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."
Murmurings of Helpouts first emerged over the summer, and Google has been quietly dogfooding the service internally. A Google Hangouts meets TaskRabbit, Helpouts is launching with more than 1,000 partners, including brands such as Sephora, Kitchit, and HomeAdvisor, who will use live video to share their skills on a one-to-one basis. Partners, who are vetted for their qualifications, can charge per session, by the minute, or offer their services for free, and Google takes a 20% cut. Though the company couldn't specify the average cost of Helpouts, Manber said competition will govern prices.
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.