Yesterday, Google introduced Helpouts, an extension of their video chat service Hangouts. Helpouts, like Hangouts, enable you to have video conversations with other people across the world, share screens and record sessions, but it adds the ability to search for experts in any number of categories. Udi Manber, a vice-president of engineering at the tech giant, billed the new offering as a new way to get help over live video.
“Our goal is simple: help people help each other,” Manber wrote on a post introducing the service. “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. Help might be a quick answer to a problem youâ€™re having right now, like how to fix your garage door, or how to remove a computer virus; or it might be guidance completing a project, like building a deck. It might be learning a new skill, like how to speak conversational French or how to draw cartoons; or it might be general advice on how to improve your fitness or your writing (I could use this right now).”
Helpouts offers experts in a directory a bit like the yellow pages of yesteryear — only with providers’ qualifications, availability, ratings and prices, right up front. Some of the established experts include the beauty giant Sephora, the weight-loss company Weight Watchers, and the language-learning powerhouse Rosetta Stone. Providers can give a flat rate per Helpout or charge by the minute. People can jump on right away, or schedule a session. Transactions are executed using Google Wallet.
Currently, Helpouts are only available in eight categories: art and music, computers and electronics, cooking, education and careers, fashion and beauty, fitness and nutrition, health, and home and garden, but Manber says there are plans to grow the categories over time.
Given that Google has shown an ability to age-gate better than any other service provider online, it’s not entirely unfeasible that Helpouts could offer adults access to services such as those provided by sexologists or tantra instructors. While a sexual health category doesn’t yet exist, the health category could comfortably accommodate such endeavors. Manber does warn that “Helpouts may not be suitable for every occasion,” but as far as I can tell from the Terms of Service, such services are not disallowed. I did a search for “relationships” just now and the best match was a Helpout about dieting. I’ve submitted for an invite to get a sense of what the guidelines for relationship coaching are. I’ll keep you posted.
I’m not holding my breath for a camgirl or camboy category, though. Venture Beat asked and the response was a quick, “the platform will offer no adult content whatsoever.”
Helpouts are now available in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Providers currently need an invite code to offer their services on Helpouts, but you can request one through their site.
UPDATE: Google has taken a definitive stance on “adult-themed” content, saying “Helpouts does not allow the promotion of content that is Adult in nature.” They list such content as: “Dating sites, dating services, general dating advice or companionship services; Abortion; Birth control; Adult dating, companionship, or escort services; Excessively exposed skin/nudity; Non-fine art containing nudity/adult concepts which are gratuitous or intended to be sexually gratifying, lingerie; Sex toys and other sexual wellness products; intimate massage; Strip clubs; Adult job searching sites; Mail order brides; Content intended to arouse; Pornography; Otherwise sexually explicit content.”
UPDATE: On Friday, February 13, 2015, Google announced it was ending its Helpouts program. The e-mail sent to users identified April 20, 2015 as the project’s official end-date, and said:
“Since launching in 2013, Helpouts has been a home for people to connect with experts on topics they want to learn about or seek advice and solutions to everyday problems. The Helpouts community includes some engaged and loyal contributors, but unfortunately, it hasn’t grown at the pace we had expected. Sadly, we’ve made the tough decision to shut down the product.”
This could have been an awesome sexual education platform, but Google refused. And now it’s over.