Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
ODesk vs Elance vs Freelancer vs Guru (assembla.com)
176 points by weavorateam 1292 days ago | hide | past | web | 112 comments | favorite

This is my experience of oDesk, from someone who has spent 6 figures with them.

A few years ago I contracted a developer from the largest agency on oDesk at the time, based in India.

This developer had a masters degree, tons of experience, and had a daily rate significantly higher than the average. Things worked out so well that I increased the team to 7 people total from this same company.

After about 8 months, the quality of work fell dramatically.

I ended up cancelling the contracts a few months after that, and found out something shocking from the ex project manager:

The developers I had hired had been switched out for junior level devs. Some of the developers I hired didn't even work for that company anymore. I had none of my original hires, and didn't know it.

They had been communicating with me under the previous names and email addresses. I had wondered why they so often "forgot" things that I had told them 6 months ago.

I was told this was a common practice in large agencies.

The problem: Inadequate accountability, even with screenshots or videos.

Is this problem specific to oDesk? No, not at all. But it's turned me off "per-hour" contracts altogether, and now I only outsource very small, highly scoped, pay-on-delivery projects.

Yikes, thats an alarming story. The fact that they were deliberately asking junior developers to impersonate senior developers using the same email addresses etc is a really worrisome practice. I had a situation managing a team for a client a while back where developers suddenly turned awful, and I'm now suspicious this could have been the case. Do you know if this is widespread with other companies?

From my experience working with a major Indian outsourcing company at a previous employer this seems common practice across the board.

In fact the more tolerant managers experienced this transition very quickly and managers that stayed constantly vigilant managed to stave it off for a bit longer; but also not indefinitely.

From my perspective it seemed to be that this extended bait-and-switch was what their business model was built on.

Speaking as an employer:

All of these sites have good workers, and all of them have workers who will turn in shoddy work, hoping you won't notice. I've hired for more than a dozen projects and in no case did the contractor do the job right the first time - because they didn't care enough, not because they were incompetent. I've hired workers in the US, in India, in the UK, and elsewhere. Same sorts of issues crop up. (I was eventually very pleased with the results - it just wasn't as smooth as presented by Tim Ferriss or whoever.)

Poor communication and missed deadlines are the rule. Also watch out for bait and switch: for graphics, for instance, the individual who produces a firm's portfolio may not be the same one who will work on your project.

Identifying talent, and managing remote workers, is a skill that can only be developed with time and practice. It's much more than a question of picking the right marketplace. The reviews are not trustworthy. If possible, try to get recommendations for specific workers from people you personally know. Because the great workers are out there, among the masses.

As a remote freelancer:

Communication and cost are the main problems.

Usually clients have a hard time explaining exactly what they want and our visions might differ. When I turn in results, they are often different than what the client first imagined they'd be, but through iteration and conversation I can help the client clarify what they want or realise something else 90% of the time.

Time is another big problem. When you want something done in X time, I will do my best to catch that time. Sometimes this means discussing with the client until the feature list is cut down to a deliverable size. Other times it means sacrificing future flexibility of the code. I always try to get the best balance between "speed - quality - price" for what the client needs, but it's easy to miss.

Almost always, clients have an unreasonable expectation of what is possible.

I'd say at least 70% of my job is helping the client decide what they even want me to build for them.

Disclaimer: I have never worked through any of the sites listed in OP. My main source of clients are HN, my blog, twitter, and past clients.

I've worked as a remote (U.S. based) independent freelancer through Elance and Odesk. I've had positive and negative experiences on both. They both do a decent job of minimizing the risk of non-payment on fixed-price projects, but, as you point out, one of the biggest challenges is nailing down the requirements. I understand that requirements can and will change but there have been times when I've spent an inordinate amount of time going back and forth with my point of contact (who often doesn't really know what the primary customer wants). There have been times when I've pulled the plug and just told the client we weren't a good fit.

I've also learned when to recognize that the clients are looking for speed/volume vs. quality. I know there are often tradeoffs but some clients just really don't seem to care about quality; they are middlemen who just want to throw something over the fence to the client.

As a long time freelancer with a few purchased gigs as well:

Quality of the workers or the turned in work is directly linked to the budget of a project. I've had many conversations on both sides of the table, where there was a miss-match and an eventual agreement to either bump up the budget or to lower the expectation. There's still risk in eventually receiving lame work, but I don't think that is the status quo.

There is a larger than obvious amount of bot or automatic submitters tainting and lowering the overall quality of the pool. It is very easy to sort them out, but it is noise nevertheless. Quality filters and machine taught spam detection would deal a great boost to overall usability of all of these sites.

Now, communication and missed deadlines will deviate wildly because most of the developers are not able to sustain a living doing just elance, odesk or whichever. Honesty and setting expectations at the beginning usually solves this problem. Now, there has been a steady build up of downward pressure from contract owners to expect full availability or a similar version there of. Most of them don't have the budget to back it up. Shit happens.

