Andreas Weigend | Social Data Revolution | Fall 2014
School of Information | University of California at Berkeley | INFO 290A-03

Homework 4: Elance-oDesk

Assigned: Tue Oct 28, 2014
Due: Sat Nov 8, 2014 at noon


oDesk is an online platform that connects businesses with skilled freelancers to collaborate on projects. It is often used for web design and software development projects, but it has grown to support many different types of work, from marketing to translation.

In this homework, we want to give you the chance to experience the process of using an online staffing platform like oDesk and hiring a freelancer to work on a project of your choice. In doing so, you have the opportunity to think about questions of social data as related to the future of work, and how availability of more social data can potentially improve the matching process between businesses and workers.


Decide on a project that you want to hire a freelancer to complete. You will be given $100 in oDesk credit to pay for a freelancer. Finally, after having gone through the process of hiring and receiving work from a freelancer, reflect on the process and the use of social data in solving the equation of business.

Your project should be a task that is doable by a freelancer within a time period of around 5 hours. This is because you want to maintain a reasonable hourly rate so that the quality of the worker you can hire is reasonable. The exact nature of the project is open ended, but it should ideally be something visual and relevant to one of the major topics of the class. For example, you can create an animation to explain one of the concepts covered in class that you found interesting, or data visualization of data sets that you think the class should know about. It can be anything you want, but bonus points will be awarded for relevant and insightful projects.

Keep in mind that whatever you choose, you need to be able to communicate your specific requirements to the freelancer. You can have the freelancer work on a portion of your final product (e.g. creating a slide template) or the whole thing (e.g. designing an infographic based on your instructions).

Interesting projects will be shared with the class and bonus points will be added to this homework based on the presentation and level of insight shown by the project.


Your final deliverable is a short 300-500 word write-up reflecting on the process and what you think of oDesk as a platform, online staffing as a concept, and the future of work as a whole.

You should also submit the work that was done by your oDesk freelancer. Some bonus points may be awarded if your project is relevant and insightful for the class, but the full homework credit comes from your reflection and thoughts.

Here are some suggestions of big picture questions you can think of addressing in your write-up, but don't feel constrained by them. You don't have to address all or any of them and you can also focus your reflection on anything else you find interesting or enlightening about the process of trying out oDesk.

  1. Do item-item based collaborative filtering (e.g. Amazon book recommendations) work for online staffing platforms like oDesk? What's similar and what's different?
  2. We have seen how both LinkedIn and oDesk attempt to rank and evaluate potential employees. What has been the most effective thing in your opinion in helping you to evaluate a person and create a match? How would you make it better?
  3. Are any of the lessons and techniques we learn from oDesk transferrable to traditional work environments? What are the possible benefits and drawbacks? What do you think is the future of work? How will social data be used in the work place?
  4. Conversely, what important elements of interactions and social data available in traditional workspaces are still missing from online staffing platforms like oDesk? Will future technology like wearable computing help to fill in the missing pieces?


Your 300-500 word reflection should be formatted as a Word or PDF document. Include any screenshots, diagrams or illustrations that you find necessary to make your point.

Email your submissions together with your completed oDesk project to raven at cs dot stanford dot edu with the subject header “INFO 290A-03 Homework 4”.

Setting Up

You need to get yourself set up with an oDesk client (i.e. employer) account. Please do this as soon as possible because it takes time for the $100 credit to activate. Email us if you encounter any problems.

  1. Go to and sign up for an account. Please use your email account as this is required for the $100 coupon to work.
  2. You will need to add a payment method to your account. You won’t actually have to make any payments because we will give you a $100 coupon code.
  3. Go to and log in. The coupon code will be emailed to you before class. (We don’t want to post it publicly here.)
  4. Enter the code and your account will be credited with $100 within 2 business days.
  5. Go to the main page and click on the green “Post Job” button. Fill in the details for your job. You should pay around $20/hr to get a reasonable quality level, so try to come up with a project that can be completed in 5 hours.
  6. Post the job, and then look for freelancers to contact about your job. If multiple freelancers respond to your request, select one of them to complete your job.
  7. Go to the “Manage My Team” section to check up on the job status and Work Diary of your freelancer to see how he/she is doing.
  8. Go to the “Reports” section to view other aggregate reports.

After getting your oDesk client account set up, log in, go to the main site and click on the green “Search Freelancers” button. Browse through some of the categories that are available, such as “Graphics Design”. If you have some idea of what you want the freelancer to do for you (e.g. infographics, poster, presentation), then focus on those areas.

Guiding Questions

To help you think about the whole job posting process, here are some questions you can think about. You do not have to submit an answer for them, but they should help you think about oDesk as a platform. You may address any of them in your write-up if you find them useful.
  1. How do you think are the freelancers ranked in the search view? Is the current order helpful to you in deciding who to hire? Are there other orderings that you would find more useful?
  2. Look at the filters provided to you on the left. (Click on “More Options” to see the full list.) What are the most useful filters in helping you decide who to hire? Are there any other criteria that you wish you can filter by?
  3. Notice the “Contact” button next to every profile entry. There’s a circle on it that’s either green or yellow and signifies how quickly a freelancer responses to requests. In providing this data, what information is oDesk trying to convey to the client? What are some other ways that you think this can be achieved?
  4. Click on a freelancer profile and look through all the available information about the freelancer. Are there any fields that you find interesting? Are there any other data about the person that you wish you can have access to outside of what is presently available?
  5. Think back to the first homework we did on Linkedin. How is the context of a LinkedIn profile different from that of an oDesk freelancer profile? Who are the people looking at LinkedIn profiles vs oDesk profiles and how is information being presented to cater to them? Is this difference reflected in any of the fields that are available on the two platforms?
  6. On ecommerce platforms such as Amazon, item-based collaborative filtering is used to recommend similar products to customers based on previous purchases, search history and basket history. Can a similar technique be applied to the ordering and recommendation of freelancers to a potential employer?
  7. What are some of the features that such an algorithm should be using to make matches?
  8. What are the limitations of applying collaborative filtering to finding a matching freelancer? What are the differences between trying to recommend a book and a freelancer that might help or hurt the use of the recommendation engine?
  9. How would you evaluate the quality of a match?
  10. How did you decide on which freelancer to hire?
  11. What are some of the reports available to you in keeping you informed about what the freelancer is doing? Which report do you find helpful?
  12. How effective is the Work Diary in keeping you informed about the freelancer? What kind of information is useful and what is missing? How can a future iteration of an online staffing platform do better?

Direct any questions to Raven Jiang (raven at cs dot stanford dot edu)