Google Helpouts have been the most relevant news of recent days in the world of technology. The possibility that anyone can give small classes or tutoring online using Hangouts videoconferences and earn money from it is extremely attractive, which is why we wanted to know more details and talk to someone who has already organized them, someone from United States to do them frequently, to tell us the pros and cons of the platform.
Thus we have known Esperanza Romn Mendoza (@eRomanMe), Full Professor at George Mason University, in the United States, and advisor on the use of technology in education (also a blogger in Short and Change), who tells us about her experience:
What do Helpouts consist of?
The Helpouts are a service managed by Google so that those Internet users who need help with a certain subject can contact a specialist in that subject through videoconference. In the first phase of the project Google has chosen eight types of services: Art and Music, Computers and Technology, Cooking, Education and Careers, Fashion and Beauty, Fitness and Health, Health, and Home and Garden. Within these sections they have not created subcategories, which makes it difficult to locate specific services since they can only be found through a search that cannot even be limited by category. The providers of these grants decide if they want to charge for their services, when they will be available to offer them and the maximum duration of each Helpout. Customers can make an appointment using the provider’s availability schedule published on their service page. They can also request help when the provider is available, as long as that time slot has not already been reserved by another customer.
What is yours, what are you talking about in it?
To be part of the first group of specialists selected, I had to fill out a form expressing interest in the initiative and explaining what kind of help I was willing to offer. A few weeks later, in early October, I received a code to access the platform and work on the description of my services. I decided to offer two: help with Spanish writing at an advanced level and help with the selection and implementation of educational technology. The next phase in the process consisted of spending a short video-interview with one of the members of the Google Helpouts team. The person I spoke to asked me some questions about my qualifications, my motivation to offer Helpouts and my place of work and residence, as well as giving me some advice on how to improve my two claims for my services.
The HelpHelpout with Spanish written at an advanced level had no problem passing the selection. In fact, it seems that Google wants to get fully into the field of teaching foreign languages, especially English. However, I still have not been approved for the Educational Technology Helpout. They asked me to change the description of the Helpout but although I have tried to do so to show that I am qualified to provide advice on tools for e-learning, it seems that I have not convinced them yet.
What difficulties have you encountered when creating a Helpout?
Aside from what I just mentioned about the difficulty of offering a Helpout in an area where I consider myself an expert, the rest of the process has been very simple. Helpouts, as I understand them, are punctual aids, in many cases caused by spontaneous need, so there is no need to prepare a curriculum or class beforehand. In cases where, over time, a regular relationship with a customer is established, I see it possible that a certain Helpout may require prior preparation by the provider.
As for the instructional tools that can be used while the Helpout is done, for now I have not had the opportunity to use more than chat and video conferencing, but there are many more, as can be seen in the following graphic. I don’t think any of them is overly complicated to use.
How does the payment system work?
Google specifies in great detail the payment terms for both Helpout providers and customers. I decided to offer the help for free for various reasons. Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to help many people through social networks, especially Twitter. I have also received selfless help countless times, so it seemed inconsistent with my two point-of-mind ideals to charge for timely help. On the other hand, if you want to charge for the tutors, you must use the Google Wallet system and 20% of what is collected goes to Google, which justifies the imposition of this fee as a way of covering the expenses of the platform and those of its 100% money back guarantee. I understand that Google charges a percentage to those who use the platform commercially, but at the same time, I hope that it continues to allow us to use it for free to all those who do not want to charge.
How have been the first experiences with the system?
My first tutor was a complete success. A person wanted to know how to translate the word slang into Spanish to communicate it to his coworkers of Mexican origin. I explained several options, taking the opportunity to also speak about the diversity of Spanish, and he was delighted. He gave me 5 rating stars. That, together with the self-promotion of the Helpout that I did on Twitter and Facebook, I think it has contributed to my Helpout ad appearing among the first when looking for a Helpout using the Spanish term. Anyway, I would not be surprised if Google uses other systems to promote certain Helpouts to more relevant positions in the search results, especially those offered by its partners. If the free Helpouts don’t provide you with any income, it doesn’t seem very justified for them to appear first on the list. On the other hand, if Helpout users get used to this service attracted by free Helpouts and are satisfied, the possibility that they will use paid providers in the future is greater, so it is also in their interest that some free Helpout appear among the first.
As for my other clients, many of them located outside the United States, I have appreciated that they do not really want specific help with something that they do not know or do not understand, but that they generally want to speak to someone in Spanish, practice their communication skills in this language and even learning Spanish completely from scratch. Obviously, I cannot respond to these requests but I always take the opportunity to give you some advice that can help you locate the help you need.
I have also had quite a few requests for Helpouts from users that later do not appear at the agreed time, something that is quite annoying since it prevents other people from benefiting from the help when the schedule is blocked by someone who is not using it. Anyway, when this happens, the provider can report the reason why the Helpout was not done and I imagine that this will have repercussions on the ease with which that user will be able to use the Helpout again in the future.
In any case, in my case, my biggest problem when it comes to doing Helpouts does not lie in the management of the schedule (my hours of attention coincide with the time that I usually dedicate to browsing the Internet and doing online management) nor in the relative contents to my specialty. The most intimidating thing is not knowing what kind of person is going to appear on the other side of the video. However, for now, everyone who has contacted me has been very kind.
Do you think it is a project for the future? What will you improve?
As I mentioned, it is not very easy to locate a specific service or compare providers. For now only the listings and criteria to organize the search results appear (relevance, availability, price and reputation) are not always reliable, as can be seen in the following graph, which offers the search results Spanish categorized by reputation:
It would also be necessary to fix the problem caused by clients who make appointments and then do not appear.
Regarding its advantages, it seems to me much more suitable for tutors than Skype, where there is no way to make appointments, to receive reminders when they are approaching, to assess the quality of a supplier or to compare suppliers by price and availability. The fact that the platform encompasses specialists from many areas may be a limitation, compared to the degree of specialization that platforms dedicated to a specific niche have, but, on the other hand, it can also be an advantage since it is possible to attract clients through trade generated by providers of other services and take advantage of the competition that is established between providers of the same service. In fact, some platforms, such as Lingo Live for the teaching of Spanish, also advertise their services in Google Helpouts.
I suppose that the future of Google Helpouts will depend on the success of this service during the first months of its launch. Google is sending payment providers incentives in the form of gifts if they get a certain number of customers in the coming weeks and that Google improve the provider location and appointment management system, and invest resources in researching how they are used and how you can improve the implementation of the online instructional apps included in the platform.