The Creator Web: The Dribbblisation of work platforms

| November 26, 2013 | 9 Comments

Note: This article first appeared in Fast Company. I am pleased to have co-authored with TED Books Author Damon Brown. 

The Internet has powered the rise of a new creative class. Global reach, real-time feedback, and reputation building have redefined the creator. Today, the Instagram-wielding teen is as much a member of this burgeoning creative class as the National Geographic photographer, both catering to their respective niches. The audience is the message, and, increasingly, everyone is a creator.

We’re in the era of the Creator Web, when a platform’s worth is tied directly to its users’ contributions. The Creator Web moves the focus from the creation-first approach of crowdsourcing to a creator-first approach of actual content development. Today, the most vibrant creative systems–Instagram, Pinterest,Facebook–are the ones that put the creators ahead of the tasks themselves.

Increasingly, businesses are sourcing non-repetitive, non-commoditized creative work on online work platforms. When we moved from outsourcing to crowdsourcing, we shifted our non-core work sourced from other firms to the general public. With the rise of the new creative class, the way we source work online is changing as well.

The first breed of work platforms was built around sourcing solutions to projects. The metrics for succeeding with such platforms was built around the “Just get the job done!” motto.

A new, emerging breed of work platforms is shifting the focus from the task focused to the creator, portfolio-focused approach. While oDesk and Elance currently power a growing freelancer economy, we believe that the future of creative freelancing lies with portfolio-centric platforms that allow users to gather reputation through peer reviews.


Here are four overriding principles to take advantage of the Creator Web:


The portfolio has long been the sales pitch for creators. While more commoditized tasks get solved through price bids, creators have always commanded the price that the portfolio allowed them to.

The current generation of work platforms like 99Designs and oDesk are designed around the task. A new interaction between job creators and seekers is centered around the task itself with the creator putting up a task and the seekers bidding for it. The portfolio isn’t involved.

Online platforms will increasingly need to design around the portfolio. Led by examples like Dribbble and , creators invest in portfolio creation without a task focus. Peer recognition and self-expression serve as the primary motivators for participation. Platform incentives shift from potential fortune to accessible fun and fame.


Create a democratic platform focused on artistic or creative merit, not on a rote list of actions. Let the users know from the start that they are investing into the platform, then help them diversify their investment and commitment. Once users get invested, they can be monetized through tasks.

And therein lie the nuances of designing a portfolio-centric platform: While task-centric platforms can lure in users on the strength of the tasks posted, portfolio-centric platforms need to feed creator egos. The creators are fed three things: Rewards for good, consistent creation; Perceived ownership of the content; and clear ground rules depicting fairness, mastery, and a higher purpose in the creative act.

While a creator-centric approach to designing the platform, the portfolio-first approach also lends greater lock-in and competitive advantage to the platforms. With a task-first approach, creators could potentially move on to a competing platform if it offered better tasks. With a portfolio-first approach, multihoming is much more expensive and the creator tends to focus on a single platform.


On a creative/services marketplace like oDesk, the clients usually rate the creators. However, client review is focused more on the delivery of a particular task. Creator reputation should be based not just on task delivery, but also on creative abilities rated through peer review. For example, Dribbble designers rate other users, effectively creating a signal to recruiters to scoop them up.

Sometimes, platforms may get the peer review implementation horribly wrong. LinkedIn recently took the peer review approach with its Endorsement feature. However, the peer review is tied neither to a portfolio nor to a task. Users are asked to recommend/endorse other users out of context. The frictionless nature of the endorsement act also compounds this further as users would rather rate out of context than continue to see messages asking them to rate. LinkedIn Endorsements are a demonstrate how the peer review can be trivialized when tied to neither the portfolio nor the task.


Prioritize self-expression so users attract the right work rather than the next big paycheck. It’s a gentleman’s agreement: Bloggers, designers, and other portfolio-focused creatives are now as interested in getting support for their work as they are in getting paid, as they know their most inspired designs often lead to new money-making opportunities. Non-linear gains are the nature of the creative industry, whether it is the one hit wonder living off five minutes of recorded audio for the rest of his life or the actor who just got her breakout opportunity. While repetitive tasks are all about quantity, creative work is rewarded by quality. Task move the focus away from showcasing quality. The portfolio restores the selection process to a quality-focused one. A portfolio-centric platform gives creators room to express themselves, garner reputation from peer recognition and subsequently convert this reputation into a more durable revenue stream.


