Google introduces Helpouts, a new way to get help over video

The company will collect a 20 percent transaction fee on all paid, non-health services

Google has launched a new tool that connects people with experts over live interactive video for free or paid advice, while adding a revenue stream for the company in the form of transaction fees from providers.

People can choose help from others, instant or scheduled, on the new Helpout service based on their qualifications, availability, price, ratings and reviews.

They can use a computer or a mobile device, provided they have a Google+ account, built-in or external webcam and microphone. Google has also launched an Android app for Helpouts.

"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," Udi Manber, Google's vice president of engineering, said in a blog post late Monday.

All payments for charged services are done through Google Wallet, which would require customers to set up an account before a paid Helpouts session. Google is offering a full money-back guarantee if the experience doesn't meet the user's expectations.

Manber hopes that Helpouts will let people get and provide help in a variety of areas ranging from a computer glitch, a leaky pipe, to a homework problem.

Helpouts charges providers a flat 20 percent transaction fee on all paid, non-health Helpouts, which Google says will meet credit card fees, the cost of offering the money-back guarantee, advertising and promotion, and the cost of running the Helpouts platform. The cost of the transaction fee is included in the amount paid by the customer.

There is no transaction fee currently for providing free Helpouts. Starting Jan. 1, paid health Helpouts will be also charged a transaction fee.

Providers set the pricing and have the option of pricing the service on a per minute or per Helpouts session, or give customers the payment option.

Google said it is starting small with a few categories like art and music, computers and electronics, cooking, education and careers, fashion and beauty, fitness and nutrition, health and home, and garden. Providers are screened by Google. Healthcare service providers have to be licensed health professionals, and will be screened by HireRight, a Google contractor. Current providers on Helpouts include perfume and cosmetics company Sephora, Home Depot's handyman referral service Redbeacon and physical fitness firm Weight Watchers.

Helpouts may not be suitable for every occasion and the number of people giving help on Helpouts and the type of help available will grow over time, Manber said.

Users will have access to a variety of tools including the ability to take a photo during a Helpout, or to allow the provider access to the user computer remotely to help fix a problem, or to access Google Drive documents, photos, and presentations.

Helpouts enters a market where there are already number of large providers as well as niche players targeting single verticals. Google has launched many products in markets that other companies have understood much better, said Jonathon Kresner, co-founder of Airpair, a company focused on real-time software development help.

Google may also find it hard to compete in every vertical. "We are so specific in how we help people, what information we collect about their needs and who we connect them to that it would be very hard to compete with us in our niche," Kresner added.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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