eCommerce is threatening the very survival of brick and mortal retailers, as they are seriously eating their lunch–and breakfast and dinner too!
But this is part of a much larger transition occurring from our physical to virtual worlds…
As we abandon department stores and the Mall for online shopping,
movie theaters and playhouses for home theaters and video streaming,
physical activities for gaming and virtual reality,
and even factories and office work for telework and robots,
soon we will have no real place to go and nothing to physically do.
From the bed and couch to the computer and gym, like hamsters on the wheel of triviality, we might as well package ourselves up in the big eBay box and send ourselves to outer space–but only as long as we can get Internet access there. 😉
TaskRabbit is a new way to get odd jobs done by simply posting them online for others to bid on and perform them.
Browsing the list of tasks out there now, I see everything from driver for a day to laundry, matching paint colors to organizing a library, picking up items from the store to installing a t.v.–I suppose if you need it (and it’s legal), you can post it. 🙂
The service is available in LA, San Francisco, Orange Country, Boston, and NY–so far.
Basically, the way it works:
You, the “Sender”, go online and name and describe the task, including when and where you want it done as well as the maximum you are willing to pay.
“Runners” are alerted and bid the minimum that they are willing to accept to do the job.
You review the bids and select one.
The runner performs the work.
You review, rate, and reimburse for the work.
Wired (August 2011) calls TaskRabbit the “eBay for real world labor,” although there are other competitors out there such as AirRun and Zaarly.
In TaskRabbit, “Customers pay by credit card, and the runner’s share gets deposited into a TaskRabbit account, with checks cut every Friday.”
“TaskRabbit takes 12-30% cut of each transaction.”
97% of tasks get a bid from at least one runner and 75% of tasks get completed.
If you want to become a Runner– you apply through a 3-step process that includes an application form, video interview, and a federal criminal background check.
Gaming mechanics is used to rank top runners, display their experience level and average customer reviews, and provide them a progress bar to show points needed to get to the next level.
TaskRabbit fills an important niche in our society that is increasingly time-presured, convenience-oriented, and service-based and where more and more people hire themselves out as consultants, freelancers, and Guy/Gal Fridays.
While I can see the benefits to people who need to get work done and for people looking for work, there is something about this process where we bid out our labor by the individual task–like in the video where we need someone to pick up dog food–that it can get a little degrading and meaningless. No longer are we hiring people for their knowledge, skills and abilities for long-term contributions and growth prospects, but rather we are tasking out the smallest and most mundane of tasks to the lowest bidder.
Harvard Business Review (July-August 2011) in an article called “The Age of Hyperspecialization” wrote of the new social challenges with companies such as TopCoders that crowdsources out IT work to 300,000 freelance developers in more than 200 countries, such as: “the possibility of exploitation as work quickly finds the cheapest takers, and the opportunity for deception when workers can’t see the larger purpose to which they are contributing.”
Crowdsourcing or outsourcing these everyday tasks can bring speed and quality to what we are looking for, but the true cost comes in terms of “digital sweatshops” and potentially “dull and meaningless” work.
Is this level of economic efficiency going to cost us all more in the end?
Profit is the typical motive of corporations around the world. However, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is becoming more a part of our consciousness as we recognize that life is much more about what we leave behind than how much money we make.
With oil gushing into the Gulf for the last two months now, and doing G-d knows what ultimate damage to our environment, we are reminded that our actions do matter and that we must put our ideals, values, and generosity first and foremost.
Certainly, some companies disregard social responsibility. For example, BP with their slogan of “Beyond Petroleum” and their logo of a helios—a lovely environmentally-friendly green and yellow sunflower—seems to have hidden the true extent of their unsound environmental and safety practices.
In contrast, other companies are getting it right when it comes to CSR.For example, eBay has launched a charitable program called “eBay Giving Works” in which “sellers can commit to donate a percentage of their listing final sale price to the nonprofit of their choice.” Additionally, “shoppers also can donate to a worthy nonprofit at eBay checkout.” According to eBay, more than $150 million has been donated already!
One organization on the eBay charity list is called Save A Child’s Heart (SACH) foundation. According to their website, this Israeli-based charity has performed lifesaving heart surgery on 2000 indigent children in 30 countries around the world and “every 29 hours, we save a child’s life.” They have been certified as Best in America by the Independent Charities of America. Their work is inspirational and the children they save is truly moving. And this is one of many good organizations around the world.
As much as I am repulsed by BP and other such organizations that seem to function with near-complete disregard for fundamental principles of human decency in the name of the “almighty dollar”, I applaud others such as eBay, SACH, and many more that are working to “give back” and do genuine good for people around the world.
Many years ago, when attending Jewish day school, I remember a teacher telling us that “one day when you are on your deathbed, you will look back at what you have done in your life— make sure it’s meaningful and noble (and more than just about money).” I believe this is a valuable lesson personally and professionally.
Perhaps the oil gushing out from the depths of the sea can be a metaphor for charitable giving that can gush out from the hearts of people and organizations. We can counter greed and destruction with selflessness and caring for others.