Sunday, when I was at the DEN PETE&C pre-conference, somebody mentioned to me a new search engine named ChaCha (I wish I could remember who told me about it, could have been Aaron).

This site is extraordinary. In a nutshell, it’s your typical search engine, but right next the normal search button is one that says “Search with Guide”. hen you click that, it opens up a page with a chat window in the left sidebar. Within a few seconds, you’ll have a human being on the other end who is not only going to help you with your search, but is going to be friendly and polite at the same time! I know, that sounds too good to be true.

So how does it work? Basically people can apply to become “Guides” and check off what areas they have strong knowledge in. Whenever they feel like it, they log in and wait for people to request assistance in their areas. Once someone does, they chat with them, and do a few searches to try to find answers to their questions. They’ll pull up the results in the main window, and when you find what you need, you can just say farewell and move on with life.

Yes, they do get paid for doing this. They get paid an hourly rate for the time they spend searching (not the time they spend waiting). Don’t know how much it is, but I think it’s pretty darn cool. Personally, I really enjoy doing research, and also learning new things, so I think it would actually be pretty fun to be one of their guides. I doubt I’d make enough to quit the ol’ day job though ūüôā

So far as I can tell, right now they’re only hiring US citizens, because they require a social security number. However, I’d have to imagine that will change. Time differences aside, it just seems like a web site begging to be ‘flattened’. However, I’d love to see this done with students.

For example, have the 7th graders serve as “Search Guides” for the second graders. So when a second grader needs info about “African Animals” for a report, they have a seventh grader help them find it on the internet. Helps to improve the search skills of the middle schooler and models safe and appropriate searching for the younger student. Or perhaps they can be research assistants for students in other schools to help bolster their skills. Would also be an opportunity for them to practice IM speak that would be appropriate for a work-type environment.

Just imagine, a student who has a question about how to decipher a passage in Shakespeare could receive help from a peer his own age from somewhere else in the country or world. Could be interesting. Think students would enjoy helping each other out in the evenings during homework time? Essentially serving, not as tutors, but as study resources for other students?