Alliance to leverage IU’s knowledge assets and ChaCha’s innovative human-guided search technology
Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie and Scott A. Jones, co-founder and chief executive officer of ChaCha, an Indiana company that is creating a new and more focused way of providing Internet searches, have announced they have entered into a strategic alliance for research, development and services for the next generation of Internet search tools and practices.
This new partnership will incorporate the collective knowledge and experience of the university’s library and information technology staff into ChaCha’s new search engine architecture, which combines a sophisticated machine-based search with skilled human guides who can quickly bring focus and precision to the search product.
“Great universities of the 21st century will master and integrate digital information as an essential part of research and learning,” McRobbie said. “Our alliance with ChaCha creates a strong and capable partnership to research these digital frontiers and to develop leading tools for the IU community.”
The alliance is one of several partnerships McRobbie intends to make with Indiana-based businesses to promote economic and technological growth in the state.
It will enable IU and ChaCha to develop a better understanding of how guided search can best serve the complex needs of students, faculty and academic researchers. The name ChaCha comes from “cha,” the Chinese word for search.
By combining machine-based searches with input from human guides, ChaCha is able to offer users the ability to receive instant results, just like a traditional search engine, but the guides help the user focus on relevant information and eliminate unwanted material.
The strategic alliance between IU and ChaCha maximizes the enormous potential of guided search by linking IU’s intellectual power to ChaCha’s practical platform.
Serving as guides, IU librarians, information technology staff and others will be available to help users conduct searches through a live instant message chat interface, identify exactly what information the user is seeking, refine the search for the user and then display only the most relevant results.
“The current practice of machine-based search is an essential tool, but alone it is insufficient for domains of specialized expertise and the needs of scholars,” said Brad Wheeler, vice president for information technology at Indiana University.
“With this strategic alliance we establish pioneering paths to bring human insight and expertise to the moment of need. We see a generalized platform for expertise projection to the IU community rather than building unique tools for each academic discipline or service. This is a research, development and production service alliance.”
To launch the alliance, IU and ChaCha are collaborating on several projects for implementation as early as fall semester.
Under way immediately is the addition of ChaCha as the power behind IU’s search portal, search.iu.edu. When IU students and faculty use the service, IU guides will be vetting and voting upon the instant search results, constantly improving them. Guides will also available for information seekers’ interaction via live chat.
“Co-founder Brad Bostic and I are pleased to work with our alma mater to improve online search for the IU community,” said Jones. “The domain-specific knowledge and advanced searching skills they have to offer searchers made this partnership an ideal match.”
As one of America’s most wired universities, IU offers a rich technology environment with 24×7 support for its faculty and students. The ChaCha platform will become part of the IU support model to enable live interaction with Support Center staff in addition to the award-winning IU Knowledge Base, e-mail and walk-in services. ChaCha’s approach to guided search provides new opportunities for efficiencies in user support.
Similarly, the capabilities of IU’s librarians may be expanded through application of ChaCha’s guided approach to inquiry. IU Libraries’ “Ask a Librarian” online tool currently provides access to librarians with extensive Web-searching experience.
“ChaCha will offer a new platform to integrate librarians’ expertise into the search and learning process,” said Patricia Steele, Ruth Lilly Interim Dean of University Libraries. “We have a long history of providing trustworthy and reliable information to people who seek it from us. This platform will now help us push our expertise outside the walls of the library to where people are working.”
David Lewis, dean of the IUPUI University Library, said, “One of the wonderful things about the web is its ability to bring knowledge from around the world to anyone’s desktop, but it is often difficult to sort through everything that can be retrieved to find what is really needed. ChaCha’s technology has the potential to harness the expertise of many individuals and to apply it to the challenges of finding authoritative information on the web. As a librarian, I find this opportunity to be really exciting.”
Beth Plale, director of the Center for Data and Search Informatics (DSI) at IU, said, “ChaCha’s use of guides on a very large scale raises interesting research questions in social informatics, machine learning and scaling. As a research endeavor, DSI is pleased to have this close connection with ChaCha to explore these and other research questions on very large and real data sets.”
Other opportunities to be explored by the partners include improved Web content strategies, engagement of scholarly communities and their knowledge repositories, possibilities for tutoring applications, scholarships along with student internships and employment. ChaCha already has a search relationship with the IU Alumni Association including a ChaCha IU search bar for Web browsers.
“One of Indiana University’s greatest strategic assets is the knowledge generated within the academic community and its various constituencies,” said Wheeler. “Finding better ways to explore and leverage IU’s knowledge repositories and engage its subject matter experts to provide greater knowledge certitude online will ultimately benefit every student, faculty and staff member at Indiana University. Partnering with an Indiana company for these makes this a great path for IU and the state. ”