If you want an example of a booming forum marketplace, there's your example. They don't use an iTrader system, they use something even more outdated by having voucher threads. However, Sythe is running on a dedicated server and is literally booming in marketplace trades and whatnot.
I'm not saying TF should focus on bringing back traffic by utilizing its marketplace as a selling point (in the far away past, it used to be), but that site is a great example of how it is done.
TF should be about freelancing and what it's like to be a freelancer. Hence the name, TalkFreelance, so it should be a community for freelancers. Ultimately if you have a community of freelancers, then your marketplace here will be booming. When one falls, both will fall, at least as long as you try to remain a freelancer community.
For the size of Sythe, I am really surprised I've never heard of it before. From the looks of it - it is extremely busy. However, from their slogan of being the "craigslist of virtual goods", in my opinion, only opens books to lots and lots of scammers that crowd forums like these. However, here is a kicker - DigitalPoint does have an iTrader, but it still doesn't stop scammers from posting garbage, lying and stealing. Between a hyperactive marketplace and the one that features good stuff, I always have and always will side with a smaller quality marketplace (or as much quality as we can attract).
We have to approach this with a completely different mentality (an opposite end) and look at the marketplace by establishing an environment that: (a) monitors who gets in, and (b) provides direct real benefits to best talent of the house. As I mentioned, VG has developed a custom product for us that can help TalkFreelance, a community of professionals who want/try to make their living out of freelance activity, to get a renewed shot in the long run.
Samshelton22, I deeply appreciate the ideas you throw our way.
Let me clarify. Sythe does have a lot of scammers that go through it, but newcomers on Sythe are heavily, heavily scrutinized.
Almost every trade involves a middleman, or a guy who makes sure the seller actually has what he/she is selling, this way there is some sort of verification (or attempted verification) before the buyer sends money. In addition, if there is a problem with the payment, the seller or buyer tells the middleman. Most middlemen have direct communication with the site staff, and bans are handed out very leniently. Thus, there is a barrier to scamming because there is always more than two people involved in a transaction. This makes buying/selling on sythe much more safe than on DP.
The fact that voucher threads are used instead of iTrader means that you cannot simply "sneak" feedback to a user. If you try to sneak feedback, you end up bumping your vouches thread in the Vouches forum, and if all your vouches are coming from new members then you will be subject to scrutiny.
Ultimately what Sythe has done is put a real person in-between the buyer and seller in every case (human-proofing transactions). A middleman isn't required for every sale on Sythe, but most buyers/sellers request one. If a buyer/seller refuses a middleman, there is a high chance they are a scammer and will be reported (and banned shortly).
Not all bans are permanent. Most are temporary infractions, but a 2 or 3 week ban is long enough for a scammer to try not to come back and use the same account again.
I think the problem with scammers on websites like these (and flippa, ebay and Synthe) is that the majority of payments go through paypal. Now, personally, I love paypal - but it really is EASY for scammers to get away with things. Simple chargebacks, imaginary issues and the like.
The most obvious way to get around this is Escrow. But realistically, the fees are too high for the majority of the transactions that take place here. I suggest two things.
1.) All payments go through an escrow like service - perhaps you could develop your own esrow-esque system? OR
2.) Proper contracts. The majority of the transactions I've done here (service based) haven't used any form of contracts. I was willing to take those risks because the costs were so low. But look at the old "Anthony" threads, see how many people he scammed? Can anyone do anything about it? Nope. Perhaps some sort of pre-defined contract system for hiring freelancers THROUGH talkfreelance would be cool.
Does that fix everything? Hell-no. There will ALWAYS be scammers. People who live to get around the system. The only thing we can do, as honest community members (or owner) - is to lessen the risk. For all I know, I'll have a good working relationship with someone here, always using contracts etc. Finally, I want to hire that person for a HUGE project. I trust him/her, send over my $20k --> and boom, he's run away, left the country, never to be seen again. Anyone could be a scammer. Perhaps Village Idiot or Salathe will do just that ...who knows!
