terribly sad thing is that with the amount of traffic they have, it’s only possible for about a sixth of their workforce to get that magical top guide status, and that’s only if that sixth answer ALL the questions.

    If people take this move as the propaganda tells them to, that this is a push to make all their guides do their very best to earn that gold star with Top Guide on it, none of them will be able to achieve it. It’s impossible, there just aren’t enough incoming questions to cover it.

    Per their numbers the have 25,000 contractors and the maximum number of questions in one day has been 300,000. If less than half of the contractors worked towards it, they still couldn’t make it. A third, and they still wouldn’t be able to make their weekly quota.

    I’m starting to feel like their slogan should be, “Work Hard. Earn less. ChaCha!”

  10. SearchCap: The Day In Search, August 6, 2008 — Feed Pit Says:

    […] Is ChaCha "Imploding" or Growing?, Screenwerk […]

  11. Ruth Says:

    This quality control that guides’ pay is being based on is not even available for inspection. Guides must take the company’s word that they are at whatever percent accuracy and that they had “y” for their answer rate. Not to mention that technical problems with queries being dropped are assumed to be the guide’s fault and counted against them. Unfortunately, the system is not transparent at all.

    I am amazed that a company that tests guides before hiring, provides training, demands particular techniques when dealing with a query, and does not allow outsourcing or multiple windows open for work, and bases pay on performance/quota can call their guides independent contractors.

  12. Tenna Says:

    I Love ChaCha!

  13. Ari Says:

    I am a ChaCha guide and I found the paycut offensive. You can go to http://www.petitiononline.com/chacha/petition.html
    to petition the paycut (this is for everyone, guides and customers alike)

  14. SEO & SEM Feed Aggregator » SearchCap: The Day In Search, August 6, 2008 Says:

    […] Is ChaCha "Imploding" or Growing?, Screenwerk […]

  15. sue Says:

    Can somebody please address the following issue?
    The ability to ‘increase’ one’s wages to 20¢ per search is based on the Quality Score from a previous week. We have asked for the documentation which defines this Quality Process, but have not received it. And this ‘Quality Rating’ is underway at this moment, being used to calculate next week’s wages.

    In order for the quality process to serve it’s purpose, don’t you think we should have ACCESS to the quality methods being employed? Don’t you think we should know exactly what factors are being assessed, and how the total score is calculated?

    How can they base our pay on a closeted system? And all that we receive is a notification that we did or didn’t make the cut. I believe we have a right to also receive the report showing just where and how we succeeded, or failed.

  16. Vaughn Says:

    The thing that’s been annoying me the most about Chacha is the lagging site. Ok, new pay structure; ill give it a fair go and ‘try’ to get the minimum. Oh wait, I can’t, because everytime I submit an answer, the system lags for 5 minutes. No, it isn’t my computer–it’s coming from ChaCha’s end.

    We’ve seen the beginning of the end; I’m just hoping to make enough money to cover the repairs to my laptop once I get fed up and chuck it out the window. 🙂

  17. Dana Says:

    I’m a Guide and I’m thinking this company is doomed. A lot of Guides left today or will be leaving because someone at HQ really screwed up the pay spreadsheets today. Basically they put up a list of the “top guides”. The ones who get to keep getting paid the agreed on amount. Then a few minutes later, a new list was posted and about half the people were cut from the first list. It all just seems really fishy and it is NOT ok to unexpectedly cut a bunch of people’s pay in HALF with NO explanation…especially not after telling them that they would definitely continue to get the regular pay.

  18. John Doe Says:

    I am a guide and have started proceedings with the IRS, wage and hour division and department of labor. By definition we are employees. They conned 25,000 people to work for less than minimum wage and currently best you can hope for is 1.50- 6.00(if no lag and getting 20) most hours. Class action suit will follow. ALL GUIDES contact the IRS and wage and hour. With multiple complaints something will be done. They acted as if they were genuinely concerned when I spoke with them. The wheels are rolling.

  19. Chris Says:

    Guys, I too am disgusted with the new pay plan but there is no way a lawsuit on this will fly. Please understand what an “independent contractor” is. Look it up and you all will see that ChaCha can and will do whatever ChaCha wants because of our very own status. It is what it is and the best that can be hoped for is to make top guide. If not and 10 cents is not enough then the best option would be to quit.

