Tweak This!

99designs, the Australian company that has made a fortune soliciting spec work (“crowd sourced graphic design”) from naive designers, and selling $99 logo customizations to small businesses, has just invested $460,000 in a new service:

Tweaky, “the marketplace for website customization,” is the ultimate connector between companies that need quick, simple adjustments to their websites, and designer/developers seeking extra income via no-brainer side work.

The premise is simple: Want to add a subscription come-on to your site but don’t know the first thing about HTML, and don’t have the budget to hire a designer or studio? Tweaky will change your site for $25. Need to update the copyright information in your footer, but don’t know how to do it? Tweaky will handle it for you for $25. Need to add a sidebar to your website? Tweaky will do it for $25. Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger.

Tweaky sounds like the perfect service for the harried small business owner who needs to make one or two quick adjustments to an existing website, has limited time and means, and needs the changes to be made professionally. The last bit is most important: there’s a difference between hiring a designer to make your logo bigger, and doing it yourself when you’re not a designer, don’t own Photoshop, aren’t expert in HTML and CSS, and so on. Tweaky’s promise is that only qualified designer/developers will be hired to make your $25 tweaks. My guess is that, at least initially, Tweaky will draw on the same community that currently participates in 99designs’s “design contests” (spec work), or at least it will solicit designers from that pool.

Crowd sourcing design is unethical (read Design Is A Job and Design Professionalism if you’re unfamiliar with the standards of conduct in a professional designer/client relationship—or, for now, just read this tweet, and read these two great books later), so I disapprove of 99designs, but its new child appears to have been born sinless. While some designers, possibly including the authors of the aforementioned texts, will dislike the notion of Tweaky on principle, I don’t think designers or studios will lose customers to a $25 tweak service. I don’t think it’s exploitation to accept $25 to change a link in a footer (assuming the designer gets the bulk of the fee). And I don’t think a client with an existing website should have to pay several thousand dollars engaging a designer simply to make a wee adjustment to her site. Tweaky offers customers access to real designers for quick jobs, and offers designers a work and revenue stream. That seems okay to me.

Caveat emptor: I haven’t hired Tweaky (no need), don’t know how they evaluate designer/developers before admitting them to their freelance labor pool, don’t know how much of a customer’s $25 ends up in a designer’s pocket, and can’t speak to the quality of their concierge service and follow-through. But I find their business model unobjectionable and intelligent—it fills a designer’s need for extra work and a customer’s need for quick turnaround on no-brainer mini-projects. Truth to tell, I’ve heard talk of similar networks in the works, and would not be surprised to see competitors to Tweaky sprout up soon enough. It’s the economy, smarty.

28 thoughts on “Tweak This!”

  1. My first thoughts from reading your post is what’s the difference between this and all the other services that pay you for your or your possessions’ downtime? Have a car that you don’t use during the day? Rent it out for $10/hour or whatever. I feel like this is the same model.

    I’m adamantly opposed to spec work and 99designs core business, but this just feels different to me. Why not use my skills to make some extra money for quick fixes?

  2. It’s all in how you define professionalism. Designers who embrace design professionalism (at least as defined in the two books you mentioned) would not support, and would not work for Tweaky.

    That doesn’t mean it’s a bad business model, or that it doesn’t fill a niche. And at the end of the day it’s up to each individual designer and the level of professionalism to which they subscribe.

  3. I started reading your article and went to Tweaky to see if I could obtain a little extra pocket change. It doesn’t look like there is a self-motivated process to apply from the website [yet] and I’m not sure I’d be admitted even so. I’m a professional, but I know that when others tell me that same thing it holds little-to-no value, so why should my saying it be any different to Tweaky? I smell a challenge for their labor pool filters.

  4. Not by the hour, not by the feeling, with less risks and with no reason to fail or get it wrong.
    Easy to use service for the customer, easy to get job for the developer.

    On the other hand it might affect the long term relationship between developers and their customers. Fixes, improvements and other tweaks will need to be charged as low as 25$ per each.

