SAN FRANCISCO -- Google is launching a live video chat service that connects people with personal trainers, contractors, music teachers and other experts who can teach them how to do stuff.
Think Hangouts with an expert on the other end, say a yoga teacher or a math tutor. The idea is to get a helping hand when you need one, say if you want to learn to speak conversational French, remove a computer virus from your laptop, repair a hole in your wall or make Thanksgiving turkey stuffing.
The new service called Helpouts, which has been rumored for months, will be staffed -- at least initially -- by experts vetted by Google. Healthcare professionals will have to be licensed.
"Google's mission is to organize all the world's useful information," Udi Manber, a Google vice president of engineering, said during a press briefing in San Francisco on Monday. "I have been doing search for a long time, and most of the world's useful information still resides in people's heads. This opens the door to that information."
Google says it's starting small and in only a few categories. Helpouts joins a plethora of how-to services on the Web including message boards, YouTube videos and question-and-answer websites such as Quora as well as more personalized one-on-one sessions offered by services such as LiveNinja. Amazon debuted a one-on-one video help feature in September.
Consumers must have a Google+ account to participate. They then can review the experts' qualifications, price, ratings and reviews and then book appointments or get advice on the fly.
During a Helpout, you can share your computer screen or record the session.
The Helpouts experts decide how much they charge, either a flat rate or by the minute, and Google handles payment via Google Wallet and takes a 20% cut. If consumers are not happy with the service they receive, they get their money back, Google said.
Some of the services will be offered free of charge.
Google says the online marketplace that sells services via live video could also help boost offline commerce.
Adam Burrows, senior vice president of corporate development and emerging businesses at HomeAdvisor, a website that lists pre-screened and customer-rated contractors, is counting on it.
His company is taking part in Helpouts, offering free advice from home improvement contractors on such things as a leaking faucet and a garage door opener on the fritz. Burrows said the service could help promote the company's business of hooking up consumers with licensed contractors in their area.
Bridget Dolan, vice president of interactive media for Sephora, said some 20 professional makeup artists would be on hand to respond to questions and help re-create makeup looks in real time for free, just the way they do in Sephora stores.
"Now we are extending those services online," Dolan said.
Other companies taking part in Helpouts include Weight Watchers and Rosetta Stone.