Monday, 16 June 2014

Why elance sucks (and others too)

After two month of working with elance, one month as a "free", one month as a paid one, here are some of my thoughts:

- Their commission fee is indecently high.
They do nothing for the bidder or for the client, except to provide a meeting point for those clients that didn't think about searching google for technology specific meeting points (e.g. a PHP specialized forum or a Linux job list) where they could find someone knowledgeable on the subject.
So, why have elance (guru, odesk, others) take about 8.75% - 10% of your money when any other company that allows you, e.g., to buy goods over the net using your credit card, have a comission of just about 2%-4%? What is their added value?
Nothing I'd say, just tools that you'll never need. Milestones for example, can be easily replaced by a common sense email exchange between client and freelancer. They offer an "escrow" payment to make sure the money exists but this is only for some jobs and not for all (besides, if the client is really looking for a freebie, he can refuse payments anyway, escrow or not, invoking that the freelancer didn't do it in due time or not up to client's standards). So none of these justify the high commission rate or the crazy 10$ per month paid subscription (add 5$ more for any other field of activity).

- elance has become an IT moral sewer.
If you analyse the daily IT jobs coming from elance, you'll notice that more than half of it pertain to create sites similar to competition's, spamming others or collecting email addresses from certain sources and feed them back the lists with poor guys that'll be spammed subsequently. Sometimes the freelancer is required to break captchas, use anonymous proxies or ignore the site's terms of use that specifies clearly that any site scrapper activity is not allowed. This is a method for western clients to pass the responsibility to countries that are known for illicit activities.
It's also "interesting" to point out that these type of spam / spam support jobs, get the highest number of bids from the freelancers. 

So how can you urge me sign the childish "elance pledge" that stipulates "freelancer integrity", when you allow job posting that are clearly requesting illegal activities and would worsen the world's (already bad) spam situation?

- There is unfair competition.
This problem is caused by the costs of living in various countries versus the rates you can afford to ask in those countries, but this was largely discussed on other blogs & sites unhappy about these freelancing websites, so I don't insist on it. I completely agree that globalization is not good in these cases and, as long as the Asian guys can also provide quality work, the European and American freelancers are doomed.
It is still highly debatable if the quality is indeed the same, and both parties have their best interest to pretend differently. The moral answer will be probably that it cannot be judged globally, based on race and location, only on case by case basis.

- Many requests for bidding are racist.
I can accept that some guys had multiple bad experiences with certain races (Indians fill elance preponderantly indeed because they are so many in the world, anyway) and don't want to work with them anymore.
Still, elance is allowing racism and do not moderate the job posting in any way (for those money they take) and I find it unfair, despite the fact that my chances get better in these cases (cause I am white, by the way).
The system is wrong and I don't want to give them free solutions (but there are some I could think of ;)

- Many requests for quotations are badly formulated.
This is another subject present on many of elance's detractors blogs / websites and unfortunately is true. Non technical guys try to say what they want and how they want it and it takes hours and many emails exchanged that will clarify the things up, and finally the job could be got by someone else, indirectly benefiting on your work.
In conjunction with the badly formulated RFQs, it formed a special breed of freelancers that bid no matter if they understand what's requested or not, just to win it and probably pretending more money afterwards.

- Many requests for quotations are for non-existent jobs.
As some other sites pointed out, there are some freelancers that use elance to get an idea about their their market value, by posting a fake job that would need their own skills and then analysing the received bids' money.
The job will never happen and the bidding freelancers will suffer a time waste, whilst the faker will eventually come to the conclusion that the results are not relevant: The guys from Asia will always have prices much less than Europe and US, and placing yourself in these ranges might not work because you cannot afford it, or because you don't know the client's preferences in terms of money/quality and if he thinks that everything that's american is better than everything else. So... it's a lottery.

So, all in all, I decided to give up this system in which a freelancer might earn some money, a client might get happy, but in which, clearly, elance is a winner the more people try their "services". 

The only question remaining is: can I do it better? Or, better, can we? 

What about a similar website that could be launched to put together the clients with freelancers that will intervene less (if at all) in the circulated money but more in the quality of jobs and the freelancer's moral virtues? What about a website that could request just a bit of money (eg: a 5$ yearly subscription or even donations from freelancers/clients) to finance its hosting and to give complete liberty to freelancers and users to connect, discuss, negotiate and pay/getting paid directly?
Think about it as an opensource platform that could be a benefit for those that can further find jobs through it. 

Ok, I don't know all details now, but still, anyone interested in starting such a thing? If so, let me know.