How does the internet work now?
April 24, 2012 5:19 PM   Subscribe

Help understanding "new media" and the internetz: Are these "freelancing gig"/content generation/social network websites which are popping up on the web these days scammy? Help me understand this phenomenon.

I am wondering about sites like: or, which are basically acting as middle-men between freelance workers/average joes who want to get paid and employers who want to farm out labor. Where is the profit in these endeavors generated for the proprietors of the websites? Is it all a way to exploit "freelancers" or people who think they are freelancers, and get them to pay for useless services and extras and memberships, or produce content for free? Or do some of them actually work for the writers/freelancers ie. get them paid fair prices for their work or further their careers? If so, which ones are "good" ones?
posted by dahliachewswell to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've gotten a job through elance, and I can't say I was bowled over by it, but the guy who hired me agreed to reimburse me for their fee. He told me he'd hired people for designing websites, etc. and had been pretty happy (my special little niche of film work doesn't pop up on many sites.)

You bid on the job at I sure wouldn't bid lower than my day rate. But any content site is basically writing for pennies, I think. If you've got free time, and can churn out SEO copy, sure, why not? But I don't think any of these, including Patch, HuffPo or any other content mill will further any careers unless you really, really work at it. (And I've been a paid blogger and $15 a post was way more trouble than it was worth.)
posted by Ideefixe at 5:29 PM on April 24, 2012

So I signed up for elance once upon a time, then realized that their terms of service stipulate that they take a service fee from every transaction, and receiving payment for services outside of the site is forbidden. There's a lot of legal jargon to wade through, but the gist of it is that elance is a little less involved in the exchange than a normal contracting firm. Not being able to receive payment on my own terms was enough of red tape that I gave up on it and never took a gig.
posted by deathpanels at 5:29 PM on April 24, 2012

Those sites and others like them have been around for quite a few years now.

They are legit, and generally make their money by taking a cut of the transaction. For example Odesk, which is another big one, takes 10% of what the client pays and passes on the other 90% to the freelancer. Or to look at it another way, whatever rate you say you want, they add on their margin to that, and that's what the client ends up paying.

Whether you can make what you'd consider "fair prices" depends a lot on your skills, the demand for those skills, and the competition for that kind of work.

Because of the nature of the site you may be competing against people from other countries who can charge what you'd consider low rates but still make a good living for their location. Also when it comes to writing there are a lot of what are termed "Work-at-Home-Moms" (aka WAHMs), who may be pretty skilled but are looking for a flexible way to work part-time from home while raising young kids, and often seem to be willing to work for quite low rates.

However if you have skills that are in demand, you can make make decent money. For example, here's a guy who regularly makes $75/hr. (The clients pay $83.33/hr, including Odesk's add-on.) He does have 8 years copywriting experience though, plus another 10 years of screenwriting.
posted by philipy at 6:00 PM on April 24, 2012

They've been around for years and years. I think I joined elance back around 2004 and then again in 2008/2009 to see if there was any change. I think I joined guru briefly around 2005, just to see what it was like.

They are what they are. I think they work better for those who aren't in content production. You're basically competing with people who can charge a lot less because of the country they are in and you're generally competing with a lot of people. People will generally go for something that will cost little compared to something higher quality that costs more.
posted by mleigh at 6:19 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Guru is totally legit. My fiance has made a decent amount of money on it, and I've used it as well. I'm not sure why you would think they're scammy.
posted by radioamy at 6:20 PM on April 24, 2012

Both elance and have existed for quite a long time (in internet terms) -- elance has been around since 2003, not sure about but it's about the same I think.

The sites themselves are not scammy per se -- they make their money by taking a high-but-not-crazy-high percentage for any contract job made through the sites.

The jobs that are available on these marketplace sites are where the whole concept falls down. The problem is that the only real way to compete is on price, so they become a race to the bottom; most of the skilled freelancers stop using the site (or never start), so people who need skilled workers stop using the site too, and pretty soon there's nothing left but offshore chop shops churning out lowest-common-denominator work as fast as possible.

Looking at, I have to admit the job listings are slightly better than they were last time I checked (which would have been years and years ago) -- there aren't nearly as many "build me a fully functional clone of for $250!" type of listings as there used to be -- but the going rate for web developers there (for example) appears to be just slightly above US minimum wage.
posted by ook at 6:26 PM on April 24, 2012

I used to use Demand Media and made a few hundred bucks writing easy articles. I had a job where I had lots of free time in front of a computer and it was an easy way to make some money. It was legit, but finding articles that fell within my expertise (there were a lot of requests for insanely specific articles on automobile parts or the like) was difficult. I know there were a lot of complaints about articles being rejected for indecipherable reasons and editors who contradicted each other, but I never had an issue. I've logged in since then and it seems the site has changed a lot - I think they are more focused on videos now and you have to be invited to specific groups, it seems.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 8:11 AM on April 25, 2012

I've gotten jobs from Elance and Guru in the past, but agree with ook that they're pretty glutted with underbids. Once Google changed its ranking algorithms, a lot of the content farms cut way back.

There's a subforum about the SEO and content farms on that might be worth a look for you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:55 AM on April 25, 2012

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