Coffee & Power, From Linden Labs Founder, Puts A Jolt of Creativity Into Crowdsourcing

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more third parties posting their own projects. A stealth-mode startup called MediaTrove, for example, is using Worklist to build a kind of Web-based Muzak service called Kanoodl. But Rosedale’s passion of the moment is still Coffee & Power, which has so far attracted more than 5,500 users. They’ve posted 4,417 jobs or “missions,” about a third of which have been completed, for an average payment of C$12; roughly C$25,000 has been exchanged since the site’s launch.

Coffee & Power earns money by keeping a 15 percent cut when users convert their C$ into real dollars using PayPal. Obviously, 15 percent of $25,000 isn’t much, so the startup is fueled for the moment by investments from True Ventures, Greylock Partners, and tech celebrities Mitch Kapor, Jeff Bezos, and Kevin Rose. The jobs sought and offered on Coffee & Power range from the mundane—“I want you to reformat my resume,” “I will teach you how to use Final Cut Pro”—to the unusual and outright bizarre (“I want you to turn my old suit into a zombie costume,” “I will crochet an octopus for you.”) There’s a comment system that lets you ask a buyer or seller for more details about an offer or a mission before signing up. As in Second Life, most members go by a pseudonym, but they can prove their bona fides by linking to their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. And when you’re checking out a seller, you can gauge their trustworthiness by seeing how many missions they’ve completed and how previous buyers have reviewed their work.

Ryan Downe, Rosedale's co-founder at Coffee & Power

At $12 per job, nobody at Coffee & Power is getting rich, but Rosedale says that’s not really the point—the main goal was to make it easy for sellers to exploit their hidden skills while earning a little cash in the process. “Coffee & Power is a tool that asks the question, ‘If you had an extra three hours today, how many things could you do?'” he says. “In SecondLife, you had to do everything, from making friends to building a house. You didn’t have a choice, so people discovered all these new capabilities they had. But we all have a lot of skills that we don’t use in our day jobs.” He sees Coffee & Power as one data point in the recent trend toward purpose-built marketplaces that bring people together for all kinds of brief transactions, from photo assignments (Gigwalk) to limo rides (Uber).

The Coffee & Power workclub at 1825 Market Street—which San Franciscans will remember as the former home of the much-loved Get Lost Travel Books—doubles as the company’s headquarters and as a casual co-working space for members. (Both the coffee and the power are free, for the moment.) Rosedale calls the workclub a safe, Starbucks-style “third place” for missions that need to be completed in person, but where buyers and sellers might prefer not to meet at their homes—think SAT tutoring for a teenage child. “It probably applies to 10 percent or less of the jobs, but for those 10 percent, it is really powerful and cool,” says Rosedale. A second location, hosted by Santa Monica, CA-based software startup Sparqlight, opened last month, and there’s talk of a third location in Miami.

The economies at Worklist and Coffee & Power are still tiny compared to Second Life, and even compared to competitors such as TaskRabbit, where users can post errands like grocery runs to be completed by background-checked runners, or oDesk which helps companies recruit, track, and pay mostly offshore software engineering help. But Rosedale sees the projects as very different from their cousins. He says Worklist is good for managing rapid software development projects in small, $200 chunks; that’s about a twentieth of the average contract size on oDesk, and it “forces you to break things down into a series of small, actionable steps, which we should all have to do as managers,” he says. TaskRabbit, meanwhile, boils down to a “job dispatch system” where “the tasks can be done by anyone,” Rosedale argues. Coffee & Power, by contrast, is “a matchmaking system primarily driven by sellers saying what they will do. It’s driven by novelty and fun and talking and learning with each other.”

Whether it will ever be driven by money as well remains to be seen. “How this will transform the nature of work, I’m not sure,” Rosedale says. As societies cope with chronic unemployment and underemployment, much of the work that used to show up on our W2 forms could eventually be replaced by smaller freelance tasks, he speculates. “The Internet has driven the price of everything down. But if you look at what people have done on Worklist, I think people will be able to charge reasonable prices. Who’s to say you can’t make more money doing a number of small, microwork projects? These are good questions—and I enjoy working on things that raise strange questions.”

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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