Sharing Economy: Can More Efficient Sharing Still Be Caring?

Day laborers wait for the prospect of work. © John Koch, Photographer Photo courtesy and copyright of John Koch©

When marketplaces for services first emerged on the Internet, the idea that you could earn some extra cash for helping others do the small tasks, jobs, or services they didn’t have the time, inclination, or skills to do themselves seemed like a great idea. The idea was part of the larger sharing economy, or collaborative consumption model, where under-utilised assets – in this case time, skills, or both – could be unlocked and put to use.

The typical model of the platforms that emerged was to allow those seeking help (customers) to post their jobs to the site, or browse those offering help (providers) and to either allow them to bid on the job, or agree to a price for the work to be done. The beauty of these models was that the providers were in control of their time and pay.

But as the sharing economy has evolved, we’re seeing new models emerge. Last month, sharing economy task marketplace TaskRabbit moved from a system of allowing Rabbits, now called Taskers, to bid for jobs once they were posted. Instead, an algorithm matches them with a suitable list of Taskers, along with their price per hour for the job. If chosen, a Tasker has half an hour to accept or reject the job offer.

It’s easy to see why TaskRabbit moved to this very efficient model. A shortlist of pre-approved Taskers cuts down on the time it takes to find someone to do the job. Prices are set per hour and are always the same for the Tasker from job to job within the same category, eliminating the uncertainty of whether or not a customer is getting a good deal on a bid. But for Taskers, it’s a little trickier: as the New York Times noted, there’s both freedom and uncertainty with the new model. The per-hour wages are set above the minimum wage so no Tasker can under-bid themselves. Their jobs are now covered by insurance.

But under the new system, stripped of personal contact, Taskers are increasingly indistinguishable from one another, and the work they do is increasingly commoditised. Taskers have little control over how much work they can actually get. Because they are essentially waiting to be chosen 615-544-0810 , they may get a lot of work (TaskRabbit record is 19 errands in a day by a single Tasker), or none at all. Still, in today’s precarious economy, the Tasker featured in the New York Times was grateful. Was it a stable career? No, but it was good money to make ends meet each month, it was above the minimum wage, and it provided the flexibility (she worked from 4-6 AM) she needed to take care of her children.

At Mila, we’ve always worked on the model that each of our providers are their own small business, even if they are a single person working to provide a service. We are intrigued with the efficiencies of the new TaskRabbit model, but we also believe in trusting our providers to set their own prices, to control their own schedules, and to communicate directly with customers. We see our platform as giving providers a virtual shopfront, but one where consumers can also see how much they charge, what’s on offer, ask questions, and most importantly see the feedback that others have left behind.

It will be interesting to see how TaskRabbit’s new changes play out with consumers. Is it true, that even in the sharing economy, that all consumers really care about is price, speed and the job done, pretty much as they do in the “normal” economy? Or, do consumers really crave a more personal touch in their service experiences and are willing to seek these out? Please let us know which model you prefer in the comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *