I logged into Coffee & Power this morning and found that people in the public chat were discussing something that has been on my mind for a while now. How does one get started utilizing this service? Do I honestly have to buy in to start participating in this economy of small jobs and independent workers? With exactly $28.95 in my checking account at this point, I’m incredibly broke. What do I do?
What is Coffee & Power?
Coffee & Power, as it explains itself in a single line of meta-data, “is an online marketplace where people can buy and sell small jobs. Get something done, right now!” So its a sort of classified ads marketplace catering to independent professionals and those who need their services. Users can post “wills” and “wants,” a will being an offer of services, and a want being a request of services. When signing up, you can build your profile with your Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, a social feature that ads a little extra sense of security to the online transaction.
As I understand it, Co-Founder Philip Rosedale found inspiration for Coffee & Power in his successes with Second Life, a virtual world inhabited by the avatars of the very same users who are able to create and modify virtually everything in the 3D environment. Users are able to use their own real-world money to buy the currency that powers what is a unique and booming economy within the Second Life Universe. Coffee & Power is an attempt to realize this kind of economic model in a “Real World” setting.
With the rise of the mobile worker, the increasing popularity of co-working spaces, and the continuing development of the so-called “Web 2.0″ world, Coffee & Power is a really exciting idea. Personally, I’m excited to see it take off, and hope it does really well. Especially if they keep opening up more Workclubs, their free co-working spaces.
About a month ago, I got an email from Coffee & Power about a big change they’d just pushed to the site.
Hello , We built Coffee & Power with the desire to help empower and connect mobile workers from around the globe. With this in mind and in an effort to create more trust and a tighter community, we’re excited to announce our new sponsorship feature. How it Works In order to have full access to the Coffee & Power marketplace, you will need to be sponsored by an active C&P user. By sponsoring members of the community who you have had a positive work experience with (or who you know personally), you’ll help us build a better community of workers. To kick things off, we’ve done some early sponsorship of some of our most active mobile workers.
Read more about sponsorships on the Coffee & Power Blog.
At this point, though I had been looking for Wants that I could fulfill, I hadn’t had the chance to do anything yet. I knew immediately that I wouldn’t be one of the automatic sponsorships, but didn’t realize the full extent of how this impacted my intentions to start participating more often in Coffee & Power.
To make what could be a long story short, it turned out that without being sponsored one could not fulfill a Want, nor post a Will. What I found in the public chat room this morning was the following:
TutorDan: How do I get sponsored?
Seems like the whole sponsorship deal is such a hassle. How do you expect people to join the site if you have to get sponsored to SPEND MONEY to get a service?
RajatVash: I agree. Haven’t been sponsored yet, and I don’t know how to!
bastiandantilus: I’ve spent money and I’m not sponsored. It’s all in how you do it.
TutorDan put it like I had been too polite to say it. In order to be sponsored, Coffee & Power proposed that you complete a transaction, but prevented un-sponsored users from any transactions but those wherein they paid another user for a service, and were unable to provide a service themselves and get paid. But then, even bastiandantilus had hired someone and – as it would seem – the person they hired didn’t sponsor them.
Who do you Trust?
Considering it honestly, I really do understand the intentions behind the introduction of sponsorships in the Coffee & Power marketplace. Trust is not something to ignore, especially when you’re trying to get people to entrust their money to a website to use to hire remote strangers to do work for them. But when trying to create a community of people who are confident in each other, who do you trust first?
Though there are thousands of different arrangements under the sun, the typical fashion in which two parties execute a transaction of currency for services is to first perform the services, and then pay an agreed amount for services rendered. In this model, the service provider trusts that she will be paid upon completion. As every consultant or contractor knows, inherent in this model is a vulnerability where the service provider could find themselves unpaid for work they’ve done. Indeed it is so prevalent that it permeates the culture in ways such as the popular blog Clients From Hell.
The way Coffee & Power’s sponsorships are set up, the system seems to cast doubt upon service providers, but why? Is the concern for the quality of work they might produce? What do you think?
Update: According to Becky, Coffee & Power Product Manager, the restrictions that prevent un-sponsored users from doing work will soon be lifted. She says, “I think everyone understands why we want to create a gated community, but I think we need to do more thinking about how people prove themselves worthy of entering the gate.”
