Don Marti

Thu 01 Jan 2015 07:05:26 AM PST

Predictions for 2015

(No long list of predictions, just a news story that we might see this year...)

Go For Bro? Maybe later

SAN FRANCISCO (Apr. 1, 2015) is a hot new startup that helps people handle those routine chores that nobody has time for. But the online community-building drama has us filing this one under "maybe later."

When I needed my old DVD collection ripped and Ebay-ed, I hit the Broconomy app, which is well-designed and snappy (see screenshot). It quoted me a fifteen-minute wait time and dispatched a worker to my apartment. So far so good, but twenty minutes later, no worker.

It's not just me. Flaky is par for the course, according to disappointed app store comments. Broconomy CEO J.R. Dobbs Jr. blames an "online anti-tech hate campaign" by loosely organized Internet trolls. The best-known of the troll groups calls itself "International Workers of the Web." "Our workers appreciate the opportunity to make some extra income, and only a few online trolls are trying to make things worse for everyone," Dobbs said in an email interview. The online troll campaign is not associated with the Industrial Workers of the World.

According to one "union" forum, members are instructed to sign up for sharing economy sites, and subscribe to alerts of "flash strikes" on particular companies and ZIP codes. (The forum is listed as a hate site, so I can't link to it here.)

Social media expert Prof. Jane Brooklyn said in an interview that the troll campaign uses familiar methods of Internet humor to keep members engaged. Participants often post screenshots of tasks on the Broconomy app along with captions mocking the customers. "Some common themes are inability to recognize common food items or failure to complete toilet training," Brooklyn said.

The most attention-getting posts are those where a worker cancels a job at the last minute, then intercepts the new worker on the way to the customer site and makes a new recruit for the "union" campaign. "Instead of threatening or insulting workers who don't participate, they typically offer a stuffed toy animal, a cupcake, and the same small payment that the worker would have received for the original job, in cash," Brooklyn said.

Last fall, Broconomy was the subject of an investigation by the California Department of Labor. After a worker was trapped in the collapse of a customer's "Hobbit"-themed birthday party, and later rescued, the state accused the company of failing to carry worker's compensation insurance. The complaint was settled this year. Terms of the settlement are confidential, but all Broconomy workers in California were required to re-register as independent contractors for Broconomy's Qatari affiliate.

The Good

The Bad