The new killer app is a real human

Live experts like those from Google Helpouts and Amazon's Mayday are changing everything

Right now, the greatest repository of how-to information and easy-to-learn knowledge is Google's YouTube. Want to re-shingle your roof but don't know how? YouTube has 146,000 videos on the subject.

But now Google has something even better: Live, one-on-one advice, teaching and coaching. Google is part of a larger trend of offering such expert help primarily through mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

This trend is an unalloyed good. It's good for people who want help. And it's even better for the economy. Here's what's the expert help trend is all about, and why it's so great for everybody.

Google Helpouts

Google launched this week a new service called Helpouts, which connect experts to people who need their help and advice. That connection takes place via a live, one-on-one video chat on Google+'s video Hangouts platform.

Sessions cost anywhere from free to $150. Helpers can charge by the minute or a flat fee. Payments are handled through Google Wallet. Google keeps 20% of the fee and the helper keeps 80%.

Both the helper and the helpee must have Google+ accounts, and the sessions take place either on the web from a PC or a Mac, or via an Android app. The service is available only in majority English-speaking countries: the U.S., Canada, the UK and Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. Google plans to offer Helpouts worldwide in the future.

Subject include language tutoring, cooking lessons and yoga.

Helpouts are actually HIPAA compliant, so real healthcare advice can be given. One Medical Group is already involved in Helpouts, and other HMOs are expected to join later.

Helpers are screened by Google in advance, and so far 1,000 experts have been approved, all of whom were invited to participate in the initial launch by Google. Customers rate and review helpers, so people looking for advice can be reasonably sure of the quality of help.

Google is also reportedly working on an API of unannounced functionality for Helpouts.

Amazon Kindle Mayday

Online retailer Amazon created an utterly unique one-on-one help system for its Kindle Fire HDX tablets announced recently. The tablets' custom interface has a "Mayday" button. When you press it, a video connection is established with a tech support person. You can see them, but they can't see you.

They can, however, hear you, see your screen and take limited control of your tablet. They can also circle things on your screen to highlight their instructions.

What's interesting about the Mayday service is that it's the most unique feature of Kindle's tablets. They're giving you something no other tablet maker is giving you: A human to help you.

Google's new Helpouts service
Google's new Helpouts service lets you connect to the expert of your choice.
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