Helpouts From Google Connects People With Experts Over Live Video
A new product from Google, Helpouts, connects people with experts over video chat to give free or paid advice for tasks as varied as how to apply lipstick, how to treat a burn or how to speak Mandarin.
Helpouts, which Google plans to open to the public Monday night, is an acknowledgement by the company that its search engine misses a lot of information that people want. Because it was so late to social networking,people turned to competitors like Facebook and Twitter with their search queries when they wanted personalized answers.
“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s useful information,” Udi Manber, the Google vice president for engineering in charge of Helpouts, said at a press conference Monday in San Francisco. “But if you do search for a long time, you realize most of the world’s useful information still resides in people’s heads.”
Google’s search engine often finds the right answer if someone knows the question to ask, added Mr. Manber, who previously oversaw engineering for search. The problem, he said, is “very often you don’t know what question to ask.”
For instance, with live, one-on-one video, a yoga teacher could instruct a student to hold her arm at a different angle or a lactation consultant could suggest that a mother position her infant in a different way.
Yet for the kind of questions the search engine can’t answer, Google already has an alternative: YouTube, where how-to videos, like tying a bow tie or installing a car seat, are one of the most popular types for viewers and advertisers.
Live Helpouts videos are different, Mr. Manber said, because the expert can see exactly what a person is doing wrong, and the user can ask questions.
Other companies, like Quora, try to connect people with experts to answer questions, and some use video, like Joyus for shopping, American Well for health care and Wello for fitness training.
Helpouts is also part of a trend in tech to bridge offline and online commerce, including Square for payments, TaskRabbit for hiring people and Airbnb for renting homes.
If Helpouts succeeds, Google hopes it will provide experts with a source of income, so retired doctors or guitar players could teach people online. Experts charge a fixed rate or by the minute (a Helpouts session from Kitchit on making Thanksgiving stuffing costs $20). They keep 80 percent and Google takes 20 percent.
Helpouts is an obvious venue for marketers (Sephora is offering free one-on-one make-up tutorials, for instance) and Bridget Dolan, Sephora’s vice president for digital marketing, said she could imagine eventually selling products from a Helpouts session.
Mr. Manber said Google was also considering adding offline interactions, like asking a home repair expert to come to your house to do the job or deliver a tool. Tech companies are interested in connecting offline and online commerce because it is one way to prove to marketers that online ads result in offline sales.
To use Helpouts, people must sign in to Google Plus and Google Wallet. It is available online and on Android phones, and people can schedule Helpouts in advance or request one spur of the moment.
To combat the risks of live video, Google for now interviews and runs background checks on every expert that uses Helpouts, though Mr. Manber declined to explain exactly how that approval process would continue if Helpouts expands. Users can rate experts, report abuse, end a session at any time and get their money back if they are unsatisfied for any reason. Helpouts is compliant with the patient privacy law, HIPAA, for medical sessions.