There are few people more dazed and confused than a pair of freshly minted parents bringing their first child home from the hospital. And if their newborn bundle of joy won’t suckle, sleep, or stop squalling, they’re soon desperately calling their mother, their pediatrician, and anyone else they can think of for help.
Now they can call Google.
Or, more accurately, Helpouts by Google, to get real-time advice from experts in the field.
Launched last fall, Helpouts by Google offers live video tutorials on topics like how to fix a leaky faucet, troubleshoot your PC, play guitar, or make balloon animals, to name a few. You just launch a Google+ Hangout and chat with a real person using your computer, phone, or tablet.
Today, Google announced a new series of Helpouts aimed at (mostly) new parents, with advice on breastfeeding, nutrition, sleep, behavioral issues, babyproofing, post-pregnancy fitness, and how to get your career back on track.
Yes, Google wants to teach you how to breastfeed. It’s not as easy as it looks.
Google has recruited a pantheon of pediatricians and other experts, like Los Angeles mommy mavens The Pump Station, and Night Nannies, sleep consultants based in Sydney, Australia (so they’re always awake when American parents are trying to get the little nubbins to nod off). Google says it carefully vets the experts before allowing them to hang their shingles on the site.
Some of the advice is free; the rest is available for a set price or a per-minute charge. The Pump Station, for example, charges $175 for a 90-minute sleep consultation; Night Nannies costs slightly more than $1 a minute. Google takes a 20 percent cut of any fees collected and offers a 100 percent refund if you’re not satisfied.
(Want to try Helpouts? Google is giving away $20 worth free to Yahoo readers. Just enter the promo code YAHOO1 when prompted.)
How do Helpouts work exactly? You start by searching the site for the expertise you seek. Experts are ranked by best match, followed by customer reviews in the form of star ratings (though I was unable to find any rated expert on any topic who received fewer than five stars), then by lowest price and soonest available times.
After you’ve found an expert you might want to work with, you can watch a brief video introduction and then schedule a consult. Some experts offer classes at set hours; others ask you to contact them to set up a time.
Once you pick a time and agree to a rate, you pay via your Google Wallet account (if you don’t have one, you’ll be prompted to create it).
Google sends you a reminder with a link to the Helpout session before it begins — at least, it’s supposed to. When I signed up for a consult (not for breastfeeding, thank you very much) it didn’t work; I had to contact the expert via email, who sent me the link to the session. You then click the link to launch a Hangout and start gabbing. You may even be able to record a copy of the Helpout session for viewing later, if the expert agrees to that.
Teaching old farts new arts
Not all of the family advice is for new parents; there’s also some aimed at old parents like me. I dialed up Dr. Susan Kuczmarski to bend her ear for 30 minutes (at $1 a minute) for advice about my two irascible teenagers. Kuczmarski has an impressive resume; she has a doctorate in education from Columbia, has written three books about dealing with teenagers, teaches at Northwestern university, and occasionally shows up on the Today show.
In short, she’s worth a lot more than a buck a minute. So I asked her why she was doing this. The answer was pretty simple: She takes the “help” part of Helpout very seriously. Like the free seminars she gives for high school students and their parents, Kuczmarksi uses Helpout to spread the good word about teens’ need for independence and risk-taking. But she also doesn’t want people to abuse her time and generosity, hence the fees.
By the way, she offered good, solid advice. The video feed was mediocre at best, though, and the scheduling/notification snafu was annoying. More than six months after launching Helpout, Google is clearly still working out some of the kinks.
Even Google could use a little help.
Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.