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November 05, 2013

Beyond the Search Bar: Google Helpouts Put You in Touch with Experts via Video

We’re all very familiar today with utilizing the Internet, and more specifically, search engines like Google, to find answers to our questions in real-time. Need to define a word? Have to research a topic for a project? Want a new recipe? “Google it.” Google is taking the search bar one step further with the introduction of Helpouts, a resource for video communication with experts among a variety of topics, including health, art and music, computers and electronics, cooking, education and carriers, fitness and nutrition, fashion and beauty and home and garden.

Helpouts prides itself on being able to offer “Real help from real people in real time.” In order to start using Helpouts, users need a Google+ account and a computer or mobile device with a webcam and microphone.

While some Helpouts are free, others cost money and range in pricing, set by the providers. All payments are done through Google Wallet and offer a full money-back guarantee if a Helpout is unsatisfactory. Users can also choose from different tools during Helpouts, like taking a photo during a session, have a provider access their computer remotely or access their Google Drive documents, photos and presentations.

Users can select different Helpouts based on qualifications of the expert/provider, availability, price, ratings and reviews, and have the option to connect instantly or book in advance. So far, Google has invited 1,000 companies to participate, such as Sephora, One Medical and Rosetta Stone, that can offer their services through Helpouts in real-time.

“Today is just the beginning. We’re starting small and in a few categories. The number of people giving help on Helpouts and the type of help available will grow over time. Helpouts may not be suitable for every occasion, and it will take time to get used to interactions via real time video,” said Udi Manber, VP Engineering, in a statement. “We hope that the efficiency, convenience and global reach of Helpouts will make people’s lives easier in the long term. 

The first place I think we’ll see an immediate impact from Helpouts is healthcare. For anywhere from free to $65 (as of now), you can select a Helpout with a veterinarian, a nutritionist, a therapist, a personal trainer and a healthcare professional to answer your questions and discuss any health issues or plans you may have. Even though some of the Helpouts are on the more expensive side, it may be cheaper in terms of time and convenience for patients to be able to communicate right from their browser. There are definitely some challenges though, like working with lawyers, insurance providers and the doctors themselves to ensure the right amount of accessibility and information. Helpouts is launching as a HIPAA-compliant and secure product for healthcare professionals.

For those who have been following the growth of WebRTC, Helpouts may seem like an obvious use case of the technology that Google has been involved in developing. Google is a big player in the space, and is particularly involved right now in terms of standards, as Google supports VP8 and Cisco recently announced it is open sourcing H.264.

Helpouts, however, is not WebRTC. At least not yet. Helpouts supports Chrome, IE 10+, Firefox and Safari browsers, and requires that users install the latest version of the plugin – the opposite of what WebRTC tries to enable.

We reached out to Google for comment but at the time of posting did not hear anything. Check back for updates!

Google is a Diamond Sponsor of the WebRTC Conference & Expo, held Nov. 19 -21 in Santa Clara, Calif. Google will also host a special workshop at the event, “Google WebRTC Overview & Application Demonstrations,” featuring Justin Uberti, software engineer at Google. Stay in touch with everything happening at WebRTC Conference & Expo. Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Ryan Sartor
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