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After Hours

Google Helpouts Offers Live Advice Now

Google Helpouts Offers Live Advice Now
November 5, 2013 10:27AM

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To make its Helpouts service work Google will need to market the service but more importantly ensure quality and strictly enforce editorial policies. Google must be very selective about its experts and patient about building the Helpouts service, said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence.

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Putting a user-generated content twist on Amazon.com’s video-based customer service for Kindle Fire tablets, Google is now offering the masses a little interactive “helpout.” Google has officially rolled out a live, video platform dubbed Helpouts.

“What if getting help for a computer glitch, a leaky pipe, or a homework problem was as easy as clicking a button? What if you could connect via real-time video to a music teacher or a yoga instructor from the comfort of your home? What if you could get someone knowledgeable to get you ‘unstuck’ when you really need it?” -- those are the questions Udi Manber, vice president of Engineering at Google, posed to the masses in a blog post introducing Helpouts.

Manber described Helpouts as a new way to get and give help over live video. He said Google’s goal is simple: to help people help each other. Google wants to use the convenience and efficiency of the Web to make it possible for everyone, no matter where they are or what time it is, to easily connect with someone who can help.

Get Real Live Help Now

“Help might be a quick answer to a problem you’re having right now, like how to fix your garage door, or how to remove a computer virus; or it might be guidance completing a project, like building a deck,” Manber said. “It might be learning a new skill, like how to speak conversational French or how to draw cartoons; or it might be general advice on how to improve your fitness or your writing (I could use this right now).”

With Helpouts, Manber said, you can choose who you get help from based on that person's qualifications, availability, price, ratings and reviews. You can connect instantly or book in advance. And you can get help from individuals or from brands you already know and trust, like Sephora, One Medical, Weight Watchers, Redbeacon, and Rosetta Stone. Google is rolling out Helpouts piecemeal, starting with just a few categories.

“Once you’re in a Helpout, you can do more than just talk -- you can share your computer screen, collaboratively edit a presentation, or record your Helpout,” Manber said. “And if the experience doesn’t meet your expectations, we offer a full money-back guarantee.”

Can Google Make a Go of It?

We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his take on Helpouts. He told us it is an interesting attempt to build a live expert network on the Hangouts video infrastructure.

“To make this work Google will need to market the service but more importantly ensure quality and strictly enforce ‘editorial’ policies,” he said. “The company must be very selective about its experts and patient about building the service.”

Sterling said it also remains to be seen whether consumers will want to pay live experts. Of course, the money back guarantee takes some of the risk out of the service. He also noted that many of the Helpouts sessions are free and expects those will be the ones consumers will turn to initially. However, he added, free Helpouts also risk simply being marketing sessions for books, products or other "offline" services, which Google seeks to prevent.

“There have been other expert and how-to networks in the past that have failed,” Sterling concluded. “But given the rise of remote education or distance learning it's possible that this is coming along at the right time.”

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