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The new killer app is a real human

Mike Elgan | Nov. 11, 2013
Live experts like those from Google Helpouts and Amazon's Mayday are changing everything

Google's new Helpouts service lets you connect to the expert of your choice.

Fitness coaching
Many of the better fitness apps are setting themselves apart by offering one-on-one and group help, advice and coaching. Apps like Lift, Weilos, Retrofit, Sessions and Rise are strongly focused on connecting novices to experts for one-on-one help.

Why a real expert is 'the killer app'
The future was supposed to be automated and computerized. But it turns out that automation is creating demand for the human element.

A typical tech support scenario goes like this. You go to a company's web site, click on a "Support" link, which takes you to some kind of "knowledge base" where you're supposed to find your own answer. Alternatively, you're foisted off on some message board filled with non-experts who don't really know what they're talking about and are under no obligation to help you, personally.

Eventually, you find a number and, after slogging through a painful automated voice response gauntlet, end up on hold for 20 minutes. Once you get a live human, they tell you you've called the wrong department. When they transfer you, the call hangs up.

Everybody has experienced this general set of computer-augmented help systems, and we're left unsatisfied.

Very often, we just want to connect instantly to another human being who knows what she's talking about.

That demand, I believe, is driving the trend of personal, one-on-one expert help systems as exemplified by Google's Helpouts, Amazon's Mayday service and the new fitness coaching apps.

The real cultural shift: Self employment
What's really great about the expert help movement is what it does for the economy. Right now, there is an unknown number of people with enormous amounts to offer to the world, but no way to offer it. Retired people who spent a lifetime accumulating knowledge, for example, are living without income right now, just as people are out there wishing they could learn from somebody who knows.

People without good healthcare insurance and who can't get to a doctor can get medical advice inexpensively.

Others who want to start a small business — say, a consulting company — can start with Helpouts, then grow their clientele into a full-fledged consultancy.

These new services connect the demand for help with the supply. Because it's all online, each party can live anywhere. People in small towns can both get expert help and give it.

It's great for the digital nomad movement, too. It enables people to travel the world and live their dream while making a living all the while.

I don't know about you, but I'm really loving this new trend.


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