I found and worked with talented folks through 3 of the 4 mentioned sites and I would have to say that it is not an issue. The issue is actually finding them in short time, and that's where buck stops in my point of view.

I think there is a large opportunity to impress the market by shaving off the amount of time to find quality devs and firms. I think other sites have began doing something along those lines by curating the offers and doing away with the meat-market environment.

Overall, I think the budgets are low, developers pick up multiple gigs, some projects get delayed or rushed and compromise is the name of the game.

< "I think there is a large opportunity to impress the market by shaving off the amount of time to find quality devs and firms". >

Elance could make it easier to find top providers if search results could be sorted by skills test results.

For whatever reason they choose not enable that feature.

Elance could make it easier to find top providers if search results could be sorted by skills test results.

This would not solve the problem of (1) slacking off - poor work ethic, and (2) bait and switch - putting a less capable person on your job.

I am about to join oDesk as a freelancer. Coming out of college, I have basically limited experience behind me (internships, personal projects). Any advice you have for me about how to grow in the platform?

I'd say start small. IMHO the description text "New Freelancer" doesn't go well with a high price tag. So make your price reasonable, but not too low.

Secondly, on every job/bid ,personalize your communications with the employer. Don't send standard bids/messages that i am the best, i have done this this this etc. Make the employer understand how you are best for THIS job. make them you realize you know what they want and that you know what you are talking about. Tell them about RELATED previous projects. Giving them a feel that you are an expert in this sort of stuff helps a lot. A good personalized communication helps beat many mighty competitors with tons of reviews under their belt. I did that several times and it plays well with people's fears that a big shot freelancer would not dedicate his time to my project.

Thirdly, getting that first job may take a long time. Don't lose your hopes. that's just how the freelancing community works. when you don't have any reviews things get tough. But that is exactly when that personalized communication comes in very very handy.

Lastly, don't be afraid to demand some protection from the employer. it's your right. So make sure the employer puts the money in escrow before you begin any serious work.

Very sound advice. Thank you.

Any advice you have for me about how to grow in the platform?

One piece of advice, and just not about oDesk. Do reasonable work, don't silently miss deadlines, and always set expectation and communicate (never hide).

I've worked for some big-name Valley companies. If you just follow the advice above, you will be far ahead of the pack. (And that's even more true in the freelance world.) Good luck.

I'll second that.

If - nay when - you screw up, admit it right away and figure out how to fix it. It really will make a huge difference in how useful you are. Goes for other parts of life too.

Step 1: Say what you are going to do, when you will do it by, and for how much.

Step 2: Do what you said you would do, by the time you said you would do it, for the price you said you would do it for.

Step 3: Tell the client that you've done what you said you would do, by the time you said you would do it, for the amount you said you would do it for.

This alone would make you a stand-out in the world of free-lancing. For bonus points, keep the client updated regularly via a single page report, at least weekly, of your progress, of project risks, and outstanding issues.

Post samples. Charge high rates. Clients that pay you low amounts of money tend not only to be bad for your bank account, but for your professional development... not to mention your sanity.

Just post a few samples of your work. Maybe build a simple application and link to it, link to your blog, link to github.

Just something that proves you know what you're doing.

I haven't hired developers, but I've worked with several writers. Quite a lot of the ones I've worked with didn't have previous work experience but they had sample articles uploaded for me to judge their skill and style.

Agreed. Skills mean very little to me. There's a lot of great developers out there.

The top workers finish projects and can communicate.

I opt for the niche job boards such has http://www.gun.io or http://www.djangojobs.net as I can find good talent and it's much easier to screen people when I can hope on the phone.

There's a real problem finding devs with softskills and so far it's a pain point that no one has gone after.

I agree and finding great developers is a big part of the challenge. However, there's more to arranging a project then finding the right talent, especially for clients who have expectations for security, domain expertise, and quality assurance. Most platforms simply solve the matchmaking component (eharmony style). The solution is a platform which supports engineers' workflows (git, hg, etc) -- or at least this continues to be our philosophy and mission as we grow Hackerlist.net.

mjhea0, how do you typically structure projects after you've found someone who is a good fit? Do you use any additional services like invoicing, github/bitbucket, bug tracking, etc?

once i get someone on the phone, i can tell if they know what they are talking about, i can also assess their social skills - which is extremely important to me.

depending on how big the project is, i typically use trello to project management and i've built my own invoicing system. i usually use git labs for private repos.

but again, my main concern is whether they can get the project done. for me that comes down to communication. i've noticed that in other cultures, if they don't accomplish anything, they'd rather not tell me. it's taken time, but i've been able to really pound it home that it is vital that i know exactly what is going on in case i need to jump in.

That's a really important skill to have -- the ability to assess social skills as well as technical prowess.

I find trello pretty effective for daily goals. In terms of a mature bug tracking system, I'm a fan of phabricator. For invoicing, we use envois (https://github.com/lambdal/envois).

