Imagine someone who is brand-spanking new to the Internet. Setting them loose in a browser with no guidance would be like directing a horse and buggy onto an L.A. freeway at rush hour. You could look over their shoulder as they discover the joys and pitfalls of the top Web sites, or you could simply send them a link to the free Internet-training videos at Grovo.
The company has created dozens of short videos covering just about every activity a person is likely to do on the Web. The videos last from less than a minute to more than 2 minutes long. Security is prominent: videos cover malware prevention, passwords, phishing, and safe e-mail and social-networking use.
Much of Grovo's information is specific to the most popular Web services: Google Docs, Gmail, Amazon, eBay, Twitter, Craigslist, Facebook, and YouTube. Slightly more advanced are videos on Wordpress, the Quora human-answer database, the Mint personal-finance site, and the DropBox file manager.
When you sign up for Grovo's premium service for $19 a month or $190 a year, you get access to dozens more instructional videos on business services such as Google Apps, the Zillow real-estate service, the Basecamp project manager, Google Analytics, and GoDaddy's Web services. The premium service also offers e-mail support and new lessons weekly. (There's at least one free video on each of the premium-only topics.)
Free-form topic organization facilitates browsing
Grovo's home page presents a big "It's Free!" button and a "who we are" video, along with links to a handful of videos on random topics. On the Browse screen the videos are placed in six main categories and about 30 subcategories; several of the videos are listed in multiple categories.
Most of the dozen or so Grovo videos I played had a little bit of chop in the playback but not enough to impede the instruction. The videos I watched were up-to-date, but I stuck with the high-traffic topics of security, e-mail, Facebook, and YouTube.
The range of subjects covered by Grovo's videos is impressive, but missing from the roster are Yahoo, Wikipedia, Microsoft, and news sites (including a certain tech-news site). Several free videos are provided for specialty services such as the OpenTable restaurant reservation service, the Retargeter online-advertising site, and the Aviary image markup tool.
I was a little surprised to see nearly a dozen videos related to Google's Chrome browser but nary a word about Firefox, let alone Internet Explorer or Safari. But I was very pleased with the quality of the video content, even with the cheesy wild-west chase scene introducing the security video.
If you register with the site, Grovo offers pop quizzes on all the subjects covered in the videos. The quizzes have about two dozen true-false and multiple-choice questions; I took the Gmail test and scored 82 percent, although I didn't study the night before.
It's very nice to find Grovo free of ads--at least at present. A big question is whether the subscriber base and partnerships will continue to subsidize the free videos. I imagine a pay-per-view model for the business topics would require a form of micropayments, like a mini-iTunes. If ever a site cried out for such a revenue model, it's Grovo.