Ok, so this isn’t really how I wanted to tell my story. But here goes.
Contrary to what may be the impression I give here, I am not just traveling around and playing. I’m working very hard…usually 7 days a week, at least 8 hours a day. And I’ve been loving every minute of it. Let me explain.
For the past few months, I’ve been working through a site called TaskRabbit. Until the last couple of weeks, this story that I’m telling would have been one that was filled with pleas for you to try the service yourself. With declarations that the system is one that will change your views on life, on work, and on your place in the whole mix. With claims that the traditional structures and paths associated with education, work, skills, and knowledge will be revolutionized – are (were) in the process of being revolutionized – and that as a result, we will eventually see a world in which people are doing work that they are genuinely passionate about doing, on terms that are agreeable to both parties, and with people for whom the match leads to uniquely and perfectly productive, creative, innovative outcomes.
I’ll take a step back to give some background. With the caveat that I had intended to tell this much more completely and with greater detail, which I still plan to do. But until then, some background.
Very quickly – I’ve done all the “right things” on the education/career path. Undergrad at UC Berkeley, research position at Stanford, PhD from UCLA, blah blah blah. I’ve held several different, somewhat satisfying and prestigious research and management positions in government, non-profit, and for-profit environments. And all along the way I was miserable. You know the story.
All along the way, I always dreamed about so many other paths that I wasn’t taking. I started collecting a list of things that I’d wished I’d done, but would obviously never do in this lifetime. I always regretted that I, for some reason, wasn’t allowing myself to do things that weren’t “aligned with my education.” I always wondered why I wasn’t bold enough to do the things that really sounded interesting to me. Including “giving up everything” and going to travel.
So, last year…I’m in this ridiculous position where my work isn’t aligned at all with, well…anything.
And I started dreaming again about all of the odd jobs that I’d always wanted to try. And I decided it was no longer time to dream. That I was ready to do. And I found a service that allowed me to try.
I found TaskRabbit. Well, the old TaskRabbit. Where people went online to post tasks that they needed help with: data entry, deliveries, moving, research, writing, editing, planning vacations, Xmas tree decorating, writing screen plays, web developing… you name it.
Once a task was posted, “Rabbits” (as they were called in the good ol’ days) would bid on it, providing a quick description of their fit for the job and the rate at which they would like to be paid.
There is so much that’s beautiful about this model, at least from the perspective of the Rabbits. You get to dabble in jobs that you otherwise would never get in the “real world.” You get to try things out on a VERY short basis and see what you think – if you like it, how good you are at it, if you want to learn more about it, etc. You get to scan the postings for tasks that are related to bigger things you want to do in the future – things that you’d like to get some experience with now. You get to see that there’s a task involving editing a screenplay, photoshopping images, delivering slurpees, helping to recruit an IT specialist…and you get to try these things out even if you have no direct experience in these areas – you’re just a smart, responsible, capable, and enthusiastic individual who is interested in learning new skills, in helping people with the work they need done, and in making people genuinely happy. You get to try out different pricing strategies. You get to learn about new software and systems that you otherwise would never come across. You get access to people and organizations that turn into bigger things if you both want them to. You get to go online at any time of the day and pick up work. You get to remove yourself from work whenever you’re otherwise engaged.
Or at least you DID.
But I’m skipping ahead. Let me give an example…
For example, I really want to write a children’s book and/or treasure hunts for kids. So….some tasks I’ve taken on TaskRabbit with this in mind:
1) I edited a book of children’s poems
2) I edited children’s books for a publisher that transferred hard copy books to online
3) I created a “rhyming story” about some woman’s 3 dogs, based on info her daughter gave me – and created a book with graphics that I had printed and sent to her
4) I created a treasure hunt for an 11 year old’s bday party
That’s one example.
For the last few months, I’ve been doing about 4-5 very different kind of things every day. More examples:
1) writing/editing/researching for an environmental consulting agency
2) developing social media content to help promote someone’s book
3) developing survey questions for a website that is sort of like a Wikipedia for businesses
4) writing website content for a lawyer
5) finding examples of startup companies making new technologies
7) organizing a trip along the CA coast
….and on and on and on. I could make entire resumes now with the different experiences I’ve had.
