Quality work on the fringes

What’s different?

Travel sitesOnline labor markets are not all the same. Ours learned from the travel sector.





Types of markets

Anyone working very flexibly outside the home will be getting their work through some combination of three channels:

  • Asking around: Contacting local bars, shops, businesses and households to ask for some paid hours is by far the most common way to find “gig” work. Much of it is untaxed and illegal.
  • Corporate scheduling systems: Many employees work hours determined by software that aligns them with exact hour-by-hour needs of their employer.
  • Online “gig” work exchanges: There are thousands of platforms where anyone can try picking up a few hours’ work from multiple buyers...

Online markets with multiple buyers offer the greatest convenience and opportunity. Each is typically built around one of two mechanisms for matching buyers and work-seekers:

  • 160216 BabyClassified ads.: Look for a babysitter this evening on Sitter.com. The site will offer several sellers in your area who could be available and willing. Send a message to the ones you like, wait for responses, negotiate and make arrangements with your final choice. Making arrangements is time consuming and uncertain for all concerned.
  • Algorithmic assignment: The buyer inputs a need. Immediately the market tells them which worker will fulfil it at what cost. TaskRabbit has used this method. It’s fast and smooth for the buyer. But behind the scenes, workers are scurrying around as instructed by messages on their phones with little control or ability to plan.

.Seek work in a classified ads marketplace and you spend hours responding to bookings that then go to other workers. But you can at least trade across multiple markets and have some control over what bookings you accept. Sell algorithmically and you live “on call”, having to drop everything and rush off to do bookings. You can’t trade across multiple markets: Market A will likely withdraw future bookings if you’re off doing an assignment through Market B when they need you...



Direction of travel

There is a potent alternative mechanism. Called “Stored Availability”, most of us have used it when booking a vacation. When the travel industry moved online, hotels, airlines and hire car providers collectively set up the Global Distribution System (GDS). It’s an underlying database of each asset (room, seat on a flight, vehicle), when it’s available and how it is to be priced to maximize income.

When we book a trip  through Expedia, Travelocity, Booking.com or other consumer apps, they are interacting with the GDS. Our price includes a mark-up for the consumer site.


The GDS puts sellers in control of their terms. It captures huge amounts of actionable data, feeding it all back to providers. Consumer travel sites have little of the power of “gig work” platforms; control and data sit with the supply-side. If a consumer site shutters it barely impacts providers.

shutterstock_103323836But the GDS is also good for buyers. It makes booking a trip fast, reliable and transparent. A travel-seeker on Expedia doesn’t see a list of hotels that may have availability to meet her need. Nor does the app tell her where she will stay and how much it will cost. Instead, the GDS opens up all options, ensuring quality costs more, but it will be reliably delivered.

Hourly labor markets need Stored Availability. That platform is called a Central Database of Available Hours (CEDAH).



A new model for hourly labor

A CEDAH allows sellers (work-seekers) complete control over hours, parameters of bookings they will accept and the hourly rates they will accept. It incentivizes reliability and can constantly suggest ways to grow pay or stability of hours. For buyers of labor; booking motivated, willing, aligned workers is so much faster and low overhead than other channels.


This model overturns most of what we take for granted about current “gig markets”. It uses algorithms to target skilling, not drive down pay or mislead work-seekers. Employers-of-record, legal compliance, benefits calculations, unions and colleges are core components, not threats to profitabilty. Stable work patterns are fostered. Progression to employer/employee relationships is a target outcome, not a contractual offense.

To make this technology tangible, it’s worth looking at some simple transactions. They involve advanced users who have built deep data. But don’t be intimidated, these markets are much simpler for new users.