On Tuesday, following months of trials, Google launched its latest life-hacking tool: Google Helpouts. A cross between Siri and Google Search, Helpouts has you video-call your very own "expert" through Google Hangouts, who will spend an hour or so teaching you a recipe; a language; a yoga pose; a dance move — anything you might want to learn. Once you're all good and skilled, you'll pay a pre-arranged fee for the lesson using your Google Wallet, and bingo! You've got a freshly-baked meringue, a fixed pipe, a head filled with new French words, and all without leaving your house.
But Helpouts is more than a glorified Chat Roulette. To find your expert, you'll skim through Yelp-like reviews, comments, screenshots, you name it. There are a bunch of categories in which you can find a self-described specialist: Art & Music; Computer & Electronics; Fitness & Nutrition; Home & Garden, and so on. Your expert can be anything from "physics tutor" to "origami maker," and Google had 1,000 providers ready and waiting on Tuesday, their launch day. It's a great opportunity — both promotional and financial — for companies, and don't they know it: Sephora employees do make-up advice with their products, Rosetta Stone employees offer Spanish classes using Rosetta Stone, Home Depot handymen show you how to install your floor using Home Depot tools, and so on. Let's take a closer look.
Helpouts decided that Acting Shakespeare was an important class to include on launch day, so let's check that one out.
Sure, Skype therapy is already a thing, but Google's making it official: you can get an online session for a pre-arranged $2 a minute, ten minutes' minimum.
You better believe that Google's been keeping one eye on the latest (and greatest) healthcare debacle, because that's all Google does: watch things, and plot. To that end, Google is already cautiously suggesting that video-calling your doctor might revolutionize the healthcare system. Instead of typing "headache" into Web MD and letting it persuade you that you have cancer, you could talk one-on-one to a doctor and receive a remote diagnosis ("probably not cancer.")
Google's double-checked the credentials of every healthcare specialist on Helpouts, and it's not just about doctors: vets, for example, could look at your pet via webcam and suggest a reason why he's not eating. Dermatologists could examine a rash and recommend a cream; therapists could work remotely; nutritionists could appear on your screen and warn you to put away the cookie dough. Google gobbles up the fifth of the revenue of each class, because of course it does.
Like all Google products, Helpouts's been rolled out across the board: you'll need a Google+ account to access Google Helpouts, plus a Google Wallets account to purchase classes.
There's a whole host of people that Hangouts might help: those who are disabled and unable to get to doctor's offices regularly; people who live in small towns but want to share their expertise with a whole range of people; or volunteers who want to teach a language, for example, but at their convenience and without hitting up a bunch of stranger's homes.
It's an isolating product by nature — teaching yoga from your home, for example, would be a whole lot lonelier than teaching a bunch of regulars in a class in a gym building — and is, obviously, another way that technology is widening the gap between people. But Google's hoping Helpouts will facilitate daily life, not ruin it. At least that's what they say. They might be throwing their head back and laughing about an imminent world takeover, for all we know.
Bet there's a "How To Do An Evil Disney Villain Laugh" tutorial on there somewhere.