Tweetable Takeaways

The best user contribution systems are structured around the creator portfolio, not the task. Tweet

Work platforms are moving away from tasks to portfolios: oDesks to Dribbbles. Tweet


Photo Credits: Matevil_82/Flickr

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  • Jim Preston

    The only way I see peer review working is if the reviews are anonymous AND the platform can verify that the members actually worked together and aren’t helping each other rate high. That is probably impossible.

    Also, I have friends endorsing me on LinkedIn for skills I don’t have due to LinkedIn’s recommendation engine. This causes me to lose trust and interest in the platform.

    I’m so tired of inflated resumes, freelancer ratings, and profiles. When I encounter that on oDesk or Elance I nuke their ratings.

  • Sangeet Paul Choudary

    Great points.

    About point 1, this si what the platform needs to solve. HN has figured out a great way to spot and decimate voter rings, no reason why other platforms shouldn’t solve this peer review problem as well

    About point 3, I see portfolios as a way for building reputation. The hiring process will, of course, involve other points of evaluation which is where your focus on RFPs and proposals will be very important.

    I do agree that the tone of this post is a bit too optimistic for its own good. I feel that peer review is going to be increasingly more important and platforms will need to figure out a way to get that right. Beyond that, I’m not really advocating Dribbble vs. oDesk. If the tone comes across as that, it was unintended.

  • Sangeet Paul Choudary

    I do think Dribbble hasn’t got its act right in ensuring trust in the community. I do believe though that peer review is going to start getting greater importance in the creative work community.

  • Jim Preston

    Sangeet, I finally found a post I disagree with :-)

    1) Peer review is a scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours game. As an employer I don’t trust it for due diligence.

    2) Task based model isn’t all of what oDesk and Elance are about. I hire for projects and prefer long term engagements. These platforms make my due diligence much easier and faster. I never hire off of these platforms. However, I’m not wild about them either and I’m thinking of developing a new approach. For one, their portfolios suck.

    3) Portfolios are not directly relevant. They don’t get the project done. They maybe show how well the freelancer completes projects but I’ve been disappointed many times. I put a lot of weight on the proposal. That is the most relevant part of the due diligence process. It should describe how the freelancer will get my project completed, or at least the relevant tasks in that project. Few proposals even come close to be responsive and the platforms are to blame as much as the unprepared freelancers.

    4) LinkedIn’s success is only because nothing better yet exists. I agree with your analysis and this platform means nothing for me. I maintain my profile there because it is expected, at least in Internet tech, and mostly it just annoys me. I’ve seen too much gaming of the profiles to trust anything on LinkedIn.

    5) oDesk and Elance (unfortunately now the same company) and LinkedIn have depreciated their own products with a variety of mistakes. This creates an amazing opportunity :-)

    Well-constructed RFP’s and proposals along with a better due diligence process are where the action should be and isn’t. If I described more than that one or more of your readers would build it before I find time to develop it. :-)


  • Rachelle

    I hired a designer from Dribbble he had a great portfolio. We ended up issuing more than $10k in payments during that time he went on Holiday to Australia and we were unable to communicate with him. When I contacted Dribbble they didn’t give the situation any serious attention. So while a designer may be able to show design skills on Dribbble I don’t think the platform allows you to ascertain on that individual level of professionalism. Unlike Elance or other sites you can’t write reviews you can’t review on Dribbble. To this day I see this individual posting images on dribbble.

  • Sangeet Paul Choudary

    Good question, Holger. Threadless, Dribbble and 500px are portfolio-centric sites which lead into monetization for the creators in various ways. I don’t see one exactly along the lines of a Dibbble-Odesk compound but I would bet on something along those lines happening pretty soon.

  • Holger

    Sangeet, I really enjoyed this inspiring article. I have two questions:
    1) Do you know some portfolio focused site that has already included the transaction or job part ( workflow, payment,.. ) into its site?
    2) Do you know any marketplace focused on goods different from creative services, that incorporated the portfolio idea into its business model?

    Thanks for your publications.

  • Sangeet Paul Choudary

    Thanks Steve! Great to hear that.

  • Steve

    Hey Sangeet, this is a very insightful article…shifting the focus from the task to portfolio. Trying to find how to apply the concept.

    Thanks and best regards.