Update: The Coffee & Power website has been down for some months now, as they are rebuilding and relaunching the newest version of the tool.
Nice you put all this into words. I agree with Dan here too, the C&P concept is such a hassle for new users now that it becomes frustrating. When I first came to this site, it excited me like anything. The first thing I did, as anyone would, was to try and post a service in the WILL section. My mind simply told me that if I would not deliver, one or two of the following would happen - 1. I wouldnt be paid, 2. I wouldnt be recommended and so probably people will not trust taking my services again. Heck C&P didnt even allow me that one chance! If sponsorships are such a necessity, why not let people buy a service first (so as to check their spending prowess) and then give them a sponsorship automatically if they pay on time and send a quality feedback across. I guess that would make everyone happy! But then well, not everyone is in need of a service. Don't know how this is going to work...
So am I! :) My point is to do one of the two things, either remove the sponsorship thing altogether and let people prove their worth and earn the community's trust themselves (by doing quality work) OR give them a sponsorship automatically if they credibly buy someone else's service and give them a proper feedback too. Of course in the second case, you will have to buy a service first before you offer something.
TutorDan here. I found Coffee and Power from an article in Maximum PC. It seemed like a good idea so I went on the website and made an account. I even found a service I wanted to get, but I couldn't because I wasn't "sponsored". I then spent 15 minutes looking for a way to get this sponsorship, reading through all of the blog posts and the FAQ. I was so frustrated by the end that I left the comment and never looked back. There are so many innovative start-ups these days that if your website doesn't lock in an user within the first 15 minutes, you have failed. There are a lot better, more usable places all over the web. I get that C&P is trying to frame itself as a more professional version of fiverr, but it's restrictions are killing its growth. Sorry, I don't see this website working out with its current model.
Hello Dan! I know your frustration. I've been a C&P member for months and to be frank, the only reason it's still on my radar is because of their workclub. (http://www.coffeeandpower.com/#workclub) I'm a HUGE fan of coworking spaces, you see. Since joining, I found C&P to have MANY barriers to entry, and I was a member before the sponsorships were introduced! One thing I liked a lot was that the C&P employees have listed a number of really easy "wants" that can be fulfilled by nearly anyone - which I was planning to do until sponsorships were introduced. Anyway, thanks to you I'm sponsored now, and I'll be doing those things soon - I hope! :D
I am glad they are finally waking up... they say they are trying to protect the Employers. But if you think about it, Employers are automatically protected - Worker will not be paid if they don't deliver. If someone does not deliver the service or product, DO NOT pay them! Most of the problems occur when the Worker has done the work and then never hear from the Employer again! C&P's solution is much worse than the problem. It's true that Employers supply revenue to the site. But no one bids on the job, why would Employers waste their time? The only conclusion i can draw is C&P has decided they already have enough workers and don't want more. Why else would they implement a policy like this? If C&P doesn't change soon Zaarly would eat them alive! Most of the established mobile work sites use Escrow Accounts. This removes fraudulent Employers and others who are just fishing for ideas. Employer loads the project account with money, worker completes the job and the website releases money to Worker. If there is a problem the website can see project history and perform arbitration. This way both Employer and Worker are protected. All C&P has to do is to take a look at the 3 largest: oDesk, Elance, Guru.
I too, was glad to hear from Becky that things are about to change. You said, " It’s true that Employers supply revenue to the site. But no one bids on the job, why would Employers waste their time?" To which I agree whole heartedly. I think things will be much better once bids become easier to make. I haven't heard of the three sites you mentioned at the end, I'll have to look into them.
Examples like this illustrate how little power knowledge workers have regarding their conditions of employment - not only is work turned into an uncertain series of discrete transactions (without job security or guarantees of future employment), but the social networks over which employment takes place can change the conditions of looking for a job at will, and for the network's profit!
Though I agree that the sponsorships as I wrote about them aren't the best Idea, I DO think the folks at Coffee & Power are aware of the issue you raise, and - in their own way - are attempting to address that. I hope in the future, better changes are made. Seems to me, there are plenty of websites with working models, but I've not been privy to their conversations, and I don't know what they have and haven't considered as alternatives.