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Google offers live video chats on range of topics with new service

The Google signage is seen at the company's headquarters in New York January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
The Google signage is seen at the company's headquarters in New York January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

By Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc is launching a service that lets consumers pay for live video chats with experts who can provide everything from step-by-step turkey cooking instructions to marriage counseling.

The Google Helpouts service, introduced on Monday, features roughly 1,000 partners in fashion, fitness, computers and other topics, available for live, one-on-one video consultations. The video sessions can be as short as a few minutes or can last several hours, depending on the topic, with pricing set by each individual provider.

The video consultations represent an expansion of Google's traditional Web search service, which for years has answered consumers' questions by pointing people to the most appropriate Web page.

While Google remains the world's No.1 Internet search engine, consumers are increasingly turning to social networks like Facebook Inc to get advice and recommendations from their friends about movies, restaurants and other topics.

"Most of the world's useful information still resides in people's heads," Udi Manber, vice president of engineering at Google said at a small briefing with reporters in San Francisco on Monday. Helpouts "opens the door to that information as well."

Manber said that Google will initially provide tight oversight of the Helpouts website, deciding which types of services can be offered on Helpouts. For providers of medical consultations, Google will conduct background checks to ensure that the provider has valid credentials.

In addition to individual experts, large brands such as Sephora, Weight Watchers and Rosetta Stone will also be offering video sessions on the Helpouts service.

Google will take 20 percent of the fee that the providers collect from consumers for the video chats, though Google is initially waving the transaction fee for providers in the Health category.

Consumers can leave reviews of the different video chat experts and Google will refund consumers who are not satisfied with their video consultation, the company said.

(Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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