July 22, 2011

When The Cheapest Task Is Too Expensive

TaskRabbit is a new way to get odd jobs done by simply posting them online for others to bid on and perform them.

Browsing the list of tasks out there now, I see everything from driver for a day to laundry, matching paint colors to organizing a library, picking up items from the store to installing a t.v.--I suppose if you need it (and it's legal), you can post it. :-)

The service is available in LA, San Francisco, Orange Country, Boston, and NY--so far.

Basically, the way it works:
  1. You, the "Sender", go online and name and describe the task, including when and where you want it done as well as the maximum you are willing to pay.
  2. "Runners" are alerted and bid the minimum that they are willing to accept to do the job.
  3. You review the bids and select one.
  4. The runner performs the work.
  5. You review, rate, and reimburse for the work.
Wired (August 2011) calls TaskRabbit the "eBay for real world labor," although there are other competitors out there such as AirRun and Zaarly.

In TaskRabbit, "Customers pay by credit card, and the runner's share gets deposited into a TaskRabbit account, with checks cut every Friday."

"TaskRabbit takes 12-30% cut of each transaction."

97% of tasks get a bid from at least one runner and 75% of tasks get completed.

If you want to become a Runner-- you apply through a 3-step process that includes an application form, video interview, and a federal criminal background check.

Gaming mechanics is used to rank top runners, display their experience level and average customer reviews, and provide them a progress bar to show points needed to get to the next level.

TaskRabbit fills an important niche in our society that is increasingly time-presured, convenience-oriented, and service-based and where more and more people hire themselves out as consultants, freelancers, and Guy/Gal Fridays.

While I can see the benefits to people who need to get work done and for people looking for work, there is something about this process where we bid out our labor by the individual task--like in the video where we need someone to pick up dog food--that it can get a little degrading and meaningless. No longer are we hiring people for their knowledge, skills and abilities for long-term contributions and growth prospects, but rather we are tasking out the smallest and most mundane of tasks to the lowest bidder.

Harvard Business Review (July-August 2011) in an article called "The Age of Hyperspecialization" wrote of the new social challenges with companies such as TopCoders that crowdsources out IT work to 300,000 freelance developers in more than 200 countries, such as: "the possibility of exploitation as work quickly finds the cheapest takers, and the opportunity for deception when workers can't see the larger purpose to which they are contributing."

Crowdsourcing or outsourcing these everyday tasks can bring speed and quality to what we are looking for, but the true cost comes in terms of "digital sweatshops" and potentially "dull and meaningless" work.

Is this level of economic efficiency going to cost us all more in the end?


1 comment:

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