Google Helpouts opened to the public

By James Riches topicIcon Internet News

Online advice for a price

Google has made its Helpouts feature available to the public for the first time, offering advice from over 1,000 experts.

Essentially a Hangout for people with practical questions, users can pay for assistance across a range of topics, including computing, fitness, fashion, cooking, music and health.

Google has spent several months sourcing their 'experts', who can set their own fees for consultations. These can take the form of a per-minute rate, or a set fee for a single Q&A session. The search engine will take 20 per cent of this fee, which currently can only be paid through Google Wallet.

To be selected, experts must complete a profile that will be assessed by Google. The next stage is a video consultation, in which Google checks that the person is genuine and their video connection is of a good standard.

Beyond that, it is thought that user feedback will quickly highlight the genuinely helpful people, who will then be listed higher up when users submit questions within their area of expertise.

The issue of health questions is treated somewhat differently. As well as waiving their 20 per cent cut for the time being, Google is requesting evidence of qualification certificates before allowing medical experts to join the project.

Will Helpouts work?

Some observers have noted that this is not Google's first try at a service of this nature, citing Google Answers, a similar service that ran from 2002 to 2006. The similarity with Hangouts, which were rolled out alongside other feature such as improvements to Maps at the company I/O in May, has also been noted.

While there is some debate about the extent to which you can know if your helper is indeed an 'expert', Google has sourced some of its advisers from a handful of well known brands, including Weightwatchers and Rosetta Stone.

Users can also receive a refund if they are unhappy with the advice they are given, and there are measures in place for people to quickly close a video and block their conversation partner if they experience harassment or abuse.

Daniel Nolan, managing director at theEword, said: "While many will find it preferable to get their advice from a person rather than SERPs, the main challenge here appears to be proving the credentials of the 'experts' put forward by Google. How this will work is likely to become apparent as people start to use the service."