About a month ago, I received an email from TaskRabbit – a company that lets you outsource small gigs to people in your neighborhood.
Thank you for your interest in joining the TaskRabbit community! We are currently inviting a select group of applicants to complete their applications and become a Tasker. Complete your application today to join our high-quality community of neighbors helping neighbors.
Intrigued I submitted an application, including the personal information required for a background check and detailed explanations about my humble skills such as computer support, online ecommerce (Certified eBay GrandMaster), and usability testing (Is this even on?).
Your friendly neighborhood TaskRabbit
Two weeks after submitting my application, I received an update from TaskRabbit:
Congratulations! Your Tasker application has been approved. You are now ready to work smarter and provide high-quality, reliable help to your neighbors. To get started, install the Tasker mobile app and indicate that you are available for hire. As soon as a Client has a request that matches your availability and skills, you’ll receive an invitation to the task.
I followed the link to download the Tasker app for Android. Oddly, the app isn’t installed via the Google Play Store and instead requires you to install it as a separate .apk file (What happens on iOS?). I ended up having to temporarily disable the security setting on my phone to allow installation of apps from unknown sources (read: not via Google Play).
With that little jaunt configuring critical security settings on my malware-plagued Android phone, I logged into my account, updated some profile details, and…waited.
TaskRabbit 2.0: Unleash the Krakeeeen!!!
Just as I was accepted as a new TaskRabbit “Tasker”, the company released a major update to the entire outsourcing experience. Previously, TaskRabbit took an eBay-style approach with tasks, where “Clients” would post their tasks up for bid. Tasks often received several bids allowing the Client to pick a Tasker they liked with the ideal hourly rate and skills.
With the new TaskRabbit, this transaction is replaced with a new “matching algorithm” whereby Clients are automatically paired with Taskers deemed to have the right skills and availability for the task. Sort of like Match.com meets TaskRabbit.
So far, the reviews have been…mixed.
On the Google Play Store, the TaskRabbit app has a 2.8-star rating with many recent 1-star reviews. The picture doesn’t look much better on the App Store (1.5 stars) or Yelp (2.5 stars). Suffice to say, people yearn for better days.
Will write blog posts for food and $$$
Over the course of the next week, I received about 4–5 notifications from TaskRabbit about new tasks. My first match was claimed by another Tasker before I had a chance to respond. Another task sought out participants for a usability test posted by the fine folks at Lookout for $25/hr. I took a pass on this one due to scheduling conflicts.
Alas, this weekend, I received a match that looked promising. Someone was looking for help setting up an ecommerce website using Wix and was willing to pay $18/hr.
Wix? That piece of crap website? Maybe I can convince them to switch to something like Squarespace. That would be worth $18/hr.
Determined to claim my first TaskRabbit gig, I strike up a chat with “Diana” (I’ve changed the names for anonymity) to ask additional questions about the task. Could you tell me more about the problem you’re having? How long do you expect this to take?
With that, I schedule the appointment for 4pm the following day. I estimate that the drive would take about 20 minutes. Will I be reimbursed for transportation costs? It depends. I regret not asking.
On the day of the appointment, I decide to call Diana. Since this would be my first gig on TaskRabbit, I needed to ease some of my concerns about what I was about to step into. I certainly didn’t want to be a footnote in the new “TaskRabbit Killer” Wikipedia entry page.
A pleasant voice greeted me.
Hi there, this is Tony from TaskRabbit! How are you doing?
I’m doing good, how about yourself?
Great! Can you promise not to kill me and cut me into a hundred pieces?
With that short call, I felt reassured that my first task as a newly minted TaskRabbit would be just fine.
TaskRabbit Tony, ready for duty!
I arrive at my destination and walk up to their door. Diana greets me and we shake hands. After brief introductions, I find out that it was actually her daughter “Julie” who needed help setting up her website. We sit down in their living room where a dusty old Macbook was waiting for me.
Julie shows me the t-shirt website that she has been working on. The site is pretty basic and offers three designs for sale. Julie walks me through this weird quirk where a selected shirt would display the incorrect price.
Curious, I begin to poke around Wix’s Geocities-inspired website builder. After about 15–20 minutes of clicking around, I discover the problem. Wix was tallying a surcharge fee of the same amount when you select a t-shirt size. Julie had entered the t-shirt price twice thinking that the surcharge was the same as the total price.
Oh, wow! You figured it out! Thanks!
We spend the remainder of that hour jousting with a recalcitrant Paypal. I’m sorry to report that I did not mention Squarespace once during my shift. With my task completed, we say goodbye and I depart $18 richer.
Vegas, here I come!
Don’t quit your day job just yet
“Who exactly are Taskers?” I pondered on the drive home. Are they like Uber X or Lyft drivers – people looking for supplemental income to pay off bills every month? Or do they work full-time using TaskRabbit to make a living?
I’m inclined to think it’s more of the former although TaskRabbit would like you to believe otherwise. With the removal of the auction-style process for finding gigs, Taskers may find it challenging to schedule tasks throughout their days to establish a steady income and routine. That seems to be the chorus of the negative reviews from Taskers and Clients alike who think that the new process for arranging gigs has become more opaque and out of their control. How are matches determined? When will I get my next gig?
Temp jobs are not new of course in our modern day economy. Businesses large and small depend on temporary workers to fill an immediate need including administrative assistant and data entry work. TaskRabbit is different in that many of the tasks are from regular Joes needing help for at most, one day. As a result, Taskers end up in this anxious cycle of securing new gigs every day.
Another weird quirk I encountered with my first gig was with how hourly rates are determined. I had defined my hourly rate for computer help related tasks at $20/hr yet, TaskRabbit matched me with a Client with an $18/hr task. I think you should update your algorithm, guys.
What if Taskers could work with Clients on a repeat basis? Let’s say that after a successful engagement with a Tasker, the Client has another related task the following week. Wouldn’t you want to seek out the same trusted Tasker for help rather than let TaskRabbit mysteriously conjure up some random matchup with someone new?
Maybe this functionality already exists and I have yet to discover it. If so, please let me know in the comments section below!
I have one final thought I wanted to share about my experience as a Tasker. The screening process consisted of an online application and a background check that TaskRabbit claims it conducts. I found it curious as to why in-person or video interviews weren’t required for new Taskers. Is a background check really sufficient to assess the capabilities of new Taskers? I’m dubious at best and wonder if TaskRabbit is more concerned about growing as quickly as possible than maintaining a high-quality network of skilled workers that users can tap into.
New hourly rate for computer support: 1,000 bitcoins/hr