Let a thousand placeforms connect us, even as we loosen our connections

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I have seen a lot of social placeforms come online recently. This is my newest neologism, combining marketplace and platform to compose placeform. There are dozens of well-known examples — like TaskRabbit, oDesk, and the myriad other freelancer solutions — but in just the past few days I wrote about a number of others.

Userscout (see “UserScout connects participants and market researchers“) is a placeform to connect market researchers with people who want to make money by assisting in research activities. Seems to be principally focused on Singapore (its hometown) and now San Francisco.

Free Desk Here (see “Free Desk Here is a studio creative-in-residence program“) is a not-for-fee placeform run by Open Studio Club that connects creatives (presumably just starting out, perhaps recent grads) with studios that are willing to loan them a free desk. The premise is that both benefit: The creative gets a place to work, connect, and see what goes on in studios, and the studio has a smart creative person who may add some new perspectives. (My feeling is that this program could benefit from an explicit charter to mentor the creative talent, but we’ll see.)

And although this is a review of last week’s investigations, I will include a mention of something I wrote about today, Everwise (see “As management connections loosen, mentoring becomes the individual’s burden“), which is a placeform connecting mentors to protégés, subsidized by the companies that are too stretched to do a good job of it themselves.

I think the placeform is one of the dominant business models of the social web, on a par with social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr), social sharing (Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest), social media (WordPress, Flipboard, Bitly), and social coworking tools (Asana, Yammer, Google Drive). Every social activity that we undertake online will fall into one of these categories, and the nature of an expanding and loosening social experience in business and in the open web means that every niche will see its own solutions popping up and the tools we use will become narrower and deeper.

As one example, Everwise is a mentoring placeform that seems to be targeted to (or restricted to) matching professionals with C-level operating executuves as mentors. Presumably, the professionals are approaching this with the explicit goal of becoming a C-level executive. What about programmers, entrepreneurs, or creatives? Don’t they want and need a similar service to connect them with mentors with the appropriate skill set? Isn’t there a placeform just waiting to be launched out there where I could be the mentor for practitioners and theorists in social tools, social theory, and/or futurism? You get the picture.

Also on the placeform front, something that I missed from last week: TaskRabbit announced a service for businesses to hire ongoing temporary help, building on the business dashboard it launched back in February.

TaskRabbit-for-Business-Screenshot-e1369271459771

With this push TaskRabbit is taking aim at conventional temp agencies and leveraging the same community of over 10,000 vetted and tested “TaskRabbits” and its existing financial infrastructure for handling taxes and accounting. And in a sense, it is providing the opportunity for the freelancers working through TaskRabbit to shift from errands for individuals and businesses into the mainstream world of work and to do so in a placeform-mediated fashion.

So there is an interesting shift going on: Businesses and workers are relaxing their connections, leading to a figurative expansion of the universe of work (intended to be an allusion to the expansion of the physical universe). In the transition into the new world of emergent business, businesses are adopting new means of operations, and one consistent pattern that is emerging is to turn down the dial on various activities internally that eat up staff and management time and to turn to external placeforms to provide those capabilities.

The result at the individual level is a loosening of the ties to management and the intermediation of the company running the platform. Instead of a direct financial relationship with a small, potentially flaky company, the temp worker affiliated with TaskRabbit is less likely to be stiffed or or otherwise mistreated, because the company does not want to jeopardize its relationship with TaskRabbit. Because TaskRabbit (or oDesk or eLance) vets the workers, the companies are freed from doing so, at least to some degree. In a sense everyone — except for bad workers and bad companies — benefits through the intercession of a placeform.

So, the placeform is a perfect pairing with the expanding work universe.

The rapid loss of worker solidarity in the postmodern era — as indicated the decreasing numbers of union members in the U.S. and worldwide and the decline in professional associations — has led to a vacuum in society. As we have moved into a faster-and-looser world of business, instead of solidarity we will share fluidarity. Here in the postnormal, we are not forming workers’ collectives or marching against the inequalities of late-stage capitalism. Instead, we are finding common cause in our way of work, and in place of unions and other organizations we are witnessing the emergence of these placeforms, intermediaries that create a more balanced marketplace, where the size of the community can play a role without having to be organized as a collective. The platform allows power to be directed — to in effect establish the rules of engagement for the buyers and sellers — while the workers can operate cooperatively, through fluidarity.

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