Agreed, communication and expectation alignment are critical components of avoiding "never-ending contract syndrome"

I've just tried to sign up for your service and it restricts certain characters from the password. Why is that?

elbear, no, there's no specific reason. We're using an arbitrary regex, 4-32 chars, alphanumerics and a set of specials including: !@#$%^&+=_ Let me know which characters you feel are appropriate and we'll happily consider implementing your recommendation. If you have any additional feedback, feel free to reach out to me personally, m<at>hackerlist.net, tel: 415.690.8033. Ultimately, we're building hackerlist for hackers, so we take your feedback very seriously.

best wishes + happy hacking

I think that unless you have a specific reason for restricting them, you simply shouldn't restrict them, since any restrictions on the character set makes all passwords weaker. Personally, I expect all printable ASCII characters to be acceptable as part of a password and get irritated when some of them aren't accepted.

Understood, thank you. We're in the process of modifying this now.

so you are creating an elite set of hackers at hackerlist? how are you finding and assessing them? how do you ensure that they will stay?

i hope to see a cross between a dev shop and a job board in the future.

Thank you for your questions mjhea0. Long term, as you guessed, we're building something different from a job board -- we're architecting an ecosystem where talented engineers can make a living completing missions online, with version control, test cases, and continuous integration. We imagine this looking like a hybrid between github and odesk but it's ultimately the hackers we work with that will shape this experience.

One of our objectives is to bring the certainty and assurance that top companies enjoy with full time staff, to the talented, nomadic hackers of the world, while preserving hackers' needs for flexibility, getting paid what they deserve, and supporting best practices (unless you're a fan of submitting that .zip file on odesk -- nothing hurts me more).

To answer your question about retaining talent: One of the reasons I seek ephemeral opportunities (and I suspect there are others like me) is I appreciate flexibility; working on various projects which interest or challenge me, with different teams, on a schedule which works for me. I don't anticipate 'solving' the problem of attrition directly as much as I do finding creative, safe ways of working around hackers' preferences to achieve the most beneficial outcome for all parties involved. This includes experimenting with strategies like structuring missions around teams of hackers to mitigate risk.

That said, there are several things we're doing for our hackers to be deserving of their loyalty. First and foremost, we don't charge our hackers any fees -- all of our fees are client facing. Why? I complete missions on behalf of Hackerlist, I don't want fees and I don't think it's right to hold more talented technologists to a different standard. Second, we're giving equity in Hackerlist to the top 4 performing hackers in our first batch. Finally, we have a team of mentors available for advice and guidance.

In terms of finding and vetting experts: We have a board of mentors with specialties in different areas who are assisting in the screening process. I also bring my own expertise, being a 2-time founder, having a partial PhD in AI/NLP and having led technology (and a good deal of technical recruiting) efforts for two YC companies (Hyperink, Ark).

It's worth nothing, we're only accepting 2^4 applicants for our first official batch (so far there's 700+ applications) specifically so we can address and tackle these quality issues head-on and provide our hackers the best experience possible.

TL;DR - no fees to hackers, they keep all their earnings - high price points - we handle invoicing + vetting (clients & hackers) - we have a strong network of mentors to control quality - we're good to our hackers and aim to build a custom experience around their needs.

best wishes + happy hacking

I've hired on oDesk and Elance and agree that managing remote workers is a skill and you need to be on the look out for scammers. I do all my jobs on Elance because they have a good project based setup where you only pay when a milestone is completed. I hire all my freelancers on a project basis 1st and then shift them to hourly if they are reliable. I've also found that Elance to have more US based freelancers to choose from.

One thing that bugs me is that none of them have good apps - you would think they would figure that out!

I thought this was a great comparison of the popular talent marketplaces, but it skipped over the most important trait: the typical hourly or project rate.

All of the services have good workers, but they've also all been participating in a race to the bottom. As a developer, it's hard to ask for more than $100/hr on a site where you're listed alongside those asking for $10/hr. Even if you are 10 times more productive, it's simply hard to explain why or how that's possible in a marketplace setting.

After spending some time working as a consultant, I just launched a new marketplace for high-end contract work: http://getlambda.com/. We have a clear minimum ($100/hr) and personally interview everyone looking to participate (both clients and consultants).

We are currently looking for a front-end developer. Do you offer only programmers or would we be able to find a quality front-end developer?

We do have quite a few front-end developers. In fact, I've been surprised at how many designer/developers (that is, designers who can implement their own designs) have signed up. That combination of skills was always in short supply when I've tried to hire for in-house teams. I guess they tend to prefer freelancing :)

Please send me an email at andrew [at] getlambda.com and we'll see what we can do!

I guess they tend to prefer freelancing That's my experience as well.

FYI: Your "Get started" form looks botched to me (Chrome, Mac OS)

This look great. I start my first gig on odesk and I have find very hard to find the kind of work I want.

I submit a request...

I used both Odesk and Freelancer to hire developers, and I urge everyone to look at my previous submission (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5177951) about deplorable protections at Freelancer.com.

In summary, my $2500 project was closed by the developer at his will, with no money returned and no way to even leave a feedback! Multiple attempts asking the company to allow me to even leave a feedback came to nothing.

