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IU, search engine explore deeper Web-based research in new partnership


Indiana University and the human-powered Internet search engine ChaCha are partnering to create a one-stop virtual reference desk that connects students with an array of experts and other help.


They will debut a Web-based search platform this semester allowing students, faculty and others to look for information using a machine-based search that marks the results recommended by IU experts. Visitors who need help finding information or refining their search can chat online with an expert in real time.


ChaCha Search Inc. hires humans to supplement the automated search results with customized research. For the IU version of ChaCha, the initial experts will primarily be the university’s librarians and information-technology staff; they won’t automatically become part of ChaCha’s search service for the general public.


“We’re experimenting with some of the cool things we can do when we apply human intelligence to all that’s the best of the university’s Internet,” said ChaCha co-founder Scott Jones, an IU graduate.


Brad Wheeler, the school’s vice president for information technology, said the platform will be “just like walking into the reference desk of the library or walking into the support center.”


“This is really a pioneering thing, so I don’t want expectations to be that we’ll turn this on tomorrow and there’ll be peace on earth,” he said.


The platform eventually will expand its expert help to include faculty and students, and topics far beyond academia. Jones said a student who wants to visit a restaurant near campus might be connected “to someone who was there last night and knows to order the salmon.”


ChaCha will pay IU based on how often the system is used. IU pays the search engine nothing, but gives the company a chance to test its product. Jones said ChaCha is talking with several other schools about similar agreements.

– Associated Press

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