TaskRabbit was founded on something of a magical idea. Digital forms of communication would create a new kind of job market, where people could mete out their labor task-by-task to the highest bidder and perhaps piece together something resembling a living doing so. It turned out that this fell short of being a workers’ paradise, though, as my colleague Brad Stone discovered when he spent a few days cleaning bathrooms and doing lawn work. Now it looks as if the vision can’t even support the company that dreamed it up. This week TaskRabbit went through a round of layoffs, and the company says it is realigning its efforts.
The news is a blow to the wider sharing economy, in which car ownership and regular jobs are replaced by deals for short-term access to goods and services. Regulation is generally cited as the main barrier for companies such as Airbnb and the myriad car-sharing companies. But TaskRabbit, long cited as one of the leaders in sharing, hasn’t faced much in the way of legal trouble. The fact that it hasn’t been able to build a sustainable business, despite the hype, should serve as a reminder that this form of economic activity is still far from becoming mainstream.