There are plenty of job sites out there for freelancers who want to sell their time and skills in the global marketplace. Many of these – such as Elance or RentACoder – operate primarily as simple marketplaces, putting together buyers and sellers, transferring jobs and money, and providing simple dispute resolution services. The result has been what economic theory would predict in a market with more sellers than buyers: a relentless drive to low rates.
oDesk is a different sort of market for freelance developers, designers, and others. By focusing on some extra features, they’ve positioned oDesk as a place where both hourly rates and overall job sizes are somewhat large than the industry average (you can check out their oConomy community site for some aggregate information on jobs and rates). To do this, they add things for both buyers and sellers.
On the seller side of the equation – that is, if you’re a freelancer selling time – oDesk guarantees payment for jobs completed. Unlike some other sites, the freelancer doesn’t assume the risk of the buyer vanishing after the code is started. They also offer you a chance to prove basic skill levels by working through their own online certification tests. And of course, there’s that higher rates thing.
For buyers, oDesk offers increased control and assurance that freelancers are actually putting in the hours they say they are. Freelancers who take a job through oDesk are required to install the oDeskTeam application (versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux) that runs on their own computer to track what they’re up to. When a seller is “on the clock” for an oDesk job, oDeskTeam tracks computer activity and takes desktop (and optionally webcam) pictures at intervals, so that they buyer gets an online project diary showing what the seller was up to. This makes it a lot harder for sellers to pad their hours.
It’s an interesting bargain: give up some of your freelance freedom in return for higher rates. Does it work? The oDesk folks I chatted with point out that many of their sellers keep coming back for more work, and that they’ve been successful in promoting long-term relationships between happy buyers and happy sellers. And longer jobs means less time wasted hunting for work between short assignments. While the monitoring aspects of oDesk won’t be for everyone, if you’re willing to work in their system there are apparent benefits.