oDesk - Feedback System
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Issues and Problems with the Feedback System
Some of oDesk’s policies have corrected, at least partially, a few of the common issues that plague numeric feedback mechanisms. However, other problems persist, and as so often happens, some of the efforts to resolve old issues have created new ones.
The feedback hiding feature is an attempt to at least partially deal with the problem where a single surly client or contractor can effectively ruin someone’s reputation. And it does that effectively. However, in general I am not a big fan of the ability to hide feedback, because I feel it undermines the transparency and honesty of the system. Frankly, I find the text comments to be of more value in assessing a potential business partner than a numeric score, and if someone has something to say about a person, I’d like to know what it is. Hiding the text while leaving the number is arguably more misleading than either leaving or hiding both: I view a 1.0 rating with no comments as a review made out of spite. I’d prefer if, at the very least, oDesk put limits on how often this can be used, much the way Guru does with its feedback blocking feature.
oDesk’s double blind system for feedback ratings is a good idea for preventing retaliatory feedback. This concept is used by several other sites as well, but some still have not implemented this, and in those venues it is quite common for people to get negative feedback solely because they gave it themselves. This tends to discourage honesty and reduce the effectiveness of the system as a whole.
It is not clear to me whether oDesk allows feedback on projects in which no payment has been made: feedback is triggered by the closing of the project, but what happens if it closes because the contractor did nothing and the client gave up? Most sites require a transfer of funds in order to leave feedback, which is a problem because it means clients cannot leave feedback for contractors who simply disappear without doing the work they promised.
oDesk has a policy against feedback hostaging, or “blackmailing” as they call it. The company promises to investigate and take action if a client or contractor provides them with evidence that a threat has been made. This is good, though my experience—across a variety of sites—is that this happens fairly regularly anyway. As mentioned earlier, the ability to hide feedback comments helps ameliorate the impact of feedback abuse, though numeric scores can’t be hidden, and getting a “1 star” numeric review can be very damaging to a new freelancer.
Perhaps the biggest problem with oDesk’s numeric feedback system, though, is simply that I don’t think it really tells you much, except in a very general sense. As is the case with so many freelancing sites, feedback scores are not used objectively, and there’s a tendency towards “grade inflation” that becomes ingrained in the site. The result is that most contractors and clients have huge numbers of very high scores, which reduces their meaningfulness. It’s actually surprisingly rare to find average feedback scores below 4 on oDesk, and a ridiculous percentage of ratings feature “5 stars” in all 6 categories for both client and contractor. That’s really more of a “you rub my back and I’ll rub yours” sort of system than a rational way to measure and represent performance.
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