  5. I am surprising myself but I am not totally opposed to this. Two things could happen: Tweaky users most likely would bury their website in bad design iterations and have a duct tape website cancelling out any benefit—driving them to a real design solution. (I like that scenario) OR Tweaky users see an immediate benefit and stop calling their cousin Ralf and aunt Tilly for their help with the interpages, resulting in the conclusion that “Paying for design is better!” (This happening is unlikely)

  6. I imagine the average rate for developers is roughly $100/hour (of course more for veterans, less for newbies). So, I’m assuming Tweaky’s marketing ploy is to break down large tasks into smaller ones (that probably require about 15 minutes to complete). So presuming that this is the business model they’re using, I also don’t expect to see designers losing clients to this service. The $25 fee per tweak isn’t greatly undermining the average professional developer or design studio.

    But what developer wouldn’t want to be paid close to their typical rate to change footer text or background colors vs. painstakingly programming and testing a custom php module? It would be interesting to know which pool of developers they will draw their talent from.

  7. I have to disagree with the supposed tame nature of Tweaky. While it’s probably true that studios wont lose clients over a service like Tweaky, I suspect freelancers(particularly new ones)will.
    It seems clear to me based on the horrible existence of 99designs, that Tweaky is here to leach off the talent in the same exact way. Or soon will be. At this point is does seem like a valid service, but in what way did our current system need improvement? Lower price points and a depersonalized experiences are not ingredients I would add.

    Perhaps I am overreacting. The businesses who would use this service are most likely of no interest to most of us working in client services so they might be doing us all a favor.

  8. The biggest concern I’d have is with security.

    1) How will Tweaky obtain the raw source code?
    2) How will they make the changes?
    3) How will they upload the changes back to production?

    Will customers be required to provide FTP access to their site?
    Who will manage those credentials? Tweaky or the worker?
    Does Tweaky provide any guarantee that work will be done properly and not just hacked together?
    Does Tweaky provide any guarantee that malicious code will not be implemented on their site?

  9. One thing I’m also curious about…would Tweaky be willing to eat their own dog food? I’d be interested in seeing them use their own service to update portions of their website.

  10. Tweaky is the brainchild (at least in part) of my good friend and sometime collaborator Ned Dwyer (@nedwin).

    My views on the 99Designs business model are way too robust for a family website, so I have to admit that when I realised a while back who was going to fund Ned’s idea, my heart sank a little.

    Thing is though, that Tweaky is different. It’s not a “competition”. It’s not a fashion show. It’s not a quasi-gambling enterprise.

    It’s fixed-price piece-work design.

    I wouldn’t do it, but there’s nothing ethically wrong with it. And it is aiming at a client demographic that is terribly treated by design agencies.

    And I’ll add this – Ned’s a good guy. I’ve worked with him before, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’ve got faith that Tweaky’s heart is in the right place, and that that will show as the business grows.

  11. This might work for basic (template styled) websites, but what about new RWD sites.
    Tweeking a responsive site is not going to be a piece of cake, I would want $25 dollars just to give the code a quick look.
    What about giving some stranger access to your server and database, not for me friends, but then I’m a suspicious old geek.

  12. I’m sad to see you’ve absorbed Rutledge’s extremist views on ethics. Spec work is certainly stupid for a company to participate in (because they get low quality results) and it is stupid for a designer to participate in (because they devalue their own work). However, voluntary interaction between people can’t be unethical.
    In reference to your tweet: “Spec = asking the world to have sex with you and promising dinner date to one lucky winner” – for some people, sex is good enough. It’s not hurting anyone if they choose to devalue their sexual interactions in such a way – maybe they just want some practice for when it truly counts ;). It’s the same in design – stupid, but understandable.

    With that said, the new site is “brilliant” in as much as a specialized version of TaskRabbit can be brilliant. It will likely be a big hit – good for them. It’s sad that designers need to convince each other that it’s ok just because it sits at the same lunch table as spec work.

