ChaCha see ChaCha do

Mobile Q&A company launches social queries, goes head to head with Formspring.me.

Technology trends and news by Matt Bowman
March 22, 2010 | Comments (2)
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/e82

 Last week, we wrote about Formspring.me’s new funding and the hoax that helped launch it into the mainstream. The company lets users set up a simple profile with a box for visitors to ask the user any questions they like. The site says it has grown to 50 million unique monthly visitors since launching in November (Quantcast puts the number at 13.1 million).

Looks like ChaCha saw an idea worth stealing (update: see CEO Scott Jones' comments below re: the genesis of the idea, and the first comment below. I still think it's fair to say this, loosely speaking). ChaCha is a heavily funded startup that lets mobile users send any question via text and get a human-generated answer back, much like Aardvark, except ChaCha vets and pays its experts.

On Monday, ChaCha launched ChaCha.me, where anyone can set up an “ask me anything” page very similar to Formspring.me. Both offer simple integrations with Twitter and Facebook.

ChaCha edges out Formspring on the feature front because it also allows for comments on people’s answers. But Formspring.me has a big headstart in the traffic race, which ChaCha hopes to make up for with a couple maneuvers: they are automatically adding a Q and A feature to the profiles of all 15 million or so businesses listed in ChaCha, and they are enlisting celebrities to be the “Featured ChaChee of the Week,” designated to answer questions from fans. The inaugural Chachee of the Week is grammy-winning artist David Guetta.

ChaCha’s online traffic has taken a sharp turn for the worse in the last two months, according to Compete. While that doesn’t necessarily mean mobile usage has dipped, a slowdown in online traffic could mean slower growth. (update: see CEO Scott Jones' comments below)

Though the social query model is not making money for Formspring or ChaCha yet, simply attracting more attention could spur usage of ChaCha’s core product. The mobile messaging service is profitable--Jones has said the company makes a profit by delivering SMS ads with its answers.

One can easily imagine an advertising-based model turning the social query services profitable later on as well, since the marginal costs of each new user and each query is next to nothing.


Update: I sent some questions to CEO Scott Jones. Below are his answers:

MB: Why launch this now? Do you hope to make this part of the business profitable, or is it mainly to attract users to the core product... or both?

SJ: Yes, the social aspect of ChaCha, which we started in mid-2009 is a core part of our strategy. We are now tightly integrated with Facebook and Twitter. And we have highly-rated apps on both the iPhone and the Droid. ChaCha users are finding our service invaluable, especially in the mobile realm. Allowing users (often called “ChaChees”) to answer questions themselves is another form of content that can be leveraged across multiple platforms (facebook, twitter, texting, web, mobile web, iphone, droid). And, we are providing advertisers with very powerful, high-value ways to be integrated into the conversations.

MB: I noticed that Compete showed a decrease in web traffic to ChaCha.com in the last few months. Is this launch a response to that--ie, a way to boost marketing for the ChaCha's core service?

SJ: Actually, compete doesn’t do a very good job of tracking our uniques and pageviews, but quantcast tags our pages and is therefore quite accurate. Quantcast does show that our traffic went down starting in early January, which seems to coincide with changes Google has been making to its crawler and search engine. We are now back on the upswing both from search engine traffic as well as social network traffic.

MB: The service is obviously very similar to Formspring.me. Was that the inspiration for ChaCha.me?

SJ: We’ve had “ask a friend” at facebook long before formspring.me. And we’ve been heavily emphasizing social extensions of our human-oriented service. This was an idea we’ve had for a very long time. We already have additional capabilities that others don’t have and in coming weeks, we will have mobile integration for both sms and smartphones. Also, we will have even greater integration with our core ChaCha engine, allowing guides to source information from ChaCha.me. This helps celebrities and businesses (and advertisers) get their messages out to their audiences, fans, and customers in a more controlled way.

MB: Any other Celebrities you plan / hope to line up in coming weeks?

SJ: Yes! We have a great line-up and will be announcing soon.


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Description: ChaCha answers who, what, when, where and why, and has emerged as the No. 1 way for advertisers and marketers to engage their audience. ...

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Douglas Karr
Douglas Karr, on March 22, 2010

Matt, your use of the word "steal" is not right. First: We started developing ChaCha's social media strategy back in November. My understanding from Ade (friend of mine and co-founder of Formspring) is that Formspring.me was actually developed Thanksgiving weekend.

The goal of my consulting with ChaCha, as requested by their team, has always been to break into social media. We started cautiously with a WordPress plugin and then finalized a Facebook App. At the same time, the team also released a public API through Mashery. It is true that I brought Formspring's adoption and success to ChaCha's attention - it's something that could not be ignored.

I don't believe that ChaCha stole from Formspring just as much as I don't believe Formspring stole from Twitter. Formspring is a product and a company. ChaCha.me is a feature of a much larger product that encompasses mobile, social and search media. Both companies will head in different directions with different strategies. Being friends with both, I want them both to conquer - but I don't see overlap.

Streaming was made a hit by Twitter and adopted by Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Friendfeed, and practically EVERY other social media application on the Internet. It's becoming a standard of user experience when pushing content via the web. I could even be argued that Twitter 'stole' the idea from blogging (hence the term, "micro-blogging").

The initial leak (thanks to me) showcased a display that was virtually just like Formspring, but that was never the intent. The intent was to stream Q&A in a social application that could integrate with all of ChaCha's other features.

I would not be surprised if Formspring is somehow adopted into the Twitter product. I would also not be surprised if ChaCha continues to make Q&A easier for companies to connect with consumers, peers with peers, and for people to find answers easier - whether answered by a guide or a friend. That makes it the Internet's only true 'answer engine' in my book.

PS: Formatting on comments really sucks here! :)

Matt Bowman
Matt Bowman, on March 22, 2010

I'm not suggesting ChaCha did anything illegal or illegitimate in imitating Formspring. On the contrary, so long as ChaCha is not stealing IP, and I don't think it is, this is all fair game and makes good business sense. I think it's clear from the context that I'm using "steal" in an informal sense. Your account confirms what I said--that the ChaCha.me service was informed by Formspring's success. Sorry about the formatting glitches. I'm putting in a note to our support team.

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