Mike Isaac

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Google Launches Helpouts, a Live Video Tutorial Service

googleHelpoutsIs this the end for Hints From Heloise?

No, the nationally syndicated household-hints column is still up and running. But I imagine that after Tuesday, it’ll have a bit more competition.

That’s because Google launched its Helpouts service this week: The initiative aims to bring live video tutorials, instructions and services to users via the company’s Hangouts streaming video platform.

Think of it as an on-demand video marketplace for how-to miscellany, a way to receive walk-throughs on concepts as simple as spackling a hole in your drywall, or how to make the perfect turkey stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner.

“If you look at live video today on the Web, it kind of reminds me of the beginning of the Web back in the ’90s, with its low-resolution images and video,” VP of engineering Udi Manber told reporters at an event on Monday. “Helpouts look so good, you feel like you’re already there.”

The concept is clean and simple: You have a query on how to accomplish some sort of task, and search through one of Google’s initial 1,000-plus launch partners for help. Helpouts will offer up a list of participants who can help you, which you’ll be able to choose from based on their relevance, qualifications (vetted by Google), and their overall batting average (vetted by users with feedback reviews).

Pick your partner and, ideally, you’ll be guided through your task via the live video feed, streamed to either desktops or Android mobile devices using a new app. After the session, you’ll pay with your connected Google Wallet account based on a flat fee or a per-minute rate, chosen before you start the call. Google takes a 20 percent cut, with the rest going to the service provider.

googlehelpouts“People said that shopping will not happen on the Web at a large scale — those people were wrong,” Manber said. “We expect and hope to bring that level of efficiency to services, as well.

“One reason the Web is so powerful is that it brings with it a completely new level of efficiency and convenience,” he said.

It’s easy to pick holes in Google’s Helpouts pitch right off the bat. Though the company assures that it vets all of its partners and instructor participants, that’s hardly a scalable solution, over time — the tackling of which Manber wouldn’t elaborate upon. And you’re basically required to be locked into the Googleverse to use Helpouts; the service requires you have a Google+ account and, for now, an active Google Wallet account.

Not to mention that millions of instructional videos exist on another property Google already owns: YouTube.

Despite all this, it seems that Google’s ambitions are far broader than merely teaching Web-savvy consumers how to keep their hollandaise sauce from breaking. Manber alluded to an eventual accessible API for third-party developers, who could then program their own apps to work with the service. And, when asked, he said he “absolutely” envisioned an offline component to the service, though he declined to elaborate.

If it takes off, it could be a convincing sell to service providers, big and small, who are looking to make a quick buck on the side. And for brands, it’s a potential way to introduce consumers to certain types of products through promotional-style tutorials — say, a new type of skin cream in a Sephora session, for instance.

Heloise can probably keep her cool for the time being, however: As we should know well by now, not all of Google’s pie-in-the-sky ambitions pan out.

Expect the service to begin rolling out immediately, eventually expanding to more types of “help” categories, and open to more service providers over time.


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