Understanding Google Helpouts, a video chat service for experts to share their skills

Written By Bruce Tushabe  Twitter @tshub

Combining various aspects of the Google ecosystem, the search giant on Tuesday launched Helpouts, a video-based online marketplace where individuals and companies can offer their expertise.

Google’s mission is to
organize the world’s useful information,” said vice president of
engineering Udi Manber as he introduced the service to members of the media.
“But if you do search for a long time, you realize most of the world’s
useful information still resides in people’s heads. This opens the door.

Helpouts, is a Google’s fusion of Google+ Hangouts, Google Wallet, and its identity tools. A ‘Helpout’ is a Hangout-like video chat, but instead of speaking with a friend, you are connected to a purported expert in whatever it is that you need help with. The tagline that Google has come up with for Helpouts is “real help from real people in real time.”

Imagine a video chat session that you are paying for, that lasts for as little as a minute or two. You have an issue, say, what is this lump on my hand, or, how do I pull off a particular makeup trick, and have a quick chat with a person who can see what your problem is.

That’s the edge that Google thinks Helpouts has over every other content variety and service that helps you solve the situation you find yourself in. Today at its San Francisco offices, Google gave the media a look at the product, and proffered some hands-on time with its interface. The assembled tech press watched someone attempt to correct a drywall hole, apply lipstick in a particular way, and zest a lemon.

Both on the desktop site and Android app, users can schedule sessions with experts or launch a Helpout immediately, paying for the service using Google Wallet. They’re asked to provide feedback at the end of the their meetings to help the community wade through experts, and Google promises a money-back guarantee if they’re unsatisfied.

The company also sees potential for Helpouts to impact health care, recruiting counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, lactation specialists, and others to the platform. At launch, the HIPAA-compliant service will waive transaction fees in the health category, though director of business operations Christina Wire says health-related Helpouts likely will “be moving toward a fixed session pricing structure.”

Though Google has many ideas about how people can use this new marketplace–virtual tutoring, makeup tips, home improvement advice, and more–Manber is more intrigued about future possibilities. “There’s one last thing that obviously excites me most because I’m interested in innovation, and that’s new applications and new uses,” he said. Google will eventually make an API available to developers, but there is no timeline for its availability.

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