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IF THERE’s one thing freelancers get territorial about, it’s somebody jeopardizing their potential to keep freelancing, and anything that remotely smacks of that automatically evokes a sense of fear. So there was no way the merging of the two biggest freelancer websites in the world would make anyone happy except the execs who are presumably going to make bank from it.
Users certainly don’t like it. oDesk.com’s Q&A page has an absurdly low voter rating of 2.3 out of 10 stars from over 100 angry oDeskites. I’ve read literally hundreds of the ensuing comments by disgruntled oDesk/Elance users bickering with each other about which site is better and whining about their half-baked conspiracy projections, and I can tell you that the vast majority of people right now seem to have very little idea of what this merger is actually going to do.
So let’s take a moment to clear some things up.
Nothing’s changing for a while.
First of all — and I can’t stress this enough — nothing is changing right now. Profiles are going to remain completely independent of each other like they are now, so for now this basically means they’re just not competing anymore.
The merger won’t even go through for another few months (Q1 of 2014), and any further changes will probably not surface until the end of 2014, including a new name for the joint company. Everyone’s thinking oLance or Edesk, but let’s not be obvious here — it’ll probably be werkit.net.
It’s not really a merger.
If Mad Men taught me anything about business mergers, it’s that when businesses merge they have to have angry board meetings as they try to force their incompatible management teams together. oDesk’s CEO Gary Swart is stepping down so Elance’s CEO Fabio Rosati can take the reins, likely because his name is more awesome. Swart will stick around to offer some ideas and opinions, but the power now goes to the Elance guy.
What that will mean is anybody’s guess, but anyone who tells you oDesk will become Elance is missing the point of the companies merging.
Mo’ money = fewer problems.
Running a website costs money. Running a website for millions of users with billions of dollars changing hands costs even more money than running most websites. Making a website like that better costs more money yet. People love to complain about the fees these sites charge, but think about it: You’re paying a premium for a network of clients you would otherwise have no access to. You don’t like fees? Start a website, pay the hosting fees, and try to get hired on your own. It’s like paying for marketing only when it actually works, which is awesome.
This merger is all about money, and helping these sites continue to make money means helping them help us. Both sites have plenty of improvements they could make and lots of bugs that need fixing, and without more money, there’s not really any way we’ll ever see those changes.
Competition is a good thing.
From what I’ve seen, oDeskites are afraid the merger will mean less competition between websites, and Elancers are afraid it’ll mean more competition between users as all the scammers and dirt-cheap jobs oDesk is famous for facilitating flood Elance. Assuming that could even happen, let’s not forget that more competition means more job offerings, too.
And no matter how many $.05/hour laborers there are, there will always be those who only want top-notch skilled workers and will pay a premium to get them. Honestly, would you really want to work for someone who feels like they should be paying you $.05/hour? If you’re good at getting work and are great at what you do, you have nothing to worry about.
All that said…be prepared.
Still, it’s hard to know anything for sure because neither site wants to say anything particular about the merger. Reading their Q&As or their moderators’ responses in their blog posts (they’re basically the same on both sites) is like talking to an internet service provider representative: frustratingly stiff, affected politeness, and a lot of beating around the bad-news bush with what sound like auto-responses non-English speakers can just plug in when they see a comment with a couple buzzwords they recognize.
What I’m saying is, don’t try to predict that this is the end of freelancing as we know it. We just don’t have enough to go on. In the meantime, maybe prepare yourself for the worst by pulling in some long-term clients who will stick with you, and maybe even — heaven forbid — actually start working on your Freelancer.com profile in the meantime.