And now this has all come to an end.
TaskRabbit changed their business model. They no longer allow bidding….apparently they are now using some sort of algorithm (based on what? who knows) to magically connect Rabbits (now called “Taskers”) with tasks for which they are most aligned. They will send out a notice that we’ve been assigned a task and require us to respond within half hour. They are requiring us to set hourly rates on 39 (39!) different skills. This sounds like a lot. What it doesn’t do, however, is address how pricing really happens. It depends on so many factors. What time of the day it is. How quickly the client needs the task to be done. Whether the task was posted by a struggling student or a large corporation. How desperate you are for work. How eager you are to do the task because it provides rewards for you that are not measurable in dollars. Etc.
This means that we no longer have the freedom to decide what kind of work we want to do. We no longer have the freedom to revise pricing based on the many factors that have determined our pricing in the past. Presuming the algorithm is based on our current skills and previous tasks, we no longer are able to try out new things for which we think we would provide excellent service, but have no direct previous experience. We no longer have the freedom to do the many things that made the service so wondrous and unique in the first place.
From the client side, they will no longer have the ability to sort through bids from competitive Rabbits. They no longer have the ability to play an active role in deciding with whom they work. I’ve talked with a few clients and already heard horror stories.
And the new platform is only available on pretty current smart phones. Now, from one figure that was quoted to me, there are about 30,000 active Rabbits. Many of whom do not have (and cannot afford) to upgrade to these phones. A good portion of which rely on this service for their incomes and their livelihoods. And they are now broken and devastated.
And I would say that all of this might even be ok. Because TaskRabbit is a for-profit company and they need to respond to what they think will bring in greater revenue. Of course. I think we all get that. And we all understand that TaskRabbit is not in the business of providing fun, enlightening experiences for us.
But that’s not really the issue. At least not from my perspective. It’s about the level of communication and correspondence that the company has had with the Rabbits. If TaskRabbit had dealt with it responsibly and respectfully, this would be a different matter. But just the opposite is true. They imposed these changes without allowing our voices to be heard. They left most of our questions and concerns unanswered. They created a forum in which we were “allowed” to communicate with fellow Rabbits and then censored some of our responses (and in some cases, accounts/access to the forum suspended because attempted postings were not agreeable to the company). The forum is FILLED with complaints and concerns and questions that have gone without answers or responses. And many of us have been reprimanded for speaking out on the private TaskRabbit forum in the process.
TaskRabbit launched the new system with very little communication and next to no respect for its users. We have been reprimanded for speaking and silenced for being concerned about our futures. What the company doesn’t understand is that we’re talking about 30,000 human lives here. When TaskRabbit gives us the ability to live differently and to build our lives around this new concept, shouldn’t we be a little concerned when it’s being taken away? Shouldn’t it be presumed that we, as frequent and loyal users of the system, know at least something about what’s best for us and our clients?
TaskRabbit doesn’t seem to think so.
They have told, and are still telling, the media that we are all excited about the new system. They are lying. When asked by a VentureBeat reporter if there was any pushback over the changes, TaskRabbit founder and chief Leah Busque offered a blunt response: “Not at all. We just spent a week around the country talking to our TaskRabbit community. The Taskers doing this as a full-time job are excited.” (http://venturebeat.com/2014/07/10/taskrabbit-users-revolt-as-the-company-shuts-down-its-bidding-system/)
Meanwhile, their forum is filling up with more and more complaints by the minute. It just doesn’t make sense.
The sharing economy is built on trust and respect and communication. Completely. The only way these systems succeed – will succeed, and SHOULD succeed – is if we’re working together, if we’re open, and if we treat other as we would want to be treated. In other words, TaskRabbit’s old motto: “neighbors helping neighbors”…
We’re all waiting now for the next solution. In the meantime, it was great while it lasted.
UPDATE: I use Guru.com now, and it’s awesome!!! Highly recommend!!!