Aegora.com, the world's first networked professional marketplace, yesterday opened its doors to invited users. This is a big step as we've been working on Aegora for many, many months and finally got to roll the service out "into the wild"! What is Aegora.com? Well, Aegora's a combination of the professional network that we're familiar with from LinkedIn, and the online freelance marketplace (oDesk.com, Freelance.com, elance.com, and so forth). We've been using these marketplaces, and LinkedIn, for many years but found the former hard to use, and the latter rather devoid of utility once one's network has been built.
So we decided to create a professional networking service that members can use to actually create business, build things and make money online. In the current climate of recession and turmoil, the world needs an alternative to traditional employment that enables people to build smart, lean businesses that can compete in the global marketplace.
At the moment, we're in early-stage development. Project-based features are in the pipeline. For the time being, you can request an invitation to Aegora, build a stunning and highly customizable professional profile to promote your brand, create your contact network, and qute a lot more cool stuff. More to come over the forthcoming weeks. We'll document all of Aegora's new features here.
Aegora members can also join the Assembly group. The Assembly group is where first adopters can drop in and make their voice heard - to let us know how they think Aegora could be designed and built better to solve their problems. Membership of the Assembly is currently open to all but will be closed to new members once Aegora goes fully public.
Aegora was named after the 'Agora' of the ancient Greek city-states; the agora was a marketplace where citizens could meet on the level, engage in discussion, politics and trade (or in todays terms, networking, PR and commerce). The Assembly was the name for the city-state's democratic governing body, so we thought it was a perfect name for our cadre of first adopters.
Here's an excerpt from the first Aegora press release, explaining the problem with traditional online freelance marketplaces (OFMs):
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.”
Here, I explain why networking is the answer to the problems they face:
“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.”