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How the TaskRabbit Redesign Screws Freelancers

By Charlie Kasov July 24th, 2014

One time in college, a poetry professor casually told our workshop that from 1967 until 1973, adults could have casual sex whenever they wanted without consequence. Then she casually looked off into the distance, into what I knew was a specific memory of that intimate utopia. Then her facial muscles clenched slightly before relaxing, and I could tell she had silently chastened herself: Oh come on, Carolyn, you knew that wouldn’t last forever.

I bring up this story because it’s the perfect metaphor for how I feel about TaskRabbit. For four months, the micro-employment service gave me the freelancer’s equivalent of a consequence-free hookup, allowing me to shore up my income by building an Ikea desk or writing some online reviews without these small jobs getting in the way of my more substantial writing gigs.

Unfortunately, with the rollout of their slick, sleek, and spanking new app this summer, free love isn’t so free anymore.

However, just as people still had at least some sex after 1973—at least enough to create me, along with much of The Freelancer’s staff—I’ll continue to pick up work through the app, albeit far less frequently and with many more strings attached.

Here’s why the changes to TaskRabbit make it less worthwhile for freelancers who want to stay focused on other work.

Smartphone takeover

I think TaskRabbit wants to date me. Scratch that, it thinks we’re in a long-term relationship. That’s the only way to explain why it’s okay flooding my phone with notifications I don’t care about. I could simply turn off notifications on my phone, but because of the new app’s features, doing so actually prevents me from picking up any work.

In the old app, people posting jobs described what they needed done and either set a price—”Quick Assign” tasks, in TaskRabbit jargon—or opened the task up to bidding. In the new app, however, TaskRabbit has done away with bidding completely, replacing it with a requirement that users set hourly rates for each type of gig they’re willing to do. Now, I have to wait for Task Posters to choose me.

The problem is, once chosen, I’m required to respond to that decision within 30 minutes or else the gig disappears. The only way to be notified is via the app, so I either have to turn on notifications or check the app compulsively. As most smartphone owners will agree, we don’t need another app to check compulsively. If I do turn on notifications, I get flooded with “rescue task” offers—tasks that others have passed on that are worth as little as a third of my asking price. The app doesn’t distinguish between being hired for a task and being asked to rescue one, and a few times, I’ve missed a hiring notification amid a deluge of rescue alerts.

TaskRabbit and the client now call the shots

When Taskers lost the ability to bid on jobs, we lost the ability to charge based on how annoying the Task Poster seemed like he or she would be to work for. All over the freelance world, that’s an important asset. When I write ad copy, the rate I quote often depends on how clearly the account managers convey what they want. Sure, a headache gig could lead to more billable hours, but a headache gig will also require time that could have been spent on easier or more fulfilling gigs.

In the old app, a Task Poster indicated when the task needed to be done, which was vital to any bid. Now, TaskRabbit wants to know my entire schedule, but it doesn’t know how to deal with such information like a mature adult.

For a given day, I’m now asked to indicate my availability in four-hour increments between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. This demand is significantly problematic, since my schedule, like those of many freelancers, is always changing. If I finished an article before deadline, I might pop onto TaskRabbit to see if there was any work I could pick up. Now, I either have to know ahead of time that I’ll be available, or turn on that time slot and hope someone chooses me for last-minute work.

I have several other gripes with the new app, including seriously wonky functionality, slower payment times, and the elimination of an in-app gratuity option for Task Posters. Part of what made me love the old app so much was that I learned to game it in order to maximize income and minimize peeve, but even though the new app has problems, I’m still hoping TaskRabbit will fix it with future software updates.

Have impossibly high standards

That’s right, to use the new TaskRabbit successfully, you have to treat it like dating in your twenties: Only commit when it’s unquestionably worth it. TaskRabbit wants you to set fixed hourly rates? Jack them up ridiculously high and see who’s willing to pay. If anyone is, great. You’ve bagged yourself a hottie. You’ll still be flooded with rescue notifications, but more of them will be for prices you’d normally have no problem with. Yes, $30 per hour might feel like settling if you’ve sampled $50 per hour, but if $30 used to excite you, it’s still good for the occasional fling.

Image by M P R
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