Freelancer is not to be trusted.

If anyone interested, you can review the full documentation of back and forth between us and Freelancer.com:


I've had problems with oDesk, and what they say they do to protect employers as part of their marketing isn't actually how they act in practice when issues arise. For example, blackmail by a contractor to them isn't considered a high risk activity, and therefore they won't remove the contractor for it..

Well i took a look into the matter and as you mention "we are not developers. we are med people", isn't there a possibility you misunderstood the devs? They did explain in their replies that the reason the site crashed for two weeks because of conflicts with the previous site which took a long time to resolve. And from what i understand, you "stopped trusting them" after this incident. I assume you figured it only worked on their servers by some scam and isn't gonna work on your servers. So i hope you see that this suspicion was very baseless.

As for your paying of 75% of the payment, i assume that was AFTER you approved of the site on their servers. So they must have said "see? it's complete. now all we have to do is deploy to your servers" so it made sense to pay them. And so i am not going to blame you for paying them. What i do blame you for is not trusting them.

But yes, generally it is best advised not to pay in advance (but i assume you only paid after seeing a working site).

Either way, blaming this on freelancer.com doens't make any sense what so ever.


Our blog is one of the oldest and most linked to and trafficked medical blogs. We have ~15K posts, since 2004. We have custom WP plugins and widgets, etc etc. We had many developers over time. So we are not idiots when it comes to understanding what we need from developers.

I started the project and paid for it (partially with some remaining in escrow). Wouldn't you expect that only I can close the project? Or at least be able to leave a feedback?

For full back and forth, see link that I left above.

I had the same problem also a few times

People also tend to scam developers out of work without paying on these sites...

Hello there. I replied to your issues with Freelancer on the previous thread.


All I wanted is to file a feedback. And after paying >$1000, not getting anything back, my project (the one that I started and paid for) was closed by a developer, and I can't even leave a feedback! So, what kind of protections do your customers get?

We ban freelancers who do not provide the service. You can also leave feedback in the form of an "incomplete" report which is a very damaging form of feedback. Normal feedback cannot be left unless the project is paid in full.

BTW, Odesk is great!

I personally recommend everyone to not use Freelancer.com. I learned in this thread that they also bought vWorker, and I am not surprised to read that it has turned for the worse after being acquired.

In short, they steal from both the freelancers and the outsourcers - stories aplenty about this [1]. I only know about these stories because I started looking into them after being bamboozled myself, luckily for only a small amount, which would have been larger had I not managed to cancel the additional payments Freelancer.com had booked against my credit card without permission. This was my experience as an outsourcer, apparently the freelancers have it far worse.

Elance on the other hand has seen more than $20k of my business and will continue to in the foreseeable future. Have not had experience with the other services (there's a strong lock-in effect in this market because your job history itself becomes a valuable thing).

[1] http://www.sitejabber.com/reviews/www.freelancer.com

Hi there, I'm the Chief Executive of Freelancer.com. This is ridiculous. If you have a specific example and can send me your username to matt@freelancer.com, I can get someone to look into your case for you.

I have noticed that you guys tend to pop up when these thing surface. Perhaps you should dedicate your efforts to better customer service, so you wouldn't see these stories in the first place? As you can see I am far from the only one with a bad experience.

Thanks for the offer to look into my case, but I have wasted enough time with it. Keep the 50 dollars. But the price is that I warn everyone that will listen. So, in the long run, better customer service would probably be worth it for you.

Your comment accuses Freelancer of theft. You seem to be intent on airing your grievances. You seem to have someone's ear, asking for details. Why not take up the offer?

mattbarrie pops up here, but not available to his paying(!) customers at freelancer.

He was never able to explain to me how the project that I started and paid for in thousands of $$ was closed by the developer who did not deliver anything. And the kicker is that I couldn't even leave a feedback!

We have more customer support agents than any of our competitors- we have over 220 people in our support centre. We also provide support in 10 languages, which no-one else does. If you have a specific issue I will be happy to look into it.

and none of them cares about your customers - LOL! maybe you should get 20 that do care...

The guy is going out of his way in his free time to lend you an ear. I think it's unfair to continue to air your grievances.

I don't think I said anything that was unfair. I think they're not really trying to solve the actual problem - instead of accepting the responsibility and trying to fix the issues they're being defensive - who cares about how many support people they have - obviously they're not doing a good job if people are voicing their issues here...

Hi there, I'm the Chief Executive of Freelancer.com. This is ridiculous.

I were to believe you if I wasn't in the same guy place. I was "scammed" in around $250 from freelancer.com. Basically, the website refused to give the money back.

matt: you customer service and protections are ridiculous. That's why you will never have a single $ from me ever. You are lucky I have not filed a report with CA Attorney General against your company.

Freelancer.com is a massive SCAM - IMHO

1. you can only withdraw if you have more than $x in funds - I have had $7 left on the site and can't get it back!

