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IU & ChaCha: Reports of Google's Demise Greatly Exaggerated

Earlier we reported that Indiana University has partnered with Internet search service ChaCha, also based in Indiana, to create an alliance for developing research tools and services via the Web. Since then, we've had a chance to speak with Brad Wheeler, vice president for information technology at IU, to provide some clarification on the move, including information that contradicts other reports out there.

IU President Michael A. McRobbie, who figured largely in the announcement, was previously on ChaCha's board of directors, and this fact has captured considerable media attention recently. However, according to Wheeler, McRobbie resigned the position when he became president-elect of IU March 1--several months prior to the date on which he took office (July 1).

Wheeler also pointed out to Campus Technology that, contrary to other reports (including our own earlier report), the deal with ChaCha is not an exclusive one, but one involving a variety of technologies, including ChaCha and Google. Reports have stated that IU planned to drop Google entirely from its technology repertoire; this is not the case, as the university continues to run searches off its Google Search Appliances, and a decision has not yet been made as to whether Google will be dropped from the mix or not.

"This is an additive, pathfinding relationship to help the IU community.," Wheeler told us this afternoon. "We're drawing on a variety of sources and techniques, and ChaCha is the leader on guided search."

As for the status of Google in IU's search mix, Wheeler indicated that the university will likely reevaluate the use of Google Search Appliances in about a year when its current licenses expire.

More information about this can be found in Wheeler's recent speech, which is linked below.

Why ChaCha?
The purpose of the switch to ChaCha, according to IU, is to "develop a better understanding of how guided search can best serve the complex needs of students, faculty, and academic researchers."

ChaCha combines machine-based searches with human guides, who are available to help narrow searches and answer questions via chat. As part of the deal with IU, the university's librarians will become guides "to help the IU community 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."

In the Works
In terms of implementations, the university said it is working on projects immediately and in the near future. The immediate projects include adopting ChaCha for the university's search portal. Other, as-yet undisclosed projects are underway for launch by the fall semester.

Some of the potential opportunities for the ChaCha partnership, cited by the university, include:
  • Expanded roles for IU librarians to help with guided inquiry;
  • Tutoring;
  • "Improved Web content strategies;" and
  • Student internships and scholarships.
We'll bring you more information about the partnership and IU's deployment of ChaCha technologies in the coming weeks.

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About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 25-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).

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