oDesk - Freelancer Community Characteristics
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General Quality and Professionalism Level
I’ve already tipped my hand here: generally speaking, the quality and professionalism of freelancers on oDesk is below average. It is roughly on par with other sites that cater to the low end of the market, such as Freelancer.com, and may even be lower. Because as I’ve said, oDesk doesn’t even try to market itself as a place for serious freelancers, preferring to sell clients on the idea of outsourcing to virtual workers overseas, whom they can manage using oDesk’s hourly project setup and software tools.
Because oDesk has no barriers to entry such as monthly fees, and its job application quota is quite generous, the number of people who apply for jobs on oDesk can be staggering. When I was actively freelancing, one of my specialty areas was data extraction and manipulation. I would sometimes bid on projects where clients were looking for manual data entry work, proposing an automated solution that would be faster and better, and in many cases, cheaper as well. I was ignored most of the time that I did this on oDesk, likely because my application got lost in the swarm of dozens or even hundreds of bids from workers. I think 250 or so was the most I saw on one project—in less than 48 hours—and I really pity the client who had to try to sift through all of that.
English language competency is another big problem for clients on oDesk because of the large percentage of workers from non-English-speaking countries. The company seems to understand this, because it gives special status to a rating called “English Skills”, which is shown right under “Location” in each contractor’s profile. But this one-to-five-star rating is self-assessed, and contractors quickly learn that if they don’t give themselves at least a four, they’ll be passed over. To give you an idea of how reliable this measurement is, while writing this section I came across a contractor who had given himself an “English Skills” rating of five stars, and had this as his single-line contractor overview: “I wanna to be earn money to prove myself.”. There are many people on oDesk with comparable English competency and professionalism, and many of those are applying for projects in the Writing & Translation category.
Now, all of that said, it doesn’t mean that all contractors on oDesk are of poor quality; when you are talking about hundreds of thousands of people, some are obviously going to be good. The problem is finding them. The lack of quality workers in some areas also represents an opportunity for serious freelancers, but again, the problem is getting your voice heard. My guess is that freelancers are likely to have the most success where there are fewer applicants, such as the Web development category.
Even in areas like Web development or programming, though, the problem is finding clients who will value quality over price. oDesk markets to employers who want work done cheaply, so that’s most of whom they get as clients. The lack of clients willing to pay reasonable prices means better freelancers tend to leave the site. The lack of good freelancers means clients who want quality work done often get frustrated and leave, which in turn means less projects for good freelancers, and they leave. And so on. There are still clients on oDesk who are willing to pay a reasonable amount to get reasonable work done—I’ve even found a few who openly expressed relief at finding a freelancer they could trust to do a good job. The problem is finding them as they drift in an ever-growing sea of cheapskates.
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