LinkedIn has entered the freelancer-slash-independent contractor market with a quiet roll out of its new feature: ProFinder. Connecting would-be clients to would-be contractors, the ProFinder pilot was initially limited to the San Francisco Bay Area in the US and only allowed the categories of accounting, graphic design, and writing and editing. It has since expanded to other cities within California and now includes virtually hundreds of categories, including – wait for it – translation. With this latest feature, LinkedIn is directly challenging incumbents UpWork (formerly Odesk and merged with Elance) and Freelancer.com. It also moves LinkedIn very far away from its core business model as a professional social network.
How do experts see LinkedIn’s chances at succeeding? SpendMatters feels that LinkedIn might just have a shot. “If LinkedIn’s pilot eventually evolves into a product roll-out, it’s hard to predict its influence on the… locational, multi category online intermediation space, [where they have] only one truly competitive peer,” a SpendMatters article says, concluding that “the door still seems quite open for a strong company like LinkedIn to at least capture its slice of this market.”
Yet will that “slice of the market” include translation? So far, neither ODesk nor Freelancer.com have made a big impact on the translation business. One reason is because large scale translation projects are still too complex to be managed through a one-size-fits-all platform. Furthermore, neither ODesk nor Freelancer are exactly popular with quality freelancers.
Many freelancers bemoan how platforms like UpWork offer “rock-bottom pricing without providing high-quality freelancers with adequate opportunities to get paid more by distinguishing themselves for superior efforts.” This is how one Forbes article on oDesk and Elance’s merger illustrates these freelancer concerns. “These hubs for freelancers rely too much on the joyless mechanics of market matching,” the article goes on to say.
Beyond this, LinkedIn will also need to provide the clients looking for translators the infrastructure and support to ensure the success of their project. Otherwise, they need to find a way to effectively disintermediate even those functions and package everything. Language learning company Duolingo learned this the hard way. Just because they have the people does not mean they actually have the capability: “Though we could make [translation] a profitable business, we realized we’d quickly become a translations business as we’d have to hire people focused on quality control, sales people, etc.,” Duolingo told TechCrunch back in June 2015.
LinkedIn has a few things going for it though. ProFinder leverages LinkedIn’s user base of over 380 million members.
With around 480,000 professionals listed under LinkedIn’s Translation and Localization category, the company’s freelance talent pool should exceed well over 100,000 freelance translators and interpreters.
ProFinder will also use other factors built into LinkedIn’s system to refine its match-making process, such as skills and recommendations. An internal concierge team will supplement ProFinder’s algorithm-driven search by manually sorting potential candidates. This entire process, according to LinkedIn, will give employers using ProFinder up to five responses within 24 hours of posting. These responses will include “a personalized message, price quote, and access to the pro’s LinkedIn profile.”
It is far too early to say if LinkedIn could become a force in translation and interpretation. But with its resources, engineering talent, and vast user-updated database of skilled professionals, the company does have a massive head start on many other recent entrants in the highly fragmented translation market.