Google has announced an interesting new platform that they’re calling ‘Helpouts‘, in order to connect users with experts from around the world. When I first heard about this, I was very excited because this is an idea that I had been toying with for some time now. The premise is simple. If you’re a user, you can go onto the Helpouts platform and pay to engage with an expert in category such as Home & Garden, Computer & Electronics, Cooking& Education, Health & Counseling, Nutrition & Fitness, Fashion & Beauty and Art & Music. If you’re an expert in one of those given fields, you can sign up for Helpouts and offer your services free of charge or for pay (with an 80/20 split to Google).
Why This is Exciting
One of the biggest things missing from online education is interaction with the instructor. Sure, I can chat with my students via social media, email, and even a Google hangout if I want, but that’s just an extra layer on top of the instructional content. Something like Helpouts will allow me to connect one-on-one with a student and provide them with realtime feedback and instruction. This also gives educators a scalable way to charge for their services. While you’re still giving away 20% the Google, I think it’s worth it for the infrastructure that you’re getting. Not to mention that this will most likely be tied to your Google+ and/or YouTube account(s) and will most certainly have a serious impact on your search ranking.
Why I’m Still Skeptical
Google is notorious for trying things out in a very public beta format, and then sunsetting the tools shortly thereafter (Google Wave, anyone). As a business person, I’d be hard-pressed to invest much time and effort into this without some sort of assurance that it would be around in the next 6-12 months. While I realize that it’s not realistic to expect such a declaration from Google, I still feel as though this will be a very niche product/market for the foreseeable future and thus easily killable by the fine folks in Mountain View.
The Big Question
The lingering question that I have, is how much should you charge for services like these? Obviously that’ll be based on the type of service you’re performing and the credentials you bring to the table, but in an age where people are becoming less accustomed to paying for content, how willing are people going to be to shell out full-market value for consulting via a platform like this? I’m not sure. I can already hear some folks saying “Yeah, this is cool, but I can find the info on YouTube for free…”
I’ve signed up for an invite to the Helpouts service, so I’ll reserve final judgement until I’ve actually had a chance to test it out. That being said, I think this is an awesome move forward in the worlds of education and customer service. Allowing users to connect with experts in various fields is a great way to democratize education and make it easier to get second opinions on many issues like home repair or even medical issues. We’ll see how this progresses and where it goes, but I think ultimately it’s a win-win situation for all involved.