Aegora: join the grassroots employment revolution

 

 

By Judy Chen, 2012-10-09 (press [at] aegora.com)
 
Today, Aegora.com debuts the first version of its revolutionary promotional marketplace platform. In a world where the traditional employment paradigm has collapsed and online freelance marketplaces are inefficient and painful to use, an alternative is needed. Professionals need an evolved platform from which to sell their services, and business owners need a way to quickly and reliably source and work with trusted talent.
 
Aegora is creating that platform. Named after the Ancient Greek ‘Agora’, a marketplace where citizens met for discussion and trade, and created by long-time users of online freelance marketplaces (OFMs), Aegora seeks to do away with the pain points that prevent wide-scale uptake of online employment.
 
Rick Carlile is one of Aegora’s co-founders. He says, “I’ve spent years using online freelance marketplaces to buy and sell services, and they’ve allowed me to create some terrific businesses that just wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago – for which I’m very grateful. But it’s been damned hard work!”
 
In 2010 a group of PhD researchers from contacted Carlile to ask why OFMs had never really caught on with society in general. “I knew that it was probably because they were extremely hard to use,” he continues, “but at the time I hadn’t pinned down exactly why that was or how they could be improved. It was an intriguing question that I couldn’t help but analyze.”
 
“These first-generation OFMs were designed nearly a decade ago, concerned with bringing traditional recruitment and employee management onto the web, which is a very narrow problem that carries with it a lot of now-obsolete assumptions. But their biggest problem was a terrible signal-to-noise ratio; you put an advert looking for a programmer on an OFM and as soon as it went live, you were swamped with thousands of applications from people who just sent the same thing to every new advert on the system. Likewise, if you were a sincere, skilled person who wanted to sell your services it was heartbreakingly difficult to differentiate yourself from the swarm of other service providers. There was always a trust gap.”
 
“Plus, these OFMs were designed and created when outsourcing to third-world countries was in vogue, so there was an almost colonialist mentality where they expected Western managers to need to ride herd over foreign ‘software sweatshop’ workers. That model created a lot of problems. For a start, it was a feudal, two-tier society with no possible community, and besides – what professional person wants to be called a ‘virtual worker’? Of course, we’re all past that ‘something for nothing’ lowest-bidder model these days, and the OFMs that are still successful today have tried to discard that image, but the fundamental problem remains baked into the system.”
 
Was Carlile was the first person to figure this out? “Far from it. There were a number of marketplaces that tried to solve these exact same problems. But in every case they did it by filtering manually – checking people’s credentials by hand, for instance. But getting in the middle of user interactions becomes expensive, fast. So these second-generation marketplaces either catered to niche interests who could afford to pay higher prices for the manual touch, or they went broke trying to scale.”
 
So, Aegora had to provide a filtered experience, without doing any manual filtering. Carlile explains the solution. “Web services like LinkedIn show us that people are happy to create professional networks online, because that’s how they behave in the real world. It’s something we do almost subconsciously because we recognize how valuable networking is. Networks not only let us do filtering – by focusing on people we trust and value – they let us reach out to people outside our own circle of contacts, because trust is transferable across networks.”
 
This of course refers to the ‘small world’ or ‘degrees of separation’ model by which we are all interconnected. “Trust spreads through extended networks like ripples across a pond,” says Carlile. “If I need an attorney to draft a contract, but I don’t know anyone appropriate, I might ask you if you know anyone with the right expertise; if you recommend someone, I’ll trust her – because I trust you, and you trust her. But maybe I’ll trust her just a bit less than I trust you. The further out you go, there’s still that trust there but it diminishes. If someone’s four or five degrees away from you, you probably trust them no more than you would a stranger.”
 
Carlile continues, “So not only did we bridge the trust gap, we solved filtering – when you can selectively filter projects, applicants, and so on based on peoples’ network proximity to you, you have this groundbreaking but really simple and natural mechanism that lets you focus on people who are going to be valuable to you. It creates a very civilized system.”
 
Carlile is concerned that Aegora’s society grows from healthy roots. “An online service or community is like a country. If its constitution is fair and free, it’ll flourish and be place you can live and thrive. But if it’s authoritarian and exploitative, it’s going to be an unpleasant place that provides no real value to its citizens. From the very start, we knew we had to create an egalitarian community where people do business on the level, where we don’t differentiate between buyer and seller, where there’s a real like-minded community dedicated to buying and selling professional services fairly. The networked model lets us do that; everyone’s equal, we don’t have to say to people ‘we don’t want you in our society because we think you’re not good enough’, we just let the natural forces of the network do their thing. If someone’s an honest, bone fide person, they’ll build quality contacts and do well. If not, they won’t get far.”
 
Currently, Aegora is in early development; however, they’ve elected to open the service to the public via an invitational Alpha. Says Carlile, “We’re not a multinational corporation, we’re a grassroots movement dedicated to creating something new and wonderful. We’re going to have to rely on our community to help us get where we’re going, so we want to start engaging with people as early as possible. If you’re reading this and Aegora strikes a chord with you, I urge you – join us!”
 
For more information, visit www.aegora.com/media-center. For an invitation, visit www.aegora.com/request-invitation.