Why Google Helpouts was Helpless

Mallory Scudder | @MalloryScudder

The saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” It turns out, however, that Google Helpouts wasn’t the field of dreams Google was looking for.

Google Helpouts is a video tutorial service where users could connect with experts via Google Hangouts for help on various topics for a fee. Google recently deemed this helpless and will be shutting down the service on April 20.

“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,” Google said in a statement.

There are many variables that caused Google Helpouts, which launched services on November 4, 2013, to not make the cut. To start, the topics available were too broad, which made finding the right expert difficult. Google Helpouts’ topic categories include art, computers, cooking, music, education, careers, fashion, beauty, health, fitness, nutrition, legal, home improvement and gardening, just to name a few. While these categories are good places to start looking for help with a topic, there is no way to narrow it down to a user's specific question within a category.

Cost and payment was another factor that led to the services’ demise. Most experts required payment up-front before a live session could be scheduled. Even though Google promised to return payment if the user wasn’t satisfied with their Hangout, there is no denying the fact that people like to know what they’re getting before they pay for it. The price is also set by the expert, which led to other experts increasing their prices, thereby seemingly offering services to the highest bidder.

But what really killed Google Helpouts is Google itself. The video tutorial service was competing with other Google services such as YouTube, which is known as a free go-to site for tips and how-tos. Why would one pay $25 for a 30-minute “learn to sing” session or $15 for a 15-minute tutorial on how to fix your own plumbing when they can search a huge database of information on these topics via YouTube for free?

For those few who were avid Helpouts users, Google is allowing current users to download their activity history via Google Takeout until November 1, 2015, but no new videos can be uploaded.