  20. Angie Says:

    Yes a class action lawsuit can and will “fly”. If you know anything about the work at home company “West” they once had IC’s. They are now paying out from being sued by their IC’s because they were making below minimum wage, etc. Search it yourself. I just want to know where to sign up to be a part of it! 🙂

  21. Alice in Wonderland Says:

    well, I have $775.00 in my ChaCha earnings. I also have my chacha debit card and pin number. AND it has been more than 2 weeks since I’ve had it. I still cannot deposit the money onto my card because they have yet to put the button that allows me to do that on my profile.
    So, you all know how long it takes to get $775 dollars.. Is this class action material?
    I’ve emailed and emailed.. not so much as a peep.

  22. Staci Says:

    I’m not a Guide. Apparently, despite having a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate, I was too stupid to pass that test. However, I was invited to take the ChaCha Expeditor Guide test earlier this week. The pay for Expeditors is even worse than the pay for Guides, a whole whopping 2 pennies per question. I took the exam today. I got one question per minute, give or take, although I did have to wait about four minutes for a question one time. Even if I was guaranteed to get one question per minute, I would still only make $1.20 per hour. I use up more electricity than that just turning on my computer. Good luck with your class action suit.

  23. Tom Delbert Says:

    Things have gotten so bad, ChaCha had to file charges against some guides for threatening employees. It really is a mess! They refuse to provide details on the new “Pay for Performance” plan and only the disabled and Stay-at-home-Moms with few employment options are staying!

    Without defining the criteria, they now pay guides based on Accuracy and Completion rates. Problem is, no one knows how they measure Accuracy or Completion!

  24. Greg Sterling Says:

    Thanks crazy.

  25. Lisa_1071 Says:

    I just signed up to be a Guide and there seem to be no shortages of questions coming in.. seems to be GROWING to me… and the system has gotten much better recently. Not sure why there is so much hostility here. Its up to you if you want to Guide or not. There are no obligations on either side.

    Its fun and I make a bit of extra money whenever I want. That’s about it. I’m online anyway doing other stuff. Oh Well.

  26. ChrisK Says:

    Other questionable practices that ChaCha is guilty of: charging a fee for obtaining wages earned, delaying payment of wages earned, not providing a reliable method of contact for wage discrepancies, and more.
    John Doe-could you please post the phone numbers for everyone to call Wage & Hourly & the IRS?

  27. levi_jeenz Says:

    ChaCha is a joke. There is no support lines, not even for their “contractors”. There is no customer support. I heard about ChaCha at a film festival, and got all my friends involved, but since the pay cut my friends and I have successfully stopped all the guides we know, as well as stopping all our friends from using ChaCha.

    ChaCha will not last another month, or at least I hope not. Corporate bastards…

  28. Reesecup Says:

    Well I am a guide and personally I have no complaints it’s a few dollars extra cash per month and I get paid immediately when I want whatever is in my account. I don’t mind the $2 fee all that much to be honest. 10 cents isn’t much, but it adds up. I can see why the folks who were already getting 20 cents are pissed. I would be pissed also, but I can’t be mad at something I I never had. Also I am not disabled nor am I a stay at home mom and I am staying. Cha Cha isn’t all bad and it is fun. Even the stupid questions are bearable because…I’m getting paid for it either way. That was an easy 10 cents!!! Stop complaining folks…you’re sweating the small stuff!

  29. flower Says:

    I’ve been a guide for a few weeks now and have had no problems. It wasn’t that hard to make top guide two weeks in a row… I’m surprised that people are having trouble with that. As long as you answer the required amt. questions per week and do a reasonable job…. I mean, it’s not that hard. The first week is definitely the worst, b/c no one wants to work for .10 a question…. but once you make it through that first week, it’s fine.

    Also, I’ve found that if you plan to log in and earn the bonuses, you really end up making .30 question. It sounds like nothing, but it adds up quickly.

    anyway, just wanted to post a positive comment about it. I loved the mobile service before being a guide and like doing the guide part now.

  30. Gloss Says:

    Been doing ChaCha for over 6 months and I love it too. Yes, there have been changes in pay. The company wised up- as any company would- that people were gaming the system and not giving quality answers. If you remember, the requirement used to be 300 a week but ChaCha HEARD US and compromised, lowering the requirement to 200 a week. That should be obtainable for most. I’ve never had a problem getting paid or I wouldn’t still be here.

