iDrive Launches OOLOO, A Voice Search App Powered By People, Not Algorithms

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iDrive, a company better known for its data backup and syncing services, is now branching out in a new direction with the launch of a mobile application called OOLOO. (Seriously, we’re running out of names, aren’t we?). The idea for the app can best be explained as something of a “staffed” version of Siri – meaning that instead of algorithms and engines answering your queries, real live people are.

It’s not a new idea. Back in 2007, Jason Calacanis launched a human-powered search engine called Mahalo where employees answered search result queries, alongside user-generated content. That company is still around, but no longer functions as a search service – its most recent pivot saw Mahalo reborn as a mobile news application instead.

Meanwhile, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone‘s new startup Jelly introduced a similar user-generated search engine for mobile that’s sort of like a step up from Yahoo Answers in terms of quality (well, sometimes!), but which has also struggled to find traction.

The problem that most of these human-powered search services face is that they’re simply no match for Google. It’s not only now ingrained in user behavior to search Google for an answer, but also asking a person for an answer is almost never faster than a Google query in returning the information you need.

Even when the services focus on a specific niche, like Quora does with curating quality, longer-form content, they can’t seem to find enough content creators and/or visitors to really blow up and take hold with a mainstream audience.

So OOLOO (which must be hoping to capitalize on Oovoo typos?), which comes from a company whose background is in data backup and not user-gen content creation or search, seems poised to struggle, too.

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“We just felt with all the other apps out, like Siri for instance, it could be done in a much more efficient way,” explains Matthew Harvey, who handles biz dev at iDrive, of OOLOO’s creation.

The app is simple enough to use. You speak your query into your smartphone’s microphone, then receive a push notification when someone responds. The company suggests asking about local restaurants, products, short translations, directions and more. But, really, you can ask just about anything, they say.

In testing, the app warns that queries might take longer, as they’re overwhelmed with interest. (Or: we just launched, and already can’t scale this thing.)

That being said, my queries were answered in about a minute or two, and fairly accurately. In addition to the data, they tend to point to a link on the web where you can read more.

Since its launch late Friday, OOLOO has seen over 10,000 queries and downloads in over 50 countries. Because of demand, they’ve made OOLOO U.S.-only for now.

As to whether there is longer term user demand for this kind of thing? Time will tell.

OOLOO is a free download on iTunes and Google Play.