  13. I don’t know how even changing some text in a site’s footer could cost as little as $25. I mean think about it: You’d need the FTP credentials to the site, and how many non-tech business owner’s actually know that information. If they didn’t have that, you’d need their control panel login, which they may have (after 2-3 emails and a couple days of wasted time).
    Once it’s all said and done, and you report your income to the IRS, I doubt it would be worth doing freelance work like this at the hourly rate it would come out to.
    However, if Tweaky handled all the client relations, I think it could be worthwhile in the end.

  14. “How do we keep our prices so low? We cheat our employees and pass the savings on to YOU!”

  15. The fact is that 25$ means a lot many people around the globe. And speaking of spec and no spec… I’m more concerned about spec work when buying junk food in supermarkets, but that’s another story.

  16. Hi Jeffrey.

    Thanks for your interest in http://tweaky.com

    I’m the founder of 99designs and lead investor in Tweaky. I’ve been working closely with the founders of tweaky.com on their product offering. I thought I’d weigh in on a few points.

    Tweaky is not related to 99designs. I invested in the business and I am involved personally, not via 99designs. 99designs is a separate unrelated company which serves a totally different need.

    Tweaky will not be tapping into the 99designs community of designers. Tweaky does not need designers, it relies on a hand selected pool of web developers…

    Tweaky has independently grown it’s web developer pool and currently has a waiting list to get in – there’s a strict selection criteria. Once you’re in Tweaky matches jobs to developers and balances supply and demand so developers have a constant stream of new work.

    Web site customizations are charged at $25 per tweak. A web site customization usually involves several tweaks. The average job size is quite a bit more than $25.

    Tweaky really is aimed at small businesses who are stuck and don’t know where to turn to keep their web sites fresh and up to date. It’s a closed, purpose built marketplace for web site customizations.

    Cheers,
    Mark Harbottle

  17. Hi guys,

    I’m the founder of Tweaky.com.

    First of all, thanks Zeldman for the post and glad you like what we’re doing.

    As you’ve pointed out we’re not a crowdsourced model. We’re a marketplace for people who want their website customized. We connect small business owners to developers and designers for small tweaks to existing websites.

    The process for us is to break every job down into a series of $25 tweaks. A lot of our jobs are only $25 but some are a little larger.

    Once our concierge has broken the job into tweaks we have a bit of back and forth with the client: getting them to submit and securely storing their credentials, getting all assets and work files, making sure we have all of the information we need so the developer can get in and do their job uninterrupted.

    This process of Tweaky effectively project managing the process (including bringing the work in) means that designers/developers don’t need to worry about pitching, project management, invoicing or all of the other admin that isn’t doing the actual job they want to be doing.

    We then allocate the project to one of our pool of developers around the world based on who is available, who is right for the job etc.

    Designers/developers apply to get into our marketplace, we don’t just let anyone in. We hand pick developers from the applications to bring the right people in and – unlike other marketplaces – we’re not afraid to remove someone from the market if their work is not up to our standards.

    We see ourselves as occupying the space in time between website builds for small business owners. They’ve been to a freelancer or agency to have their site built and 6 months later they need something updated – like adding the latest social media sharing button. We’ll update a bunch of things for them but eventually they’ll want a complete redesign, which is something we’re not interested in doing.

    If you’ve got any other questions feel free to drop me a line at [email protected]

    Cheers,

    Ned

  18. It just looks like a cool name for a standard web development service that thousands of us provide every day. We all do this, but without a dedicated website and cool name to represent it! Is there a difference apart from the instructions you provide on the home page (usually people know they can email us and ask for a quote to make some changes).

  19. I can’t help feeling that these $25 dollar tweaks will end up costing the client $100. Whilst $25 is a lot to anyone living outside of the developed world, going by US rates there’s no such thing as 15 minute job. It will take you that long to merely open the email, read and set up your FTP client. So you are potentially looking 3-4 hours work, once you’ve factored in all your overheads. Tweaky says they will do all this before handing over to the developer. Fine. What exactly is their cut?

