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Table Of Contents  The Online Freelancing Guide
 >  An Analysis and Review of Popular Online Freelancing Marketplace Sites
      >  Elance - Freelance Marketplace Site Analysis and Review

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Elance - Web Site Design, Features, Interfaces and Ease of Use
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Elance - Customer Service and Support
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Elance - Feedback System
(Page 3 of 5)

Issues and Problems with the Feedback System

Despite the considerable time and effort that Elance clearly devotes to tweaking and enhancing their feedback mechanism, complaints about it are numerous and persistent. Many of these come from providers, but clients also frequently have some problems with the way the system works.

Some of the more common objections:

  • Inflexible Feedback Time Limits: When a project goes well, the 60-day limit for leaving feedback is not a problem. But if a project conflict arises, it is possible that it will not be resolved until after the feedback time limit expires. This can only be alleviated if the final milestone date is pushed out, but either party can prevent that from happening by refusing to agree to changes in project terms. This situation allows an unscrupulous client or contractor to drag his or her heels to avoid a negative review. Elance is notoriously inflexible about this policy, refusing to extend the deadline even when a project enters the dispute process.

  • Feedback Allowed Only if Payment is Made: It is not possible to leave feedback if no payment is made. If a contractor doesn’t do anything on a project and the client never pays them, the client cannot leave negative feedback. The same applies if escrow is funded for a project but then later refunded. This means the feedback system, by design, does not allow clients to warn others about contractors who behave in an unprofessional manner but don’t get paid, such as just abandoning a project they’ve been awarded.

  • Inconsistency of Ratings and Lack of Clear Feedback Instructions: Clients are basically left to their own devices on how to leave feedback, and especially, how to decide what numeric ratings to give to contractors. The result is wildly inconsistent ratings. Many clients will automatically give “all fives” if they are happy with the project, while others will give lower scores simply because of a different interpretation of the “Not Satisfied … Very Satisfied” scale.

    Some contractors who are accustomed to getting a 5.0 on every project find their overall rating can be “ruined” by one client who gives them a 4.0 despite being very happy with the project (been there, done that.) Some clients are also just unrea­sonable: I once saw a contractor receive a 3 out of 5 rating on the "schedule" portion of a review because the work was slightly late due to the contractor unexpectedly needing to attend a funeral.


  • Feedback Hostaging: The reliance on numeric feedback, and the asymmetric nature of the feedback system, creates a tremendous imbalance of power between clients and contractors. It is not uncommon for clients to abuse this power under the threat of a bad review. To be fair, Elance does specify that feedback “hostage-taking” is against their terms of service, but the system itself encourages this, and my guess is that most incidents are never reported. It’s also worth mentioning that some contractors themselves abuse it by trying to “buy off” an unhappy client to avoid a bad review.

  • Deceptiveness of Overall Rating Scores: The Elance system encourages clients to become dependent on the use of the numeric rating system, and the overall rating of a provider can be very deceptive. People are conditioned to think that a score like 4.0 out of 5 is good, but the truth is that on Elance, a rating like that for an established provider is usually not. On the flip side, a new contractor can easily have a bad experience on his/her first project and end up saddled with a lousy overall rating that really doesn’t reflect his or her true quality.

  • Reviews Allowed After Arbitration: My understanding is that as long as payment has been made, the buyer can leave feedback for the client, even if a project goes to arbitration and the client loses. The potential for abuse here is obvious.

You’ll notice that most of the problems are related to the numeric ratings. Clients really need to pay attention to more than just the overall number, including looking at the underlying scores. I’ve seen clients get burned because they hired a contractor who appeared to have a high overall rating, but when I looked at his profile, I found an easily-noticeable pattern of poor communication and refusing to take deadlines seriously. Unfortunately, the Elance system encourages dependency on numeric ratings, and allows providers with a poor track record of professionalism and quality to remain on the site.


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Elance - Customer Service and Support
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