FindInfo.com – My Human Powered Search Engine
I have owned the domain name FindInfo.com for many years, and have tried creating various search engines on it, but none of them have ever made any money. I know it is hard to compete with Google and Yahoo, but search engines are a billion dollar business and with a killer domain like this I figured it was worth a try.
Back in the early 2000s I made FindInfo.com into a site where you could win money from doing searches. Each time you did a search, it would give you a point, and each point would give you an entry into the monthly cash prize contest. Users seemed to like this, but it never ended up drawing more traffic to the site, so I never made any extra money from it. And, it was a hassle to deal with the programming bugs and giving out prizes.
Then in 2007 I decided to try making FindInfo.com into a human powered search engine, where real people would help you find the search results you needed. ChaCha.com was already doing this, but they were constantly being criticized for the bad quality off the answers (search results) they gave. This was because they used thousands of part-time workers spread throughout the world who were paid very small amounts of money, and many of whom had little experience and were unmotivated. I already was paying a company in India to do server support for me, and in the past I had used them to provide customer service for some of my sites, so I figured they could do a much better job at providing the answers than the ChaCha.com workers were.
In January 2008 I launched this new version of FindInfo.com, where users would first do a search the normal way (with the results powered by Google), but then if they did not find what they were looking for they were given the option to have a FindInfo.com search consultant do the search for them for free via a live chat window. You can see some real examples of actual searches that were done at http://findinfo.com/samples.htm .
In addition to the live chat option, I also gave users the ability to call FindInfo.com by telephone to do a search for free. I did this by setting up a VOIP phone system and software in the same office in India where I had the workers. My total costs were $1000/month for the workers plus $250/month for the VOIP system (which included the cost of phone calls from the USA to India).
After some technical glitches and a few weeks of practice, everything was running well. I added a link to FindInfo.com on Bored.com and it was getting several hundred chat (search) sessions a day. And, the best thing was that as I had hoped, around 95% of the users just did the normal search (with results powered by Google), found what they were looking for, and never even used the human powered search. That was good for me because I made no money from the human searches, I only made money from Google paying me as an affiliate for their searches. Another good thing was that I only ever got one or two phone calls, since I made no money from those (I set that up just to make the site exciting and for publicity). Also, initially I was worried about kids or troublemakers using wasting my workers’ time with “fake” chats, but that never was too big a problem.
The problem was that the site never made a profit for me. I only made around $100/month from the Google searches, and more importantly traffic to the site never grew any. I expected people to love the fact that they could actually have real people help them for free (I did not even make users register for the site), and although most users were happy with the answers they got, the site never built up any following and never got any publicity. By the end of 2008 I negotiated a new deal with the company in India so as to have less workers and lower the cost to $300/month, and I got rid of the call-in phone number, but the site was still losing money, so I closed it.
Is there a lesson to be learned from all of this? I am not sure. Maybe somebody else could have promoted the site better and had it take off. Or, maybe somebody else could have sold placement in the human assisted searches (like if a user wanted a good online video game site, we would recommend a site that was good and also paid us). Maybe adding social networking features to the site would have helped, making it more of a community. I don’t know what went wrong, but I am still glad I gave it a try.