The bad news is that the economy blows right now. The good news is that there's a new kind of economy creeping in, thanks to the internet. Unprecedented interconnectivity is redefining old norms about employment and income—in fact, studies estimate that by 2020, 40 percent of US workers will be freelancers.
The trend is opening up new ways to make a buck. Call it hustling, call it entrepreneurship, call it DIY creation—the idea boils down to selling your skills and smarts on the web.
There are already a handful of startups connecting people who have services to offer with people who have services needed. Now Google's getting in the game. Google Helpouts, an e-commerce marketplace that will sell expert sessions through live video, went live today.
Helpouts hasn't officially launched yet. At this stage the company is recruiting skilled experts on an invite-only basis—to keep the platform a little less anything-goes amateur than, say, the troves of instructional videos on YouTube.
If you have something to teach, you can request an invite and Google will get in touch if you make the pass. "If we feel they are a good fit, we will follow up with them and possibly extend an invitation to apply,” a Google spokeswoman told me in an email.
I asked just how Google judges if someone is a "good fit," and the spokesperson informed me they aren't getting into that level of detail right now. My best guess is that the company will asses your chops based on the information in your Google+ profile, which is required to host a Helpout.
Google is looking for people to host sessions in a range of categories: arts and music, computers and electronics, cooking, education, fashion and beauty, fitness and nutrition, health and counseling, home and garden. "We are looking for experts in their field, who have strong reputations and are great at sharing their knowledge with others," the Google spokesperson said. "Anyone who is giving help using Helpouts must comply with our content guidelines and demonstrate to our quality assurance team that they would provide excellent help to the Helpouts community."
Indeed, if you want to earn some cash through Helpouts, be prepared to be completely submerged in the Google ecosystem. Helpouts, once live, will automatically pull in information from your Google+ account. They will be delivered over Google Hangouts, the company's video chat service. You'll also need to use Google Wallet to get paid. You set your price for a session, and Google takes a 20 percent platform fee.
For those of you not wild about interconnecting your life with the Googleverse any more than it already is, there's a slate of startups offering the same sort of dollars-for-skills platform.
LiveNinja is a searchable marketplace of experts, that claims to be "turning the concepts on employment and income creation on its head." It's free to sign up to become a certified expert, at which point you can set your own rates and schedule. Like Google, you have to prove you're a legit person—new "Ninjas" must be hired with at least one positive review. The company also takes a 20 percent commission, via PayPal.
Secret Guru is eBay's UK version of Helpouts, and is still in beta test mode. Its services are more narrowly focused on the lifestyle space: food, health and beauty, style, party planning, and the like.
Then you've got PowHow, a hub for webcam classes where instructors can "take your studio online" to teach activities like dance, painting, yoga, or wine tasting. And then there's also Live Moka for language lessons, InstaEDU for online tutors, Shmoop for homework and test prep, Zaarly for local services, and TaskRabbit for errands and projects.
Of course, none of these will be true game-changers unless the demand is high enough. Will people really want to chat with a stranger halfway around the world to brush up on their Spanish? Is video an effective medium for, say, tennis lessons? How much money will people be willing to pay your sage wisdom? The trend is still in the very early stages, but as is so often the case, Google might be the first to really kick it into the next gear.