vWorker.com provided me with many happy memories. If you want to start a new business that begins with a vital technology component, this was a great place to get things done. Follow the path as described by Derek Sivers in his How2Hire post.

At some point, Freelancer.com purchased vWorker. There were no major changes initially. Freelancer did grant me a premium membership for free, which was great, although when it automatically renewed for $79 I was not thrilled. They quickly refunded the money, but had I been of sound mind I would have disconnected the automatic funds withdrawal then and there.

Freelancer is different than vWorker. vWorker always seemed to be a sloppily engineered site for connecting coders and idea people. The type of site you would expect to get if you farmed development out to off shore workers, which is exactly what vWorker clients were doing. How fitting for them. The quality of the end result was always low but only people who have never started a business worry about this; like Reid Hoffman says “if you are not embarassed by your first version you have launched too late.”

Freelancer was a different beast, better designed, obviously using Bootstrap (the most advanced and ubiquitous CSS website theme). And, then they made interacting with the site like a game.

When you add funds, you get points! When you rate someone, you get points. Accumulate enough, and you get a badge or new ranking.

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Why in the world do I want these things?

I can’t be the first to say it but in this case the game layer damages the core value of this site.

I clearly understand the value of a reputation within the site. Having assessments after work has completed which evaluate both the worker and the mastermind behind the project means everyone can choose which projects to be involved in much more effectively. Freelancer and vWorker solve a huge problem in that they eliminate, or at least minimize, accidentally engaging with poor workers and poor bosses.

But points and badges? Points and badges are for Farmville. I don’t want to be subjected to psychological mind games so that I spend and engage more. Farmville is free (like the first hit of crack your dealer will give you) and they need to gamify to generate revenue on a free product. I am already paying to “play” on Freelancer, and I resent the gamification.

The most insidious part of gamification is that it adds noise. What bigger problem do we have in our modern lives than noise? Noise steals your attention. Noise distracts you from what is really important. Was I distracted by noise the moment Freelancer charged me an extra $150 for work? Did I approve that extra work? Their dashboard indicates that I did not. Their billing statement says somewhere I made an extra payment, and PayPal confirms this.

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I wrote to them expecting a refund, but they said this:

Moving on, you can ask your freelancer to confirm the return of the excess payments which are $125 and $25. Tell them to reference your ticket ID GMF-235-43058. Be reminded that Freelancer.com is dedicated to helping all users act in a way that preserves trust and respect. We always encourage our users to resolve any project issues amicably between parties involved. Upon receipt of their confirmation, we will reverse the two excess payments to your account.

I responded saying that I never made the milestone and resented that I now had to damage my relationship with this worker by asking then to return funds, funds which are equivalent to a months wages in India.

Thanks for your help. As you can see from my account, I only have three milestones: $125, $125 and one more of $75 for additional work on the project, and $25 because we had agreed I would pay him for test cases. I still don’t understand why I have three payments of $125; there were no milestone payments which I clicked on to accept, so why am I paying this extra payment? 

I hear you saying that I should contact the developer to tell them to return the extra payment. This was Freelancer.com’s mistake. What do you think it will do to my relationship with a developer who I have worked with on multiple projects if I give them money (through your mistake, not mine) and then ask them to return it? This is a person who works in a country with a very low standard of living. I’m not sure where you live; would you be OK you if I asked you to return a month’s wages, money you thought was yours?

The support staff person my explanation and wrote this:

Please note that only the users may create Milestone Payments for other users. We recommend that you contact your freelancer and request for a reversal on the 125.00 USD excess payment in project “App which allows a user to draw on pictures and compose email with those pictures” with ID 4766034. Kindly ask them to include your ticket ID GMF-235-43058 in their email for our reference. Once we receive their confirmation, we will reverse the said amount back to your account.

Should you require further clarifications, feel free to contact us anytime.

I won’t be bothering to contact them again and waste my breath.