A new human touch for search helps guide users

In order to help users filter through the clutter of the Internet, several new search engines have paired technology with human guides to provide better, more relevant search results.

“The key is really to filter out the bad information and leverage the power of the medium to let the great information rise to the top,” said Unity Stokes, co-founder/ president of OrganizedWisdom.com, a human-powered health search engine.

OrganizedWisdom, which launched in September, uses search guides to create content pages on health-related topics. The content pages — called WisdomCards — are reviewed by physicians for accuracy.

The problem is that Yahoo, MSN and Google are not always able to distinguish between good and bad information, Stokes continued. People are much better at vetting content and understanding the context of queries, he added.

“Being able to have a professional guide you through the process saves time and guides people to safer information that they can use,” Stokes said.

Like OrganizedWisdom, search engine Mahalo.com also pays people to create and review content pages for several search terms. And ChaCha, a mobile-centric search engine that launched in January, allows people to send ques­tions via text mes­sage or call a 1-800 number to ask their questions verbally. A “ChaCha guide” researches the ques­tion and sends an answer back via text mes­sage within minutes.

Each search engine is free. Mahalo and OrganizedWisdom are supported by ads, and ChaCha is in the process of developing its ad model, according to Scott Jones, CEO, chairman and co-founder of ChaCha.

Human-aided search is most powerful in areas where there is major financial inter­est, such as in products, travel, health and finance, said Jason Calacanis, founder of Mahalo, when reached by e-mail. “In those spaces there are millions of people fighting to get clicks, and users might only need two or three good links,” he said.

A search for “Paris hotels” on Mahalo, for example, yields links to Frommer’s, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet and The New York Times. “Those top sites don’t rank on machine search engines because of the competition from thin affiliate sites — [also known as] spam sites,” Calacanis added.

Traditional search engines put a million results in people’s laps in a split second, then make them spend the next several minutes or, potentially, hours hunting and sorting through information, said Jones. No one’s going to be able to do that on a smartphone when they’re driving or walking down the street — no matter how much the technology improves, he said.

“I think this is going to have big implica­tions for the marketing industry,” Stokes said of human-powered search.

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