Google Wave and Google Reader will soon have some company: Turns out, Google Helpouts is not long for this world. The company will shutter the online expert help service on April 20.
Helpouts seems to be slowly dissolving. TechCrunch noticed the disappearance of its iPhone app today, following the previous removal of its Android app. The website still works for now, but will go offline in the next couple of months.
In the world of Google services, Helpouts—which uses Google Hangouts to offer live video help from experts on various topics—was just a toddler, having launched near the end of 2013. In that brief time, it gained few fans. I contacted the company asking why it chose to shut Helpouts down now, and a representative pointed me to this new support document. A snippet of the text explains the about-face:
The Helpouts community includes some engaged and loyal contributors, but unfortunately, it hasn’t grown at the pace we had expected.
That may have been due to several factors. It seems to be quite low on Google’s list of priorities—it was never a high-profile service for the company’s publicity machine, and Google neglected to release updates for it. It also charges for some of its help, with amounts varying by topic or expert.
The company couldn’t charge for Helpouts in Europe due to the complications stemming from changing EU tax codes. Essentially, the company had to give away its primo expert help to make it work. (Or figure out how to plaster live video chats with ads without ticking people off. But that was never going to happen.)
The concept may have been flawed to begin with. Charging people for advice when the Web already offers so much free help on fashion, cooking, tech support, photography and other topics seems ill-conceived. In fact, Google itself competed with Helpouts via how-to videos on YouTube and the canned answers it provides in search via its Knowledge Graph. In fact, the latter just got an update adding even more information for health and medical conditions.
Let this be a lesson: Google may giveth, but it also taketh away. And it does, fairly regularly.
Starting April 20, the five or six people out there who actually used Helpouts will be able to download their history via Google Takeout until November 1, 2015.
Lead image courtesy of Google