For more complex queries, where the answer is a series of steps rather than a single fact, there's Google Helpouts, a service designed to deliver guidance over live video. Helpouts aims to provide answers to a range of questions about accomplishing specific tasks or improving particular skills. It aspires to be a reliable source of advice, medical or otherwise.
Google has been recruiting experts since August, when it began soliciting individuals and businesses interested in offering assistance as a service through the company's Hangouts video platform.
"Our goal is simple: help people help each other," said Udi Manber, VP of engineering, in a blog post. "We want to use the convenience and efficiency of the Web to enable everyone, no matter where they are or what time it is, to easily connect with someone who can help."
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There's a bit more to it than that, specifically a 20% transaction fee levied on those not offering help for free. Google says that its cut covers credit card fees, the cost of providing a 100% Money Back Guarantee, Helpouts marketing, and general platform costs.
Helpouts providers charge anywhere from nothing to several hundred dollars per session. There are user reviews to help potential students choose an instructor. But at the moment, those providers who have been rated have only a few reviews and most of their ratings are five out of five stars.
Google provides an option to sort Helpouts providers by "Best match," "Soonest Available," "Lowest Price," and "Best Reputation." Available categories of assistance include: Art & Music, Computers & Electronics, Cooking, Education & Careers, Fashion & Beauty, Fitness & Nutrition, Health, and Home & Garden.
Steven Cox, CEO of TakeLessons, a company that provides online and in-person lessons in music, tutoring and the performing arts, said in a phone interview that he thought Google's fee is fair for what the company is providing.
The Helpouts platform allows participants to share their computer screens, collaboratively edit presentations, and record sessions for subsequent playback.
TakeLessons is participating in Helpouts, Cox said, because "we believe that consumers around the world should have instant, on-demand access to experts who can help them better themselves."
TakeLessons, Cox claims, conducts criminal background checks on its instructors and guarantees that actual students write instructor reviews.
Some of his company's instructors, Cox said, deal with a lot of downtime, because students tend to want to take lessons during a similar window of time, often between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays. But demand for online lessons is more consistent because it's not limited to a specific time zone. "It truly helps them leverage their inventory of time," Cox said.
As an example, Cox recounted how a 64-year-old man in Paducah, Ky., wanted to take ukulele lessons but couldn't find a local teacher. Through TakeLessons, he has been able to learn the instrument from a musician based in Hawaii.
Other well-known Helpouts providers include Sephora, One Medical, Weight Watchers, Home Depot's Redbeacon and Rosetta Stone.