2. their conflict resolution is non-existent or biased - a person clearly didn't deliver what I asked for in my job and they simply refused to help me deal with it

3. after I left honest but negative feedback the freelance worker contacted me and tried to bully me into changing it. after I refused he proposed that I withdraw my feedback and he will refund me for the job

4. after I have withdrawn my feedback and he didn't refund me - I tried to bring it back - but hey what do you know - freelancer.com doesn't allow you to bring back my original feedback unless both parties agree!

5. I contacted their support to try to resolve it - again no help there

fortunately for me the job was only small $50 project, but I learned my lesson and will NEVER use this website again!

after that I used both Elance and oDesk and I think both are good and professional

Hello Slav

In answer to your questions.

1) You can get a refund for any amount in your account. Just contact support.

2) This is incorrect. We have a full dispute resolution team of paralegals.

3-5) Please let me know who this freelancer is by emailing me at matt@freelancer.com. This is a clear violation by them of our Terms of Service.

Regards Matt

I feel like I shouldn't have to 'jump through hoops' to get my money back - if it's such a non problem why do you even have minimum amounts for withdrawals?

talking to your support / dispute resolution team is a waste of time - I felt like they're one of those $1/hr people who just don't care

now it's a violation of your ToS but at the time when I described the situation to one of your support guys it was OK...

I even told him that I'm not happy and that I'm being brushed off - I even mentioned that I'll write about it somewhere - but he didn't care about any of that - he ended our conversation with:

"Thank you for contacting Freelancer.com, please don't hesitate to contact us again if you have any other questions or concerns."

That's just a customer service FAIL at it's best!

I'm glad that the time came and all of that gets described here

It's time for you guys to wake up and stop treating your customers like cattle!

Hi SlavD

There's no jumping through hoops, but a few things to be aware of. You can't deposit funds through one payment method e.g. credit card, and withdraw funds through another e.g. wire transfer. This is money exchange and we are not allowed to provide this. Refunds are different from withdrawals. Refunds can be for any amount at any time. Withdrawals have a minimum because we have people trying to withdraw $10 via an International Wire Transfer and they then complain either why the wire was not sent (because it costs $25 to send) or because no funds turned up at the other end after intermediary bank charges.

The support team and dispute resolution are well trained. If you would like to email me the ticket IDs I will be happy to send them to quality assurance to review.

well - you guys have all the answers - how good. interestingly enough none of the other websites requires you to file a support case to get their own money back! anyway I did follow your process too and guess what? - nothing - you still have my $7 - but hey don't loose sleep over it - you can keep it (I spend more for breakfast) - there is no chance u're getting any more of my money or anyone I know

Bad side is that there are alot of scams and poor programmers, looking to snipe the job and squeeze money from employer in any way possible. From my personal opinion, atleast 80% of bidders do this (I'm working over Freelancer).

Good side is that with little hassle, employers can find really great freelancers that know to do their job. Personally, as a programmer from 3rd world country, these sites provide alternative, and a great way of earning money. Here where I live, starting salaries for programmers are around 500$, and peak at 1800$, if you get job in Microsoft, both 8-10h/day fulltime jobs. The IT market here is practically non-existant, except few high profile companies that offer decent working conditions. With these sites, I have freedom to apply my working conditions, rules and price.

Where are you from?

from Serbia

Is there any service that doesn't require installing spyware on your system?

AFAIK they all force developers to install monitoring software, and then boast about this on their marketing pages targeting employers.

Like others have said, the tracking software hasn't proven to be effective in stopping contractors who want to pad hours.

The contracts who were doing this before are still doing it, and those who are offended by the practice have all but left.

Unless I am mistaken, it is not obligatory (at least on oDesk) to track time using their "spy" software. Instead you can report offline hours if you have previously agreed with the client.

That's correct - when the client makes a hire, she can decide whether or not to allow offline hours.

It's not required on Elance, either, thankfully.

And it's not actual effective in preventing fraud. The only real way would be having a live video stream + recording you can return to watch.

I used and loved rentacoder back then. The rule is to avoid Indians and Pakistanis as they were usually middlemen between really poor developers. I hired north american or european workers and it worked well and predictable.

Hi there. I'm the Chief Executive of Freelancer.com. This article is two years old but I'm happy to answer any questions any of you might have.

I tried all the sites except Guru as a hiring manager. From my experience, Odesk is the best option so far in terms of value - if you prefer to pay per hour.

Freelancer is the cheapest per project option but full of low quality spammer applicants. You can find a good quality provider on Elance but be prepared to pay premium for that.

<rant> Something being missed by this discussion (and many offshoring discussions) is that many consulting firms design maintenance costs into their business model. They undercut everyone with low prices for a poorly engineered product, knowing they can churn additional hours/sales in "upgrades", "maintenance" etc.