  31. Eso Says:

    I think ChaCha has a good thing going, just saw them in CNN, tying yahoo for second place in mobile search. It seems like the pay change was meant to increase their answer accuracy. As a customer, I’m glad the service is free and I’m glad they are trying to be accurate. Guides sign up by choice, so quit if it doesn’t pay enough, I don’t get all the hostility…

  32. TonyR Says:

    The ChaCha “Pay for Performance” system has been in effect for 2 months now. A guide still can’t tell what pay they will be making from week to week.

    A guide may or may not get an email that lets them know if they made a mistake on a question they answered. If a guide does get an email, it only gives a general description of what they did wrong. For instance, the email may say the problem was with “Citation.” That means they used a bad source. It doesn’t explain why it was a bad source, just that it was a bad source. So how does that improve quality, if you don’t know what you did wrong?

    ChaCha also tells you you won’t get an email for every question the Quality Assurance department checks. That allows ChaCha to cut your pay in half and never give you a reason why. How is it fair to have no idea how you are doing AND have your pay cut for it?

    ChaCha tells you to send in a “Feedback” email if you have a question or problem. It takes weeks to get a reply, if you get one at all. ChaCha tells guides they may or may not get an answer from a feedback.

    ChaCha is built on Work-at-home Moms and others that need TOTAL flexibility in their work schedule. It’s OK for some people, but I don’t see any reason why some guides are so positive about this company. Part of the problem is their rapid growth, but the way they put the needs of their guides at the bottom of the “To-do list” is shameful. They really aren’t very nice people behind this outfit and guides will be screwed over in a second!

  33. JR Says:

    @TonyR why not plan on getting the lower rate, then if you get bumped up its a bonus. pretty simple concept, accurate answers get paid more.. don’t know why you need an email about it in the first place. besides, with thousands of guides and millions of questions its surprising they are able to track it that closely. you still get paid, am i wrong?

    i like chacha. its convenient and easy. gonna stick with it.

  34. jes Says:

    i love ChaCha too, im going to stick with it as well!

  35. Ebsan Says:

    Alright, so ChaCha just underwent some internal changes, and the incoming questions have been getting slower and slower.

    I am a guide, and recently they limited the amount of answers a person can receive to 20 per month. So that means that any one ChaCha customer can only ask 20 questions per month. At first that didn’t effect anything.

    But then they “put in some new code” and I get 1 query every hour. It is ridiculous. I went from making a hundred a week, to almost nothing.

    Do you know what’s going on?

  36. Erin Says:

    almost 2 years later and ChaCha still sucks. I’m just hanging in there so I can be part of the suit when it comes together.

  37. Tiffany Says:

    It is now 2011, I am a guide, they pay out $0.01 per answer to a regular Vet’s and from what I understand, they’ve cut all other “classes” out, no longer can someone be a VT AND a EX. As a regular Vet, the questions are plenty during the day, almost none at night. If I did this full time, (40 hours) I’d never make enough, I must put in more then that. They’re still as immature as ever, and with the history feature, I can see almost every guide is not even wasting time to research anymore. Even when I’ve asked a question to chacha through my own phone, I get answers that make it look like a computer picked these out, not a person, asking the simple question of “When is the next Steelers Game?” Someone will pick the answer “Next Sunday on April 6th 2008!!” I try my best to do the answers I’d expect to get myself, not bogus ones that clearly almost all other guides are sending just to get that $0.01 and move on, but it’s rough. They’ve made some things easier, such as the “score” button as during the day the most common question is about what a current team is performing, I’m able to quickly give them an answer about the game in progress, and the history so when someone starts yelling, I know WHY they’re yelling and can answer their question they asked 3 texts ago appropriately. But suddenly I received a letter saying my account was temporarily deactivated last night, I’m still in shock, it doesn’t even say why, or how long, I’ve done everything they asked, I didn’t send out bogus questions and I’ve kept good qualities. I’ve answer between 500 to 1000 questions daily even, I don’t understand it! Out of all the “active” guides out there, there’s only a handful that actually take the job seriously, and I’m one of them, and this happens? I have no way to contact them, I’ve tried through customer relations but have had no word back and they give a number you can leave a “message” with but no one you can contact directly. It’s like, they just don’t want to deal with their guides anymore, I don’t even know what happened, I’d love to know to correct it, I’ve never had this problem before, I loved this job, my fiance actually is the main worker but this gave me something to look forward to at home when the kids when to sleep, most people would say, it’s not worth it, maybe not, but it was something, when you have nothing, a little bit of something is worth anything, I’m personally very upset over this.

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