A web-surfing workaholic makes it pay
I am a ChaCha  Guide. That probably doesn’t make sense to most of you, so let me back up. I am a workaholic.
I inherited my work ethic from my parents, both full-time teachers, who pack their free time with odd jobs. I work as an office manager at Seven Days, a sales associate at the University Mall, a fundraising event planner, a babysitter and a freelance writer. Still, I never feel like I’m accomplishing enough, adding sufficiently to both my resume and savings account.
So when my friend Eric informed me that the little free time I have left could be filled with yet another job that I could do from home, I was on board. Well, to be truthful, at first I thought it must be a pyramid scheme or something. I read craigslist often enough to be familiar with such ploys: part-time jobs that claim you can earn $1000 a week from home . . . if only you give them your credit card information first.
The name of Eric’s gig did little to convince me of its validity.
“ChaCha?” I asked him. “Like the dance?”
Eric explained that ChaCha is a service that allows you to text message any question to 242242, which spells “ChaCha,” and receive a personalized answer back from a human guide, typically within minutes. The company calls the service “free mobile answers.”
Eric urged me to go to the website to see that it was legitimate. So I did. It turns out the company launched in 2006, and added text service in January this year. It has 75 full-time employees at its Indiana base, and uses 30,000 auxiliary “guides” around the country. After some additional investigation, which entailed looking up ChaCha staff members on facebook and myspace, I decided to give it a go. After all, they weren’t asking for anything personal, and they promised to pay 20 cents per provided answer. I signed up to be a Guide and started my training.
I quickly found that ChaCha Guide work can be done whenever it fits my schedule — literally. As the website advertises, users can “ask anything, anytime, anywhere.” I prefer to work evenings, preferably with “90210” DVDs showing in the background. I settle in front of my laptop, log into the ChaCha Universe, set my status to “Available” and wait.
Ding-dong! Every time there’s an incoming query, a chime sounds on my computer, and a message box appears on my screen indicating, “You have an SMS query notification. Do you wish to take this query?” I’ve learned that you must accept a question quickly or someone else will. You can’t see the question in advance, and have to answer at least 95 percent of the inquiries you accept — or the pay rate drops.
Once I say yes to a query, the Universe page refreshes and the client’s question appears on the screen. Directly below it is a button I can click on to see the client’s history — basically, it’s a list of recently asked questions. Below that is a button I can click on to begin searching for a source page with the appropriate answer. As part of its quality control, ChaCha requires that this source page be sent with each answer in the form of a link.
When I’ve found my answer, I click another button that says “Save this page as result.” This automatically brings me back to the original Universe, now complete with an answer box. I edit the answer to my liking, often adding a send-off such as ChaCha on! Tell your friends about us! or Keep on doing the ChaCha all night long! After one final verification, the answer is sent, and the session ends.
A disclaimer posted on the ChaCha website warns that the service is “for entertainment use only.” This makes sense, as ChaCha essentially adds the element of human error to the traditional search engine. The truth, however, is that the majority of ChaCha users actually are using it for entertainment. Sure, I get my share of questions regarding directions and weather, but for every inquiry that pops up asking, What time does Jiffy Lube close? there’s another behind it asking, So, how old are you? ChaCha users, it seems, get a kick out of getting to know their Guides.
My first experience with a personal question came on my first night working as a Guide. The user asked, Are you cute? I responded, As a button! Thanks for using ChaCha! Then I sent the client a link to a website called cuteoverload.com. Cha-ching! Twenty cents in the bank!
One time a client asked if I would be their only friend. I was not sure how to address that, so I told them ChaCha would always be there for them. Someone else went as far as to ask me if I would measure his dick for him. I assured him it would be difficult to do through text messaging, but sent him a helpful link.
Users also enjoy asking things that would be impossible to know, or at least impossible to search for in public Internet records. For example, Will I ever get a girlfriend? Am I too sexy 4 my shirt? and Why is Peter being such a douchebag? Questions with a yes or no answer can easily be addressed with a quick trip to the online Magic 8 Ball. For the others, I either have to confess that I am not actually psychic, or play the role and pretend that I am.
A ChaCha client’s history is often just as entertaining as his or her current question, if not more so. It can also be extremely helpful in answering the question at hand. One of my all-time favorite queries came from a teenage girl who asked, I am obsessed with Nick Jonas. How do I learn to stop being obsessed and just be a normal fan? Not an expert on the Jonas Brothers, I opened the client’s history for some more clues on how to address her inquiry. There, I learned a little about her as a person, including that she was Mormon. Next, I opened up my search and found a Nick Jonas fan page where I learned that Nick had attempted to give up soda for his New Year’s resolution but was unable to do so. I wasn’t sure if drinking soda was against the rules for Mormons, but I feigned ignorance and decided to use the find in my answer. Did you know Nick tried to give up soda for New Year’s but couldn’t? I typed. He may but cute, but he has rotten teeth!
A client’s history can sometimes be incredibly depressing. I once received an inquiry from a woman asking how to get her boyfriend to stop cheating on her. I checked her history to find three previous questions in this order: How do I make my vagina tighter? Does getting an abortion hurt? and How do you make crystal meth? I reluctantly answered the question at hand, albeit subjectively, but I really wanted to ask the woman for her address so I could send a social worker her way.
I also get my share of questions with hard and true answers, and often find them just as entertaining. Why? Because I love learning. The things I stumble across through my research as a ChaCha Guide often find their way into my conversations later in the day. Things like, How many people have tattooed their eyes? What is causation? and What is the origin of the word gig, as in music? While I average a minute and a half in my research-and-response time, some questions prove so interesting that I completely lose track of time. When one client asked me who Jeffrey Dahmer was, I got sucked into a Wikipedia biography and lost nine minutes!
In my first month working as a ChaCha Guide, I earned $108.40. It might not sound like a huge amount, but it is $108.40 that I did not have before. And the best part is, I did all of the work when I chose to, and enjoyed every second of my time in the Universe. Working for ChaCha allows me to cash in on two of my favorite past times: learning useless information and wasting time online.
Plus, the entertainment is endless. Not just when I am researching online, but also when I am out at the bar with my friends and we entertain ourselves by thinking of crazy questions to send to ChaCha. After all, I’m not just a Guide; I’m a user, too. How about: What does the ChaCha phenom say about social isolation on the Internet? Online or off, humans are humans.