The Gig Economy In Practice

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 04:04 PM

Sarah Kessler (who wrote the story TLDR episode 9 was based upon) has written an amazing dissection of what it takes to be a freelance worker for hire on the internet.

Kessler takes specific aim at Micro-entrepreneur sites like Air B&B and Taskrabbit, sites that allow the trading of goods or labor for money. For four weeks she took any job she could get from these sites to see if she could make more than the a new proposed minimum wage of $10.10 per hour. First, she finds herself rejected by many of the sites:

The rejection notices come almost instantly. Each one lands with a thud in my inbox that sounds like a wasted hour of my life. Neither Zirtual nor a similar company called FancyHands ($1 million in funding) is hiring independent contractor assistants. Q&A service ChaCha ($83.5 million in funding) has also stopped taking applications. Exec, the cleaning service, rejects me within a day, without explanation. Nobody has taken me up on my Fiverr proofreading gig yet, and when I search for it on the website, there are 4,786 results with similar titles, most of which seem to appear before mine.

Then, she finds herself spending time applying for gigs where she's getting small commissions, is directed to the wrong location, and is generally overworked and underpaid. She also finds out she's not alone:

I can easily find dozens of people like Sharon in San Diego, who has a goal of making $300 a week on TaskRabbit to help pay her bills, but hasn't hit it yet. Or Kristen in New York City, who bids on tasks when she's working full-time as a receptionist. Or Stacie, who works full-time as a software engineer in Boston, but always keeps the TaskRabbit website open so she can complete tasks on her lunch hour, after work, on weekends, or without leaving her desk. Stacie made about $6,000 on TaskRabbit last year, earning her "elite TaskRabbit” status. She likes helping people out, but she would never work on TaskRabbit just for the money. "If I wasn't working full time, I could do more tasks,” she tells me, "but even if I doubled that, that's still poverty--$12,000 a year. And there are no benefits. You don't know what you're going to wake up to. You could wake up one day, and be like, oh my god, I made $300 today, and then have three days where you're making $12.”

The whole article is great, so go read it (I don't want to spoil it!) but it just puts lie to the doe-eyed startup notion that the internet and technology can solve any problem.

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. You can subscribe to our podcast here. You can follow our blog here. We’re also on Twitter, and we play Team Fortress 2 more or less constantly, so find us there if you like to communicate via computer games from six years ago.

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