First it Was Google Helpouts, Now Skype is Planning to Create a Marketplace for Online Instructors
Last Thursday, I received a message from the Sales and Marketing team at Skype headquarters asking if I was interested in participating in their online pilot program. The pilot program involves having instructors connecting and teaching students online using Skype's own platform.
With Skype now deciding to compete with Google Helpouts in the paid expert advise marketplace, it's a sure sign that we will soon see other platforms with their own version of Google Helpouts.
Large corporations like Microsoft and Apple already have their own web-based video/audio platform that is similar to Google Helpouts. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft or Apple are carefully monitoring the progress and development of Google Helpouts, so they can use this information to further enhance their own marketplace platform - whatever that may be.
So the next release of Windows 9, may very well come shipped with Skype Marketplace preinstalled, allowing you to easily access paid advise using your computer, smartphone or tablet.
What Will the New Skype Marketplace Look Like?
At this stage it's anyone's guess when Skype will release it's new marketplace platform. From my talk with the Skype representative, it looks like Skype has already started development. This was confirmed by a few of the providers on Helpouts who had also talked with this particular representative.
The Major Problem with Helpouts
I was fortunate to join Google Helpouts when the service was just rolled out. It's been four months now, and over this time period, I see two major problems with Google Helpouts.
The biggest problem is the large number of providers that leave. Sure they still have their listings on Helpouts, but if you go into any Helpouts category or search the listings, you will see only one or two providers that are available to give you immediate help.
The other problem is that providers are not compensated for their time, which is why they left in the first place. For the providers that stayed on, including myself, we've yet to make any meaningful profit for our time and effort.
So, why did so many providers leave? I believe that the major problem here is burnout. Providers are tired of the no shows, the tire kickers and the clients who only come for the free advise, but who will not convert into paying customers.
Why Providers are Keeping their Options Open
Given the current state of Helpouts, I’m sure that many providers are keeping their options open and not put all of their eggs into the one basket. At present, neither Google Helpouts nor Skype has come up with a viable model (not that I know what Skype’s financial model is).
Google recoups it’s cost by getting a 20% cut per successful helpout. Google has to cover the cost of it's support staff, it's technician and the various administrative staff that work on the Helpouts project. My guess is that Google is losing money with the way Helpouts is currently performing. So if Skype wants to get into the marketplace and try to compete with Google Helpouts, the only way for it to succeed is if it came up with a market place model that attracts providers as well as paying clients.
Google Helpouts has everything going for it. It is very stable, very secure and it works seamlessly on both tablet, mobile and desktop devices. But what it clearly lacks is the people who are willing to pay and use the service.
Although we don’t know the direction that Skype is taking with it’s new marketplace venture, there’s a few things we do know. We know that Skype supports video calls, screen sharing and group video calling for up to 10 people on it’s Premium subscribers plan. And as of 21 January 2013, Skype has over 50 million concurrent online users.
Let's also not forget that Skype is familiar with online learning, because of it's experience with Skype in the Classroom. Skype in the Classroom is the free way for teachers to bring learning to their classroom by using Skype to share information and ideas.
Despite the power of Google and Skype, many providers will probably keep their options open. The online marketplace for expert help is just opening up. But what will make it successful and sustainable has nothing to do with technology, the name brand recognition or the user base. Instead, these marketplace platforms will succeed if people find true value and convenience. And providers will only stay for the long term if they think that the platform will compensate them for their time and effort.
Let me begin by using fiverr.com, because presently it looks to be the most financially viable model, even though it's not offering a Helpout style marketplace.
The Fiverr Online Marketplace Model
If you’ve never heard of fiverr.com, it’s a platform that people use to buy and sell a variety of small services for $5 or more. Freelancers can sell their services such as writing, design work or offer to complete a task for as little as $5.
There are several things I like about Fiverr that makes it a great marketplace. With Fiverr, there are multiple service categories, the ability to rate providers and leave comments and the ability to communicate with th client - all within the same platform. But the one feature that fiverr.com does really well is that the user can pay for additional services. The important thing to note here is that the service doesn’t have to be done through the Fiverr platform, the provider only needs to update the buyer once the service is performed.
This is a lot more flexible compared to what Google Helpouts allows providers to do. Currently, everything has to be done by using the Helpouts platform, which is not really practical or flexible. This means that I cannot perform a service for my clients if it will take place outside the platform. There are some tasks that you will need to perform for clients that will naturally take place outside of the Helpouts platform.
For example, if I were to provide web design consultation services, there will be other services that I can set up for my clients. Some of these can be done on the platform, such as providing online instruction. However, what if the client asks for their domain name to be registered? What about web hosting and any number of other services that I cannot perform just by using the Helpouts platform. Thus the provider is forced to do the task outside of the platform and arrange for an alternative form of payment. Helpouts is also missing a cut of the profit, but more importantly, it's not giving the client a convenient, all-in-one solution for the client and for the provider.
The Problem with Free Service
The other thing about Fiverr.com is that it doesn’t offer a free service - which is good thing. The free model on Helpouts makes it difficult to avoid trolls and tire kickers. But long term, it will only attract people who want to use the service if it's free.
The other problem with the free service offered on Google Helpouts is that it doesn't encourage providers to be innovative, instead it forces them to be competitive. When you provide a free service on Helpouts, you do it to in order to accumlate ratings and reviews. Sure, some people do it initially just to experience what it's like to give a helpout, but the majority of free helpouts have an advantage over paid helpouts. One of the things that goes into ranking a Helpouts lisiting is the availablity of the provider, as well as their number of reviews. Because most people don't search past the front page, it the providers end up trying to game the system. Providers become more concerned with getting high ratings and reviews, and with appearing on the first page of their Helpouts category than with turning a profit.
For these very reasons, Google Helpouts at present is not a sustainable online marketplace. If Skype were to offer an online video platform, it will need to come up with a financially viable model that is a win to both Skype, to the provider and to the end-user. Just having a highly recognisable brand or the best technology isn't going to cut it long term. Both Google and Skype will initially need to work hard to attract a large provider base. But this base will only grow if providers can offer their services and be compensated for their time.