When you pay me $60 an hour (or more) to design you a component of your system, it will be SOLID OO designs, quite reusable, DRY, tested (unit tested) and better in many other ways. Where as most of the code I've seen come from bad agencies basically do "class Main { function doItAll() { /* Here is the entire program */ } };"

Which is why it will cost more in the long run. If you want something added or made similar, they'll copy and paste instead of inheriting or using traits or other language constructs to keep it DRY. If you want to know if the system has regression, they'll shrug, because they either do not test, or they just write the tests to pass the way the code currently works, not testing the component in general. If you're planning on closing business in 12 months, then maybe its not worth it to invest in a scalable, changeable infrastructure. If you're planning on being in business for a long time, then invest the capital to develop your business :D .

ok </rant>

Longtime oDesker here, I've made mid 5 figures total. I recently received a notification from oDesk that I'm part of the top 5% of "successful freelancers" on oDesk which I interpreted to mean top 5% of earners. It honestly astounded me because my account has been basically inactive for the last 8 months and I've only worked on oDesk projects since a few months after I quit my job, roughly late 2011.

I started working oDesk mostly to stave off having to dip too deeply into savings. In fact, I read a lot of helpful information on HN related to getting your foot in the door for freelancing online and it ended up working very well for me. If you're looking to get an established profile, the short version is:

1. Build things (i.e. small projects, clones, browse project listings for things that would take a few hours and just implement them)

2. Tell people (learn to write proposals well, show the employers that you know your stuff and can produce)

Over time I slowly raised my rate and, surprise surprise, everyone who every wrote anything about raising your rate is right! The more the client is paying, the better they are. I ended up firing the client with the lowest rate because he was so bad and have done repeat work for my highest paying client.

As far as the tracking software, it has been buggy at times (I'm on Linux, I imagine they spend more time on other platforms) but I don't really see the big deal about having it take a screenshot. If the client is micromanaging to the point where he's having you remove 10 minutes because facebook showed up in your screenshot, it's not worth the time. I do notice that it tends to take screenshots when switching apps. On oDesk, I get hired hourly, I provide work hourly.

Just like any in-person project, online projects require you to have good communication skills - letting the client know when you're working, what you'll be doing, when you expect things to be done, technical tradeoffs, etc. None of this is unique to remote projects.

Additionally, just like the real world, there are endless people posting jobs expecting the moon in exchange for peanuts. I used to regularly receive "invitations to interview" from people who posted projects and almost always they were someone with an idea, looking for a coder, willing to pay $1k to get their facebook clone off the ground. While my girlfriend was impressed that my skills were in such high demand, it's can be a bit of a game of roulette trying to find serious projects and employers willing to invest real money. In my experience, setting a high hourly rate on your profile mitigates this situation quite a bit.

I also experimented with vworker and elance back in 2011, but neither of them ended up being a good fit. It turns out that when you're building your profile on a freelancing site, sticking to one site is pretty useful because you get feedback and projects to post about at the same time and alongside each other. Glowing feedback next to a completed project with 5 figures invested does good things for your profile.

If you're looking to get started with oDesk or have any other questions about how it works, I'm always free for a chat. Email is in my profile.

"Additionally, just like the real world, there are endless people posting jobs expecting the moon in exchange for peanuts."

I know what you mean. One of the biggest problems I've faced hiring people via oDesk is quality assurance (finding a programmer who will use version control, provide test cases, deliver on their promise). There's some good talent on oDesk (it sounds like you're among the best), but oDesk doesn't specifically cater to the extraordinary, nor do they offer a satisfactory solution for high tier clients (like facebook or google). oDesk tries to be a one-size-fits all, which is enough for many clients.

For me, it's not enough. It doesn't meet my expectations as an engineer. I don't trust oDesk's filters to find a reputable opportunity and clients frequently are not qualified to vet candidates -- this results in me wasting time interviewing with clients. The lack of standardization (demonstrated by a large standard deviation in price and job quality) makes it challenging for talented specialists to get paid what they deserve.

Hackerlist.net has been experimenting with solutions to this problem (all our jobs are geared towards specialists and start at $100/h). There are several others services like grouptalent, gun.io, ooomfg, and toptal which are offering solutions of their own to attack different niches of structuring online opportunities.

If i were a generalist programmer, eager to learn a technology for good pay on Odesk, what would you say are the technologies more well paid and that at the same time adjust better to the remote freelance model on that site?

In general, my advice would be to not approach freelancing as an exchange of expertise in a certain technology for currency. Usually people are looking for their problems to be solved - build me an app, fix my slow site, make me more money - so my advice would be to market yourself as a problem-fixer instead.

That said, web development is obviously hot at the moment (Django, Rails, Node, etc) and I have marketed myself as an expert Ruby on Rails developer successfully. Now, I don't do this for in-person gigs but on oDesk I think that it helps with my credibility for those tech-savvy employers with lists of skills they need. There are certainly a plethora of jobs posted for various stacks. I believe oDesk lists their projects in public and if not, you can create a free account and peruse the listings for a better idea.

I still would advise you to address other risks in your pitch to employers though, because generally speaking you'll be talking to people who are nervous about hiring and spending money on someone they've never met (and may never meet in person). A business owner or entrepreneur posting on oDesk is disproportionately worried about things like:

1. Is this guy for real/a flake?

2. When is he going to work on my site?

3. Is he just browsing facebook since I can't look over his shoulder?

4. What was he doing for 4 hours yesterday and nothing got deployed to the staging site?

Communication is really the thing that is going to set you apart, much moreso than your technical expertise.

