oDesk - Project Quality
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In the discussion of project quality in my review of Freelancer.com, I said that the site demonstrates how quantity and quality trade off against each other. If that’s true of Freelancer.com, though, it is arguably even more so with oDesk. If you’re looking for lots of projects, oDesk cannot be beat; if you’re a serious freelancer hunting for good projects, though, that’s a different matter.
The overall quality of oDesk projects is poor, especially when viewed from the standpoint of professional freelancers and others who are looking to provide quality services and products for reasonable prices. As always, this is an average; with 2,500+ projects per day, obviously there will be some very good ones, some very bad ones, and a whole lot in between. But here, there are a lot more projects clustered towards the low end of the scale. A large percentage of the jobs on oDesk are from clients looking for tasks to be done at very low rates, involve work that few legitimate freelancers would be interested in, or are “chaff” projects that never should have been listed at all.
This state of affairs is not very surprising when you consider how oDesk is set up and operated. The company’s rapid growth, lack of project screening, non-existent barriers to entry for contractors, and positioning as a cheap place to get workers, have combined to create a “perfect storm” of low quality work.
The biggest issue is simply the attitude taken by the site in general. It is widely used by independent freelancers—even I have arguably contributed to the notion that it is a place for freelancers to consider by giving it a place of prominence in this Guide—but that is not how it really works, nor how it is marketed to clients. Rather, oDesk views itself as a place for employers to outsource tasks to inexpensive hourly workers. Low cost is very much a selling point, as is the notion that employers are in control of the process with contractors subordinate to them. There is no effort even made to portray oDesk as a place for clients and freelancers to achieve a meeting of the minds. If you need any more proof, just consider this tagline from the oDesk.com home page: “Hire, manage, and pay a distributed workteam as if everyone were in your office.” Not exactly how most freelancers think of themselves.
Project quality also suffers greatly from the company imposing absolutely no requirements to join the site as a contractor. You simply sign up, make whatever claims you wish about your expertise in your profile, take a simple site usability test, and ta-da, you’re an oDesk contractor. There are no membership fees or other impediments, so pretty much everyone can (and does) join. oDesk grows rapidly by signing up thousands of new contractors every week, most of them low-skilled overseas workers who compete solely on the basis of price.
Clients who actually do want to hire good freelancers for reasonable wages quickly learn that trying to find them on oDesk is very difficult. I’ve had oDesk clients tell me this directly. The lack of project screening and poor project posting process only make things worse, as we’ll see shortly. oDesk’s own data shows a steady decline in hourly rates in most areas as the site explodes in popularity.
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