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Freelancing and the Platform Economy

Like any shift in history, the platform economy - often referred to as the gig economy - has the potential for good as well as the potential for harm. The gig economy is loosely defined as ‘a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs’. The platform economy, however, refers more specifically to employment offered by online platforms. Several well-known examples of this kind of work spring to mind: Uber and Deliveroo drivers are part of the gig economy, as are people who sell their services on Fiverr . Then there are other forms of platform economy, which consist of what are basically online marketplaces, connecting customers and people offering goods and services: Airbnb, Facebook and eBay are examples of this. In essence - as Deloitte points out - ‘the platform does not own the means of production, but rather the means of connection’. What all platform economy businesses have in common, then, is that they broker custom between sellers and buyers who are not part of the platform itself. There are many driving factors behind the rise of the platform economy: research from Deloitte identifies increased interconnectivity and the ubiquity of technology as being the main factors.

There are, of course, great benefits to the platform economy, particularly for consumers. Consumers can benefit from cheaper goods and services, as Airbnb demonstrates: why pay £150 per night for a hotel room when you can pay £100 for use of an entire flat? Likewise, eBay represents a way for individuals to buy and sell a wide range of goods, often at much lower prices than from conventional retailers. There is, therefore, a clear benefit to consumers, in respect of the money they pay for goods and services.

A consequence of this is that the platforms themselves stand to undercut and outperform their conventional competitors. This is because of the inherently competitive and meritocratic nature of the platform economy, but also for the fact that the platforms do not have to pay overheads as their competitors do, who own their means of production. For example, Uber themselves don’t own their cars - the drivers themselves pay for the cost and upkeep of their vehicles - and don’t have to pay for them, as a conventional taxi company would. In the same way, eBay doesn’t manufacture products; it doesn’t even own the products they sell: they merely connect the buyer and seller.

Either way, it doesn’t look like platform work is going away anytime soon - in fact, it looks as if it’s on the increase. A growing number of platforms exist, however, which allow people to sell their labour on a freelance basis: of which UpWork and Fiverr are only two. On one of these platforms, a user can find practically any manner of work they please. If you wanted to find someone to write up a legal document for you, you could enlist the services of a lawyer on Fiverr. Or, if you wanted a jingle written for an advert, you could find a musician on UpWork to write one for you. In short, you can find anyone on a freelancing platform: anything from a chemist to help formulate a new drug, to a ghostwriter to write your new memoir.

The key challenge for any business is building and maintaining trust with customers. Research shows that the way to do this is to show your customers that you are a reliable, and secure corporation/individual to deal with. Of course, this is much more of a challenge for freelancing platforms, as the customer does not - in effect - deal with the platform itself: rather, it deals with one of the thousands of freelancers who operate on the platform. The platforms go some way into generating trust between their freelancers and their customers: they have a review section so customers can judge by the freelancers’ prior conduct whether or not they are safe to deal with. In addition, they have a signalling mechanism in place to show whether or not a seller is verified by the platform. But is this really enough? Reviews can (and are) being faked on sites everywhere, and it isn’t that difficult to get past a client verification system (e.g. a group of people demonstrated this by setting up a fake deliveroo restaurant and selling microwave meals).

What these platforms need is a cohesive, objective, way that can assemble and represent the trustworthiness of their freelancers. Rather than merely taking people at their word - relying on reviews and so on - why do people not look to the evidence? At TiiQu, this is what we’re making into a reality. If you wanted to know whether a freelancer is really a graduate in law, or whether someone offering a room on AirBnb is trustworthy, you could consult the seller’s TiiQu score. Equally, this kind of cross-corporate reputation equalization technology has the potential to empower sellers and freelancers: if they could record and build their reputation on a trusted platform, they could represent their proven trustworthiness to potential clients across multiple platforms, increasing their ability to do business.

In short, the freelancing economy must move beyond trust in order to thrive, and the key to trust is a reliable, replicable, aggregated reputation system.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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