To give you an idea, I opened my profile on oDesk with about 2.5 years of professional Rails development experience and started out around $25/hour for my first gig (gulp, a bit nervous admitting that I worked as a developer for $25/hour) - I was new to this freelancing thing and if I could go back, I would run screaming from that $25/hour client, feedback be damned. I raised my rate rather quickly however - I have since taken projects at hourly rates of $35, $50, $65, and $75.

Please note that this places me in the top 5% of successful freelancers on oDesk, and that I never worked for a client more than 20 hours per week. Yes, you're competing against folks who bid $2/hour and no, I have never spent a moment worrying about them. Nobody, and I mean nobody wants a client who values developer time at $2/hour.

I am a long time contractor on oDesk and owe a great deal to this site.I wanted to talk a little about the hate the hourly model with screenshots is getting. Here's the primary reason the video thing won't work. Most of the providers are from third world countries where internet while decent is rarely good enough to support uploads in such massive volume. I have a 4 Mbps DSL connection and while i get great downstream, the upstream maxes out at 20 KB/s. So yeah, that's out of the window. However, screenshots work extremely effectively. I have close to 5000 hours logged on oDesk and barring a one off incident where i forgot to shut the logging software down and ended up logging extra hours( I refunded the client) i have never had a buyer dispute my hours. Here's the thing, as an employer you have to be smart about it. When you post a job, only interview candidates with a good oDesk history,look at their past jobs, the buyer's feedback, their portfolio etc. Then talk to them over Skype, ask for code samples etc. If you reach out for the bottom of the pool ofcourse you will get burned, but a contractor with a good history (who might be charging higher)will never ever endanger his feedback history in such a cut throat marketplace where even a single 4.99 out of 5 can knock you off the first page of search results and costing you big time, all for a few extra bucks. This alone will weed out 99% of the dishonest providers. But you can still go and initially, for a week or so, monitor the contractor's work logs closely, you will know instantly if they are padding their hours since oDesk uploads around 5 to 6 screenshots per hour, along with mouse and keyboard activity reports. Just monitor them closely initially and then semi regularly afterwards and you will know what type of contractor you are dealing with. Once you have built trust and seen the contractor's work you can ease up. Finally,set tight milestones and demand regular daily updates and you will know what's going on. So yeah, don' be lazy, be a little more vigilant and you can find some really good contractors at great prices .All the top contractors i know only work hourly and IMHO Its a great model for the employer and for the contractor, a simple win win.

I became really embarrassed about the screenshots sometimes. If I looked up something online or accidentally left something visible with personal information on it I would sometimes delete those 10 minutes of work just to avoid it being seen.

On that article they suggest it costs $10 to post a job on elance, however I've never paid to post a job!

same here, I was trying to figure out why the figure is $10 there?

This article is over 2 years old, not only is most of the "chart" out of date, it also cites facts which are no longer true.

Why did this get posted?

vworker (formerly: rentacoder) was great while it lasted. Honest, talented engineers.

When they got bought by freelancer, everything became way more scammy. It also became much more difficult to interview potential hires. Lame.

Hi there, if you have any specific feedback, I would be interested to hear it. Email me at matt@freelancer.com.

Ok the article seems to pretty outdated. 2011!! it woudln't have mattered if the facts were still valid but a lot of things changed, including policies and features of these sites. Not to mention vlancer got taken over by freelancer.com

So i'd advice people to keep this fact in mind when going through this, and not use this as the final word on the matter when comparing.

I have accounts on odesk/freelancer and think that is necessary to have a pre-screening of jobs descriptions.

For example, somebody ask for build a "search engine" and have a big budget... but still not clarify enough what mean to him "search engine".

So the only option is apply to the job, and wait for the customer to talk about it.

Then you wait days, weeks and nothing is answered back. Probably the user get scared?

I think that give to potential customers somebody to talk about the project first, to properly describe it (understanding not a full spec, but enough to clarify things in a broad sense) will help a lot.

Also, I wonder why this kind of sites not use their own developers to give this. So when a new customer wanna submit a project it pay, for example, US 50 for talk about it before submit or something like that..

(Like a community-driven-facebook-style-lets-talk-before-submit thing)

Re: ODesk - Screenshots count as video? That is completely irrational.My most recent experience was a contractor on there who was padding his hours hugely. Literally a 5 minute job he tried to spread across 5 hours.

... and here is why I would never use odesk or these services as a coder.

I've done some work on these in the past, dating back to 2000. They've always been challenging if you're not in a market where you can lowball, so I presume most "senior" developers in premium markets avoid these sites.

I'd love to hear thoughts about using these marketplaces to build up experience in languages you're not yet using in production.

It isn't worth the time or effort to do so. I tried it out (elance) a couple of years ago as a worker.

