Google Reinvents ‘Answers’ With New Video Helpouts

HelpoutsBefore Yahoo Answers and other free “answer engines,” there was Google Answers. Google Answers was a paid service that matched people with questions to researchers who got paid (a relatively small amount) for their time.

Google Answers was shuttered after it was overwhelmed by free services such as Yahoo Answers. Over the past several years there have been many expert communities online. Fixya is a newer one that has seen considerable success. Keen.com (Ingenio) started out as an advice or expert community but devolved into a site for psychics and their minions.

Ingenio also tried another phone-based expert network that failed before the company was acquired by AT&T (now it’s part of YP)
Google Helpouts

There are plenty of other examples I could cite, including Quora. But Google is now back in the answers game with Helpouts — a Hangouts based live video advice service it has just launched.

Here’s Google’s explanation of the service:

If you’re a professional or an expert in a particular area, share your knowledge with people who want to learn from you by giving a Helpout. Scheduling is simple and handled right from Helpouts. You can allow customers to schedule a session based on your availability. Since Helpouts are hosted via Hangouts video calls, you’re not tied to an office and you can connect with people around the world.

Provider-experts can offer Helpouts/Hangouts for free. However if there’s a fee involved Google Wallet must be used and Google will take a 20% cut. It also appears that Google is not going to allow Helpouts to become a pure marketing tool that promotes services for which fees are charged “offline” or in a later interaction not on the platform.

Seller-experts must be 18; buyer-users must be at least 13. Google will have to guard against illegal or unseemly uses of the service (e.g., how to cook meth, paid sex video chats).

Helpouts’ success is by no means guaranteed but it may provide consultants and others who trade in knowledge to reach wider audiences (there’s also an interesting one-to-many capability here). In the case of attorneys or therapists or others where there are state licensing requirements, it’s unclear how this will all play out. I could imagine this being a huge platform for unlicensed “coaches.”

Many of the experts will undoubtedly be small businesses and individuals. Indeed, there are many intriguing scenarios.

What you think about the outlook for the service? And can you see particular use cases that are particularly interesting or provocative.

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