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To Russia without much love…why you need to be careful with freelancer websites

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

‘No, Nicholas, this will not do. Pay me my money now!’  I was being pursued by a tricky and unassuming Russian developer. I met him via one of the popular platforms Airtasker.

In my naiveté, I approached a freelancer online to do a job. I wasn’t sure how much it would cost but the Airtasker app demanded I enter a price so that the freelancer and I could get talking. So, I put in a tentative $300 and figured we could negotiate the price in person. The title: ‘Quotation to build an app’.

The Russian and I met for a coffee. He spent the session highlighting his amazing accomplishments in being able to expose frauds, fix problems caused by incompetents, and drain every last dollar from the customer.

One example he gave was building a simple app for a florist to use with their customers. He built it and the florist called, alarmed, and said it worked only once. The Russian smiled: ‘They never specified they wanted more than one customer, Nicholas…so they had to pay more for that.’ His cheeky grin reminded me of some strange character in a Coen Brothers movie.

When I inquired what he knew about cloud technology, he scoffed at my ignorance. ‘Nicholas, why do you want cloud? When you can have…THIS!’ Waving a flash drive triumphantly, he declared: ‘I always know where my data is, Nicholas.’

Shortly after my meeting with the roguish Russian, I received an email summarising his price. He would charge me thousands. I had already decided to avoid him altogether by this point.

A week later, he had closed the task and requested the $300. Apparently, the money is kept in a sort of website limbo where he can’t touch it but nor can I until we agree the task is satisfactorily delivered.

‘You haven’t even started the task let alone finished it. All you have done has sent me a quote,’ I replied. ‘But, Nicholas I gave you the quote. Now you have confirmed it with this message in writing that I have done so. The task was for providing a quotation.’

‘There’s clearly a misunderstanding,’ I retorted.

‘No, Nicholas, there is no misunderstanding. I am here to help you and I can’t say a task is not complete when it is.’

So, now I was in a pickle. The Russian had used my words against me, taking my task literally and pulled one of his shifty moves on me.

Then the threats began. The Russian informed me that he had now stolen my idea and sold it to many customers. He had contacted my ‘boss’ too, apparently, and would get his ‘300 bucks’ no matter what.

Meanwhile, the little Airtasker ads with friendly faces and Airtasker logo t-shirts continued to pop up on my Facebook account, promising low costs, great quality and such easy, friendly service. Clearly Dr Duck’s experience was the exception.

I then transferred the online debate to Airtasker, who forwarded me on to another group Promise Pay—an ironic name for either me or the Russian, whoever might win. Apparently, the Russian was technically correct. No doubt he had entered into his own online debate with Promise Pay and bamboozled them like the unfortunate florist.

Months went by and Promise Pay sent me copy and paste responses, often with strange cut and paste errors. They refused to discuss the matter over the phone. Evidently, a conversation is a service they do not offer.

The policy would change from time to time too. One time it was a 24-hour countdown style manoeuvre where my funds would be sent to the Russian as the decision was final.

Then it was a more conciliatory, ‘We will only ever transfer when you are completely satisfied.’

Eventually, I took the fight to the Supreme Court of social media, Facebook, and posted my disagreeable experience so that the rest of the world could see.

My friends chuckled that this shifty Russian developer had manipulated and run rings around a registered psychologist. Again, it was starting to play out like a Coen Brothers film. All we needed was a chase scene and for the poor florist to make a cameo appearance in the second act with an axe.

But it all ended with a whimper and not a bang. After months of posts to the Airtasker page, I received the first non-copy and paste response in months from Promise Pay. ‘Nicholas, how much would you be willing to pay to have this settled?’

I was happy to settle. The Russian got some of his bucks and they were well earned too. A coffee conversation, an email, and countless threatening messages. If it was his real job, you’d give him a raise.


Dr Nicholas Duck is a blogger and founder of Opposite


Do you scoff at Apple products?

in Media Psychology by


How many people have you met who are proud they do not own an Apple iPhone or iPad?You know the type. They disregard the slick designs and marketing and focus on the technical and functional characteristics of products.

But if you are one of the many millions of iPhone owners you might be more willing to admit you simply like the look and feel of your device. If you didn’t care about appearances you would be more than happy to scroll through a basic checklist of apps rather than navigating through colourful buttons.These preferences extend to your home too.

Open your pantry and you will find an assortment of brands that probably taste exactly the same as a generic product. Your television might have looked just as good if you purchased a lesser brand, so long as you weren’t aware it wasn’t really a Sony.

You may have tirelessly debated over a shade of paint and were willing to spend more because that premium off-white really looks better than the cheaper off-white.

Many people, however, do not think they are easily manipulated by all that. They love the idea that they are sensible and rational and can, therefore, find a bargain and spend their dollars where it counts.

For example, they believe they are not influenced by advertising, branding and other messages designed to persuade. It’s referred to as the ‘third-person’ effect. 

And it is true to a point.

In one study, when participants were exposed to the features of a very expensive product they were subsequently less likely to purchase that item than a more functional one. Presumably, the mere exposure to extravagance deterred individuals from making the superficial choice.

However, when the participants were distracted and not given enough time to think things through, they were more likely to purchase the expensive product.

The reason this happens is that when not given much time to think, we can base our decisions on emotion. The luxury products, for example, make us feel a bit more comfortable and we use this as a quick method to gauge their quality.

So, the third-person effect makes some sense when we have time to really think things through. Unfortunately, many of life’s decisions are made on the run and we are often distracted by choices as well as different views and opinions.

And advertising is relentless. It invades every aspect of our lives: on our pantry shelf, on television, radio, clothing, store windows, labels and billboards. Even written in the sky.

You may think you can logically ignore all this but eventually advertising, luxury brands and other superficialities will weed you out and make you invest in something you don’t really need. After all, you were suckered into reading this fairly superficial blog. And all the way to the end too. That’ll be ten dollars, thanks.

Not another blog about that blue/black dress

in Media Psychology by


It’s not about the dress. It’s about your fundamental views being challenged about the world.People often view the world as if we are ‘observers’ looking at reality. This viewpoint is referred to as ‘realism’. Scientists have discovered time and time again, however, that the observer cannot be disentangled from reality.

In the case of ‘dressgate’, this is a simple demonstration of how there is no true reality. It all depends on the context, including how our brains decide to decode information.

We all know this, of course. When we disagree about the quality of a film or dinner, we are essentially disagreeing about reality. But at the back of our minds, perhaps we are thinking ‘they just don’t understand’ rather than recognising that we are having different perceptual experiences.

Of course ‘dressgate’ is more than just a reality check about reality. It’s also yet another bizarre case study in viral communication. Soon our perception becomes less about the topic of conversation and more about the conversation about the conversation.

Here are some of the key players in viral communication. Which one are you?

The early adopter

This is the first person in your twitter or facebook feed that you see talking about the issue. They are the ones who started the whole thing. Much of the conversation tends to cluster around the early adopter, sucking traffic from the late adopter.

The late adopter

They may only be a few hours late but the late adopter is notorious for throwing up a comment on facebook or twitter well after the topic is starting to wind down. Maybe a few friends will throw a couple of likes in their direction out of pity.

The cynical observer

This person pretends they are above the discourse about triviality. They might throw up a comment about the sad state of society for such superficiality. The more covert cynics will simply like the posts or blogs of other cynics.The interesting thing about the cynic is that through their commentary they are essentially helping to perpetuate the same conversation they are criticising. They fail to realise they are just one of the many varied active participants in the viral communication.


The social media opportunist

This person is always looking for an opportunity to leverage off the social traffic to boost their own twitter, facebook, and website traffic.

The comedian

The whole social media trend is open for humour. The comedian creates memes and other media to mock the discussion and leverage off other trending topics.


The genuinely disconnected

This person misses the social media virus completely by chance or through being cut off from technology. This person is likely your parent or grandparent who still stare at you blankly when you try to explain facebook. But they could be a friend or colleague who heard ‘something’ about the topic but genuinely wasn’t interested in engaging.

The meta-commentator

The meta-commentator likes to summarise the whole network of issues, traffic, and comments and explains how this whole situation came about in the first place. They like to assume a position of all-knowing.The meta-commentator is actually a covert covert cynic and likes to tie their ramblings up in the end with a tongue and cheek reference that shows they too are just an active participant in the whole thing.

And, just for the record, the dress is blue and black.

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