My impression of it is that basically it's a place for two kinds of employer: 1) the "I have this idea, code it up for me for equity in my 'company'" employers who either don't actually have an idea of what they want (and will needle you to flesh out their idea more fully) or have a generic "let's build the next X" (where "X" is usually "Facebook") idea; 2) the lowballer who wants to pay $500 for a job that would take a proficient team weeks or months to do.

As a "senior" level developer, I absolutely avoid these places. And I absolutely do not recommend anybody use them for work. There are far better ways to 'practice' with new languages that involve better compensation and better actual experience.

Umm, no not really. I charge around 60$/hr on oDesk.Have closed to 5000 hours and can easily pull in upwards of 5K USD a month, which is an extra ordinary sum for someone sitting in a country in Pakistan where the conversion rate i 104 PKR to a USD.You can easily get well paying clients if you spend a little time building up your history, and are really good at what you do.

An exchange rate will tell you absolutely zero about one currencies relative worth to another. By your logic, someone in Japan, whose currency trades about 100 to 1 USD, would have about the same buying power as you per USD, when in fact, assuming you're both earning the same in USD, you would almost certainly have much, much more purchasing power.

To accurately compare purchasing power among currencies, you need to use a metric like Purchase Power Parity (PPP): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purchasing_power_parity

You are probably right but i was just trying to give a ballpark estimate of how good is a 5K USD income in pakistan.The conversion rate is a fair if not a perfect gauge.I can sustain a full family of 5 with an excellent lifestyle in about 2K here in Pakistan so its a very decent amount.

Well, I won't argue that some developers can do what you suggest. I'd be shocked if it weren't the case, in fact. My point wasn't meant to be applied universally to all the projects there. It was simply a statement of what I observed.

First, it's great to hear that you're getting work; but are you only working part time? 5K at 60 an hour is only about two weeks worth of work (83 hours)?

Hey, Yeah for the past year i have been working on a startup so i only do about 20 hours per week. I turn down all projects that demand more. Thankfully i have a few very decent clients who have given me an extraordinary amount of runway on the project, in terms of the time they need , the hours i work,and the exact scope of work. Basically the conversation is mostly like, hey i think it would be cool if we put in this feature, and the client goes 'yeah sure' and i go ahead and do it, this frees me up to bootstrap a startup and at the same time make a very decent living out of it :) But the more i dive into my own projects the less appeal freelance work holds the the point that i barely do enough to get by in terms of money i can make and not an hour or penny more :)

These sites have always been a race to the bottom. If you're not in a market where you can lowball you're definitely losing money.

To be clear, this wouldn't be my primary income earner. I have a lot of experience with languages like ColdFusion, PHP, etc, but really want to get some Rails work in. Of course, my "low" rate might be too high (I was thinking in the $15-30 range, where I'd normally bill $50-75 for work I have experience in)

If you know what you're doing, I'd say you should stay around 100 USD/hour -- anything else sounds very low?

i got a diverse set of projects done through elance contractors in the last years. over all a good experience so far.

usually i do a general chat through skype with those providing a useful application. since i am a programmer myself, this helps me to quickly figure out someones skill set. Agencies are usually complicated and a lot of information gets lost between workers there. I did a iOS app with an agency, the design, ux and code were horrible. Rebuilt the App with a single contractor from Lisbon for half the price. He quickly understood the application, provided clean code and simple but elegant design. So evaluation of the contractor is something you need to do with care.

i prefer elance because it allows you to search for people based on their location easily. a feature which odesk is bad at. But still the main reason to use any such service is the legal frame, payment and escrow.

ps. i'm currently hiring for a golang job

Maybe a 2011 in the title? Some of the stuff in the table is out-of-date. For example, oDesk no longer sends 1099s.

I've tried most of the freelance marketplaces out there and IMHO there's a lot more that could be done.

That's why we're developing http://www.socialance.com If you have any suggestions or want to help, let me know: guillermo@socialance.com

This article is from 2011 and I believe the convention is that the submitter should have indicated that in the title.

This is relevant because since that time, freelance.com has acquired vWorker(formerly rentacoder) and hence a lot of things might have changed as well over 2 years period

Is rentacoder still around? I had good experiences there.

It rebranded as vWorker, and was acquired by Freelancer.

I was quite surprised when I was checking out Freelancer, and it said I had been a member since 2001. (from rentacoder)

Vworker bought it, and added gamification such as achievements and XP.

Nope, read the other comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6350600

freelancer.com doesn't work with Ghostery turned on. Not a good sign.

Hi there, I'm the Chief Executive of Freelancer.com. I've never heard of Ghostery, why is it an issue?

It's an issue because I have Ghostery turned on at all times (www.ghostery.com) and when I visit Freelancer.com and click on either "Hire" or "Work", nothing happens -- the site appears to be broken.

I have no idea, of course, of how many people use Ghostery and attempt to visit Freelancer.com, but I would guess the freelancer demography is over-represented in the total population of Ghostery users.

Hi there. I will forward this onto engineering to take a look at.

can anyone recommend any good android/iOS devs on these sites?

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact