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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Helpouts – Notes, T’s & C’s: Will Google Keep it Family Friendly? Will They Succeed as the New Hall Monitors?

Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 9.53.09 AMHelpouts offers up the possibility of an incredible new platform for SMBS to share their knowledge and skills and a new way of marketing those via a Google Helpout Marketplace. Signing up is a snap.

It also offers up an appealing platform for spammers and scammers and con artists. Will Google succeed in keeping it family friendly or will they be excoriated as the new hall monitors (no slouching, no kissing, tuck that shirt in)?

And like with all new markets and marketplaces, some “creative destruction” will take place. Who will be negatively impacted?

The Helpout help files and terms & conditions are now online and here are the highlights:

  • Google will be providing free phone support for Helpouts
  • A transaction fee of 20% will be applied to paid Helpouts.
  • Helpouts requires that Providers on the platform pay a transaction fee for each completed Helpout. If transaction fees are not paid according to the Helpouts Terms of Service, access to Helpouts may be suspended or terminated.
  • Once you submit a Helpouts listing, it’ll go through an apparently individual review process before the listing is public.
  • If you are a providing a medical service (advisory or informational medical services; counseling or therapy services; medical consultation services; or other professional medical services) as a regulated healthcare professional, a third party also will check your certificate or licensure.
  • Your listing will be reviewed and Google will contact you to meet you over video to learn more about you, to discuss setting up a Helpouts listing and to make sure your video is working well.
  • Third party providers, Infinity Contact, Capita Customer Management, and VXI are apparently performing this vetting service.
  • Ask them to send you an email to verify their credentials. Google representatives, like those at these companies, will always have an email address
  • You only need to be 13 to use the product but need to be 18 to offer services.
  • Helpouts has a 100% Money Back Guarantee within 72 hours of the end of the Helpout.
  • If the Helpout Provider does not issue a satisfactory refund, and the user has complied with Helpouts Terms of Service and policies, Google will issue the refund.
  • Google will use the recording of a Helpout to review each 100% Money Back Guarantee request, if you opt out of having your Helpout recorded, you forfeit your eligibility for the guarantee.
  • Offering services in exchange for positive feedback or other non-financial compensation or using a listing primarily to gain a social network endorsement from the user is forbidden.
  • As are “Scammy, spammy, or otherwise questionable business practices”.
  • No whoring, drugs, dares or contests allowed

Certainly this a new model for Google and the many terms and conditions raise a lot of questions. As Phil Rozek has pointed out, the devil here is most certainly in the details.

It is interesting that Google is supporting and encouraging medical uses of the product. That would seem to open a whole, big can of worms. It is also interesting the folks as young as 13 can participate. Will all Helpouts be vetted for age appropriateness?

Another very large question (asked by Linda Buquet) is whether a 20% take is too much and will either slow or prevent SMB uptake.  It may be too much but Google is individually vetting each and every venture, provides phone support, backs up each offer with a 100% money back guarantee and provides credit card processing services.

I think it will slow down some folks. As to whether it will be a game stopper I am not sure. SMBs can either increase their hourly rate or if they have time slots available, look upon the money as a new income source that wouldn’t otherwise have been available for their “unsold” inventory. I think that those that rise to the top of the marketplace will not find it a barrier, others very well might. There is also a “free” option that might work well for building a business’ credibility.

Google, the ever unmoderated, seems to be following Apple’s App store lead with this product and individually vetting every applicant for the platform. Google has never been very good at preemptively preventing abuses of their platforms. Historically they have taken a “let them abuse it and we will figure out the algo to prevent it later” approach. This has lead to whole new unintentional marketplaces where abuses of their platforms have such strong economic benefit that folks have no qualms about violating basic decency and standards to achieve success. This has been true in SEO, Local SEO, reviews, listing spam and virtually every platform that Google has offered. Even with Android Apps, they have let the marketplaces become veritable cesspools.

This product takes a whole new approach (and a much bigger cut). That all appears necessary to me to keep this from turning into the hyperspace equivalent of “below the tracks”. The platform has great potential. Clearly Google sees though that mayhem and mysogeny are not appropriate. The question is whether they are truly committed to that path in a disciplined and long term way.

On the flip side of that is the fact that Google also runs the risk of the gatekeeper. They are now, with this product more than ever, in a position of enforcing rules and imposing these values on the users of their platform. That carries risks in and of itself as they attempt to scale the question of what exactly is appropriate. Imagine what might happen if Google Helpouts are used for pregnancy counseling of a 13 year old?

Another question for me is will Google be able to create a marketplace that adds new value. They are attempting to do something at scale that has only been done as one offs via Skype and Hangouts. In Google Places, Google never succeeded in driving enough traffic deep into their site for things like events and updates. For this to really work, the Helpouts can not rely on just Google Plus for exposure. They will need a significant front page presence.

If they succeed they will have a new way for folks to make money. Can Google succeed in Apple like fashion in creating a whole new ecosystem and marketplace where value can achieved? Or is a 20% take going to be viewed as “protection money” and turn off the very businesses that Google is targeting?

Now, with all of capitalism, this new business model might also be destructive. That is the nature of capitalism and that problem can not be laid solely at Google’s doorstep. They are doing what the best of the capitalists do, innovate to attempt to gain super profits. I would suggest that blaming Google is the blame an actor when you should be blaming the director for the bad outcome.

But it does raise the very real question though of what of value will be destroyed. Will we now be getting guitar lessons from (India, Bangladesh, China, Romania) instead of from the trainer down the street? Probably not but some more commodity driven services might migrate to this platform leading to that sort of displacement. Which ones?

Would love your thoughts on the future impacts of Helpouts.