That's the only issue I've ever had with the whole virtual freelancing gigs. That person isn't coming into my office every day. I don't have the guys birth certificate, passport details or anything of the sort. Again, you can lessen the risk by hiring a freelancer from your country (I know, this sort of defeats the purpose) - but if things go wrong, and the freelancer lives in a different jurisdiction - there is NO plan B!
On Sythe, I once had to conduct a transaction through playerauctions.com, which is an escrow service.
But yes, you're right in that the most secure way is to have an escrow service. The problem is that people don't like to have their payments held for X days if the other guy just decides to not say anything. In addition there are escrow fees, although on Sythe these fees are split between buyer and seller in most cases.
What a lot of people on Sythe do is have the buyer send payment, then open a dispute, then close it. This way, the buyer cannot open a dispute again and try to get the money back.
In my opinion, the idea of a middle-man would only work for digital content such as e-books. When it comes to design, what designer selling his artwork would ever release the source files to a random middle man (unless it is a member of staff) for verification? After all, artwork is a visual object - if you can see it - it exists.
Being a freelancer community, services like coding, designing, SEO services, etc are out of the question for any middle-man to verify or control.
Contracts can be offered and this is something I was thinking about - to offer community members a set of sample contracts they could use to protect themselves (although from experience, established designers and programmers use their own custom agreements that fits their processes). However, even if payment is made up front, nomatch is correct on the argument that scammers use PayPal for scamming purposes. Whether it is performing a chargeback or using stolen credit cars to process payments, etc.
Escrow is also highly limiting in where it can be applied. While applicable for items like domains, designs, it is difficult, expensive and labour intensive to tailor Escow for service providers. I still like the idea very much (an easy built-in escrow tool is possible, monitored by staff), but I wonder why Flippa didn't implement one.
In my view, it is the responsibility of each member to operate within the environment and rules they choose to follow. If someone wants to use Escrow, there are great tools available. If someone wants to write up a contract, the resources are available. My core idea was not based on too much policing (motivated scammers will always walk around the system anyway), but in attraction of quality providers and talented artists, who are already educated enough on how to protect themselves.
Samshelton22, how did you envision exactly for our marketplace to function? What makes a perfect marketplace for You?
Artashes, before I can answer that question, I need to know what kind of things you intend to allow on the marketplace.
In the most ideal case, this freelance forum would be bustling with freelancers selling their services, and for that you would probably want an escrow service.
Right now most of the freelancers are gone, and the people selling things are mostly just trying to sell unwanted stuff or work from an unfinished/canceled project. Both of those are fine, but when your marketplace consists of only those kinds of things (which appears to be the case now), then that's where you have a problem.
I've mentioned before that I have no clue how to get a freelance community going. For gaming communities, it's much easier because you don't necessarily need good content to attract people. For a freelance community, I figure you would need that sort of stuff. I would say that's where you need to start first, because it's hard for me to envision a marketplace without a community. In my mind, a community can create a marketplace but not the other way around (at least not easily). Hence, we need to be focusing our efforts on drawing freelancers here instead of encouraging them to dump their unwanted works for sale in the marketplace.
The first webdev/freelance community I joined was ClanTemplates, and that's because I was doing a lot of gaming at the time and wanted a cool template for my clan's site. ClanTemplates offered a lot of free templates for use, and the site was bustling with activity from web designers creating, getting critique, and selling designs to gamers looking to hook up with other gamers and create clans, play together, practice together, etc.
Basically I think we need to focus on community building. For example, a place where people can get critique from the community on their stuff (preferably something better than General Discussion) would be nice. In addition, you need some very good people here on staff, otherwise there's no critique that's going to happen. This means gathering some of the best designers that are already part of this community (the ones who can spot good and non-ideal design) and promote them to mod of the critique forum, or something else.
In terms of product development, the above would only be the execution. You would still need marketing to start generating traffic even if you have the staff and community-centric aspects in place. I honestly don't know enough about freelance forums (or even the freelance community in general) to give good advice on this. As I mentioned in another post, it's best to bring in an expert, see if you can combine forces with another forum that's also struggling, etc.