    I know from personal experience that that little tweak is NEVER a little tweak. It’s always “actually that’s no good please move the subscribe box underneath the label text”. In the case of Tweaky that’ll be another $25, thank you very much. Oh, you want it a darker shade of grey. Fine. $25. You actually preferred it in lighter grey after all. Fine. $25. $100 for a change done by someone you don’t know and with whom you have no relationship. Someone with no interest in your site. You would have been better getting your local designer to help out, build up a working relationship and cut out the middle man. And if you need it done cheaply, there’s plenty trustworthy developers in the developing world who will gladly help out, speak perfect English and will have your interests at heart because you’re not just a number on their screen. And by working with them directly, you might even be paying them a decent wage.

    I thought the Internet was supposed to enable cutting out the middle man.

  20. tweaky is different and sounds good. I am good at webdesign, i however wouldn’t want to do it as a mainstream job coz, I have other things that I do for now. The service would give a freelance developer a chance to do smaller jobs and still find time to do other stuff. that unlocks a huge potential in people with this skills but not using them because of the project management and documentation hustle. smaller potion of work for a considerable pay sounds good to a free lance designer who doesn’t want to be mainstream

  21. I wouldn’t loose sleep over this. If you spend the time as a professional developing a good working relationship with a good client that values your work – they are not going to use this service.

    However, if you are struggling with a client that doesn’t value your work, and is no end of trouble – this could be a good place to send them.

    It would be easy to say that this is ‘cheapening’ the web design/dev offering – but in reality, quality shines through, and for the amount of toing, and froing that is likely to be involved in completing one of these jobs – it’s probably not worth the $25 for me to get involved.

    But I know that there are probably competent developers in countries around the world where $25 is a lot of money, and if they are willing to take on the work at that rate, then good for them.

  22. “Crowd sourcing design is unethical”

    Hugo Chavez? Fidel Castro? I -know- I’ve heard that somewhere before. Crowd sourcing of creative work is not only ethical, it’s smart, progressive, and efficient. The only ones I hear complaining are designers who aren’t participating. And that’s fine, too. Just don’t denigrate an emerging business model that’s working for thousands of businesses and designers with some high-tower ideological bias.

    Disclaimer: I am a small business owner who has used crowd sourced design many times, with satisfactory results.

    By the way, and with all respect, unless this site is designed for the sight impaired (??), you might want to consider a redesign. You could crowd source it.

  23. Hugo Chavez? Fidel Castro? I -know- I’ve heard that somewhere before.

    Probably Hitler.

    By the way, and with all respect, unless this site is designed for the sight impaired (??), you might want to consider a redesign. You could crowd source it.

    Zing. You must kill with the ladies.

  24. Carl Legg,

    Just because you’ve used crowd sourced design with satisfactory results doesn’t mean it’s ethical. Think about it. In order for you to choose the design that’s right for you, tens, if not hundreds, of people had to actually design your product beforehand. For free. That’s right, for free.

    People had to work for the privilege of maybe having you pick their work. People were working for free. People working for free is unethical. Period.

  25. I will be the first to admit that I have “turned tricks” (my euphemism for design spec work) on occasion to pay my power bill and feed my child. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve come away with a decent paycheck most times. I wouldn’t touch code, or Illustrator – anywhere at any time for $25. This economy sucks and many of us are doing what we have to do to stay afloat – but the $25 price tag is curious – as are the logistics involved.

    And @carl leg – you are clearly uninformed.

  26. @Carl Legg–The fact of the matter is that design cannot, by definition, be crowdsourced. Design is a process through which problems are identified and researched, then methodically solved. While the processes may look similar, the systems used by designers and clients engaging in true design thinking are associated to spec work only by parody as evidenced by the work.

    Design narrowly defined by artifacts completely ignores the value created by embarking on a process of discovery, divergent thinking and carefully considered craft. Satisfactory results? You’re doing it wrong. It’s time to start seeking exemplary and company changing results (or life changing for that matter). Because that’s what’s on the table.

  27. Carl Legg,

    I imagine you would probably change your stance if someone came to your small business and asked you provide whatever service or product you make, for FREE, on the hopes that you may get compensated for it later, if they like yours the best.

    Based on your viewpoint, I’m sure you must run your business like that. Send me your info, I’d love to hire you, or get free products from you, and then compensate you later if I feel like it.

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