Real help from real people in real time… often for a price.
The concept of Google Helpouts is this – you need help and you may be willing to pay for it. You might need some assistance with a dish you’re cooking. You might want to learn how to play the guitar. You may want assistance on your business school application, but are you willing to pay $300 to get that assistance? Considering that particular Helpout is with a Harvard Business School graduate, you might, but it certainly better deliver.
Most of them aren’t that pricey and some of them are free. The idea is an absolutely solid one, but it just seems a bit ambitious at this point. Google hasn’t perfected their Hangouts feature, something that hasn’t quite made it into mainstream usage. There are three major drawbacks to taking on a project like this:
- Infrastructure: mobile internet simply isn’t there yet. It will probably work just fine on WiFi but if you’re in your backyard and need help with Landscape Design, you might be on 4G or (gulp) 3G. Will a $50 service work well on a mobile connection?
- Focus: They have a lot going on right now. Between their attempts to dominate mobile, trying to put balloons in the air to connect the world through the internet, building a driverless car, and trying to find the fountain of youth, Google is pretty stretched… even for Google. That’s not to mention the ambitions they have with Google+, something that they might have wanted to master before taking on a project like this.
- Trustworthiness: Google needs to be trusted by the populations of America and the world if they want to achieve their goals. It doesn’t matter how well they have vetted the people on these Helpouts – if something goes wrong, it will reflect on Google. They need a ton of these people in order for this to work which means a ton of “employees” that are representing Google in the eyes of the people paying for the service.
Bottom line is that I’m skeptical. Even though this is Google that we’re talking about here, they have not had a major ambition that has worked in a long, long time. They’ve had plenty of successes – that much is certain – but it just seems like these big dreams of doing things that haven’t been done very well in the past by others is simply fueled by Google’s abundance of cash and willingness to fail if necessary.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Google should stop thinking big. It’s companies that have the cash and are willing to take risks that will mold our future. It just seems like they really need to focus hardcore on making at least one of them work before trying to make all of them work simultaneously. If Google+ was rocking and rolling, this might be the next logical step. Google+ is showing definite signs of a future but there is still so much that needs to be done.
Most importantly, people have to get used to paying Google. Right now, they’re simply not. Google has never mastered the art of getting people to pay for their products the way that Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft have. Sure, people buy Android phones and apps all the time and some of that money is going to Google, but the people buying these things are not really buying a Google product, at least in their minds. They’re buying a Samsung Product, a Verizon service, and an app built by some smart people, none of which work for Google.
This is Google Helpouts. The money is going to Google. The people represent Google. If Amazon had rolled this out, it would have made more sense, not because they’re more qualified but because people are used to paying Amazon directly. Unless you’re a business buying ads, you’ve probably never knowingly paid Google any money directly.
This is not the project through which to start that habit. I hope that Helpouts is a success but I believe it will be another in a long line of Google failures.