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Helpouts: A dissection - What went wrong?

On April 20th, 2015, we will say goodbye to Helpouts for the final time. For most people, it won't matter much. Let's take a look at what happened.
By
February 13, 2015
Helpouts
Google
If you haven’t heard by now, Google Helpouts will be shutting down on April 20th, 2015. The official reason was due to lack of use which surprised no one. Thankfully, those who did use the platform can backup all of their data using Google Takeout and that will be available to them until November 1st.

The downfall of the one-on-one tutorial platform really isn’t surprising. Despite many attempts, Helpouts never seemed to hit the mainstream. Let’s explore why.

Helpouts Google Search

Google Search was simply better

Sadly, the bottom line is that there wasn’t much on Helpouts that you couldn’t get for free on Google and YouTube with some simple searching. Need to learn how to cook? There’s a channel for that. Need help figuring out how to make money on YouTube? There are countless tutorials on that.

It was the core problem with Helpouts since the very beginning. There were people asking for money (usually) to help with problems that a little knowledge, creativity, and Google Searching could solve for free. Would it be easier to get it done in 15 minutes? Yes, but was it worth $25 to get that information? Apparently not, but we’ll get more into that later.

Helpouts

The pricing structure was brutal

Helpouts had two pricing structures. Video hosts could charge for a chunk of time (e.g. $10 per 15 minutes) or charge by the minute (e.g. $0.59 per minute). Neither of these scenarios were usually very helpful and costs could add up very quickly.

With both pricing structures, you are never sure that you’re going to get the help you needed inside of the budget and time that you had. A $25 Helpout that promises only 15 minutes of help isn’t particularly reassuring and that’s especially true for the ones who offered advice and tutorials. What exactly is anyone going to learn in 15 minutes that justifies $25?

No one should be battling the urge to yell at the professional to shut up and get to the point because time is money.

While we’re at it, the pay-per-minute structure was about as stressful of an experience as you could get. Every minute that passed was more money out of your pocket. Isn’t the idea of getting the help you need supposed to be to relieve stress? Who wants to sit around for 10 minutes having a concept explained to them when each minute is going to cost them more money? No one should be in a video hangout with a professional, battling the urge to yell at the professional to shut up and get to the point because time is money.

Helpouts

Nobody knows who these Helpouts people are

If the service were entirely free, this wouldn’t matter. However, when you’re asking for $25 for 15 minutes of time, the question becomes, “Who the hell are you and why are you worth $100/hour?” It’s a question that was seldom, if ever, answered. No one knew who these self-proclaimed experts were or what their qualifications were.[quote qtext=”Who the hell are you and why are you worth $100/hour?” qperson=”” qsource=”” qposition=”center”]

Yeah there’s a guy who promises to help you grow your YouTube channel. Does he know anything about YouTube channels? If I were taking YouTube growth advice from PewDiePie, Smosh, or Vevo, that information is well worth $25 for 15 minutes. I know who they are and I can visibly see their success. Most content creators have no problems producing vaguely worded excerpts like, “I work for top people doing top things.” That’s not very reassuring.

Now before everyone starts hating me, I’m not saying these people aren’t qualified or aren’t good people. The few I’ve met seem like good, knowledgeable people. The problem is that I had to meet them to know they were good, knowledgeable people and meeting them costs money. You’re essentially asking people to spend money on faith that the person on the other end of the video doesn’t suck.

Helpouts

The content was niche

Helpouts was originally promoted to be a place where you could learn anything and at first, that seemed like it could be true. However, Google bottlenecked this process severely by strictly screening potential candidates. A process they did very slowly resulting in a very poor flow of new content creators. The floodgates for content variety just never seemed to open up.

This created a problem. When you first heard about Helpouts, what did you do? If you’re like me, you probably went on over to the site to see what was going on. Like me, you probably didn’t see anything worth doing. You then probably left, checked back once or twice, saw the exact same stuff at the exact same price, left, and never went back. That’s certainly what I did.

There is exactly one search result for “student loans”

What content there is currently available on Helpouts is generally niche. Expert YouTube Marketing Strategies, WordPress Development and Programming, Life Coaching for the Self-Employed, etc have a combined total potential user base similar to the entire viewership of the final episode of TV’s No Ordinary Family.

What’s worse is that a lot of stuff people actually need help with don’t seem to be represented. There are roughly 40 channels on how to properly breastfeed, a skill that is extensively written about everywhere. There is exactly one search result for “student loans” and it’s to help people “hustle” their way into getting enough money for college.

The service could’ve probably used more people like Michael Morgan, the 24 hour emergency mechanic.

There are over 70 Helpouts available for the ever-changing monster that is SEO (search engine optimization) but there’s only one Helpouts channel that pops up when you search for “changing oil” that is actually capable of helping you change your oil. To that one guy’s credit, he’s open pretty much 24/7 for emergency consults on all sorts of car repairs which is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most epicly useful thing I’ve seen on Helpouts.

In short, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of channels for niche needs but not very many for more mainstream problems. The service could’ve probably used more people like Michael Morgan, the 24 hour emergency mechanic.

Helpouts

The organization was terrible

This one is quick. Go and search for a mechanic on Google Helpouts. The top result? A mechanic for WordPress. Also on that list are two physics tutors, a bike repair channel, and a guy to help with your golf swing. In the first ten results, there are only three actual mechanics.

It’s extremely difficult to find what you’re looking for. The search has trouble inferring from context. For example, “how to change the oil in my car” shows no results, but there are several channels on Helpouts that can teach you exactly that.

Between the goofy names and bad search mechanics, good luck finding something you’re actually looking for. Most people don’t have the time or patience to search for just the right thing to get them help when you can ask Google Search anything and get more results. Let’s not forget that there’s no search bar on the homepage.

Helpouts

Greed

Greed goes both ways. On one hand, you have people charging $100 per hour for essentially blowing smoke and providing nothing of real use. On the other hand, few people who visited the site had any real intention of spending money there anyway.

It’s a crux that has plagued many ecosystems and one as fragile as Helpouts simply couldn’t handle it. This is why most websites and YouTube content are paid for by advertising. It costs consumers nothing except maybe a moment of their time to hear or see the advertising and the people providing the content still get paid.

We live in a world now where people are trying to get as much as they can for as little money as possible.

On Helpouts, there was no symbiosis between content creators and consumers. There was no real solution available that made everyone happy. Professionals and experts actually do deserve money for their expertise but this was perverted by some professionals and experts who didn’t understand the budget of their audience, wanted more for their services than they deserved, or a combination of both.

For consumers, they could easily find video and written tutorials that cost them nothing aside from the occasional advertisement. Most of them simply weren’t willing to spend the money on the useful advice and were often chased away by those who asked for too much. We live in a world now where people are trying to get as much as they can for as little money as possible. Helpouts and some of its content creators simply didn’t fit that cultural paradigm.

Wrap Up

Helpouts felt like a smaller tool that was supposed to be a part of something bigger
Overall, Helpouts felt like a smaller tool that was supposed to be a part of something bigger. It never really had the value or depth of a platform like Udemy where professionals create entire courses, people pay for them once, and have access forever. In a perfect world, you’d see Udemy and Helpouts combine forces, give people entire courses to take, and use the video Helpouts as an aid to learning rather than the focal point. Nevertheless, this will go down in the annals as a failed experiment like Wave and Google Reader. Rest in peace, Helpouts.