Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chick Flick or Wrestling? Answer to continue ChaCha-ing.

Back in December I started using a free text message service called Cha Cha. If you text a question to Cha Cha, you will receive an answer via text. It is not the most precise tool, but it is convenient for those urgent questions that you must have an answer to when you are nowhere near the internet. However, the service comes along with advertisements at the bottom of every text message. These are clearly labeled as ads, and you have to text for more information about them, but they are still there. These ads are the reason I will no longer use Cha Cha.

On March 7 I texted Cha Cha to ask for a reminder of what Rikers Island in New York was. I got the following response in a text message from Cha Cha*:
Hey, b4 we answer, pls help us personalize ChaCha to better meet ur needs. Just answer 4 short Qs! -- Q1. What is your gender? Txt MALE or FEMALE back to us
The two options were really distasteful to me personally, but I also took issue with the principle of dichotomizing gender and refusing to provide service until I chose one gender. I responded by texting back: Neither.

Cha Cha did not like that, and texted the following in response:
Chick Flick or Wrestling? We need 2 know ur gender so we can send you offers u care about! Txt MALE or FEMALE to keep ChaCha-ing.
I understand (although I do not like) the need for ad space in this service. I also understand that targeting ads makes them more effective. However, in the format of a texting service, targeting ads based on gender is problematic. Text messages are short correspondences and they do not serve well to accomodating the other numerous, multi-layered gender identities that many people would feel more comfortable with.

Texting basically makes it necessary to rely on a gender dichotomy that just isn't realistic for most people. Chick flick or wrestling? I like neither of those things. That's exactly why I refused to answer Cha Cha's gender question and will not be allowed to Cha Cha anymore.

*The interesting thing is that I was discussing this with two other people who use Cha Cha and neither of them has been asked to answer the gender question. I am not sure how the service chooses who has to answer the question or when.


Anonymous said...

My friend answers questions for ChaCha, and has shared a lot of her experience with me. This is not a question ChaCha would ask, from what I know about the company. Your question gets sent to a guide, who is supposed to answer back with relevant and pertinent information about the question at hand. Anything added to the answer is to add friendliness (ie, "Happy New Year!" around Janurary 1st, and so on) but I've read through the ChaCha guide handbook and it says nothing about sending messages like this.

Theres supposed to be over 35,000 guides, and its supposed to be random- who gets what question- but from some of the things my friend has gotten (a person was trying to sue her over some stupid little misunderstanding, on the texters part) so you can get the same guide in a row. But like I said, I highly, highly doubt this was from ChaCha personally, and if you have the tag of the guide who sent you the questions, it might be a good idea to ask ChaCha about it yourself. If this was not something ChaCha had ALL the guides do, then it goes against the rules all guides must follow, and is more likely than not illegal.

Amelia said...

That is incredibly interesting, Anonymous. I have saved most of the text messages regarding this matter on my phone, but I'm not sure what you mean "the tag of the guide".

Either way, do you have any suggestions for the best way to go about asking ChaCha about this issue? Who/what department would be the best to contact?

Thanks for the comment! This issue has been bothering me since it first came up.

Anonymous said...

(I apologize for the horrid confusion that could result from my comments- they aren't very well organized as I am dealing with a migraine. My sincerest apologies.)

All guides have a username, but sometimes it doesn't show in the reply, but thats what I meant. Sorry for the confusion.

I just sent the article to my friend and we're discussing it right now. It confused her at first (there are some questions that do require gender specification like healthy height/weight questions, but obviously, yours was not).

Heres what it says straight from the ChaCha user terms and services:

Is ChaCha serving ads with my answers? At ChaCha, we work with advertisers who wish to provide targeted offers and messages to our users. These advertisements are included after an asterisk in the confirmation and answer messages we send. We work closely with the advertisers to ensure the messages are as targeted and as valuable as possible. As a ChaCha user, you have agreed to receive these messages are as targeted and as valuable as possible. As a ChaCha user, you have agreed to receive these messages by agreeing to our Terms of Service.

The guides themselves are *not* allowed to ask questions regarding anything personal. Only the advertisers are allowed to conduct studies, and anything that is an endorsement or from the advertisers themselves will follow *the answer first* with an asterisk (*) for seperation. If guides are asking for this information, it is more than likely to be fraudulent.

You can contact ChaCha at

(My friend also apologizes for the awfulness of the situation- she has really enjoyed her work at ChaCha and hopes everything works out for you!)

Amelia said...

Thank you for your quick response, and please send my regards to your friend. I will contact ChaCha about this and see what comes of that.

P.S. I hope you feel better. Migraines are no fun. :(

Anonymous said...

I work for ChaCha so you'll have to forgive me for the anonymity. After you have asked a specific number of guided questions we put you into a survey mode where we will ask your age, gender, phone type and zip code. This information is used for service customization (for instance, the zip will be reused for further weather/movie/etc requests) as well as ad targeting. ChaCha is a free service but is also funded via advertising, hence the questions. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Amelia said...

It's good to hear from people with connections to ChaCha! I appreciate the information.