🌇 The Death and Life of Great Talent Platforms

What city planning can teach us about community and the future of work.

Building Virtual Economies

If you think about it, cities and online talent networks have a lot in common. Both enable connections and collaboration, rely upon attracting and retaining talent, and leverage data and technology to foster innovation.

Given the similarities, there’s a ton that we can learn from physical urban environments and bring it into the virtual world. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs explores what makes or breaks economies and communities. 

Let’s apply this to the modern online talent marketplace.

The importance of sidewalks

Safety and Security


A well-used street is known to be relatively safe from crime, while a deserted street is known to be unsafe.

Population presence can contribute to a sense of security.


There’s strength in numbers. 

Independent freelancers may struggle on their own but thrive with leads and and the support from a collective.


There are core members of neighborhoods that are often “self-appointed vigilantes”.

The bodega owner who knows your regular order or the old lady who watches out her window both take a higher responsibility of watching out for the wellbeing of their community. They’re a key part of city life.


The strongest platforms are those that have Volunteer Community Leaders or Ambassadors. 

A sense of “for the community, by the community” not only creates the most value-driven community but allows networks to scale more rapidly than relying on headcount to support an entire workforce.

Strengthening Social Fabric


Sidewalks contribute to the strength of “social fabric”. They allow for a range of public interactions.

Whether asking for directions, waving to a neighbor, or admiring a dog on the street, these small bits of engagement are paramount to creating a sense of belonging.


The difference between a database and a community is the availability of a “virtual sidewalk” where talent can interact with one another.
A community “home base” that allows for free-flowing connections and conversations between members creates a many-to-many relationship environment and strengthens the weave of their own social fabric.

Key Takeaway

Creating “Virtual Sidewalks” is a cornerstone in creating sustainable communities.

A virtual sidewalk allows members

  • Discoverability and a chance to “stumble upon” one another

  • Interaction in even the smallest form - like lurking and reading posts from others

  • Peer-led support and scalable access to value

The importance of diversification

Economic Diversity


Longevity comes from industry diversification. 

The reason cities like like New York thrive and cities like Detroit die, is the concept of being multimodal. When the automotive industry crashed, so did Detroit. New York has finance, arts, media, real estate, tourism, etc.


If the only way talent can earn cash on a website is by getting work with clients and there is no client work for them, they are gone and so is your business.

The best stickiness comes when there are multiple ways to earn. Large projects, small tasks, referrals, thought leadership, peer reviews, etc.

Challenges of Homogeneity


Jacobs advocates that many types of buildings is a hallmark of a great neighborhood.

Having a mix of commercial and residential buildings together allows the community shorter distances to access services and amenities than in suburban and commuter setups.

Urban renewal programs that homogenize neighborhoods often destroy and displace communities by creating isolated, unnatural urban spaces.


Having talent with varying rates, timezones, and expertise results in less cannibalization and competition within the same population.

Having too many of the same type of worker can have negative network effects. If a platform has only Ruby Developers, there’s less of a chance of survival than those that have all the roles required to build a piece of software (design, front-end, back-end, etc.).

Population Density & Stability


The idea that population density creates economic growth is a fallacy. More people ≠ more money.

Overcrowding can cause population instability if people decide to leave for greener pastures.

Displacement when more well-off people and businesses move in and replace those in a particular area can cause population instability.


Bigger networks aren’t always better.

Overshooting skill supply creates an imbalance in the opportunity/talent ratio. This results in poor talent experience and forces them to leave.

Alternatively, shooting for only the top 1% of talent may seem like a good idea at first, but the lack of price diversity may limit client demand - stifling business revenue.

Key Takeaway

Diversification is the only way to attract and retain BOTH top talent and the best clients. Rest assured that both your customers (talent and clients) are multi-tenanting on more than one platform.

Create value through optionality

  • Maintain a diverse portfolio of ways to earn for talent

  • Ensure you have diverse solutions and offerings for clients

  • Grow both sides of your business at a sustainable rate to maintain the balance between jobs and skills within your network

Thanks for joining me on this little abstraction of the future of work this week. Continue the journey with some of these resources. 👇️