When looking for "oDesk scam" in Google, many people seem to complain about oDesk because they got some job poorly done or feel that they wasted their time.
oDesk is only a tool to find service providers. Most of the problems you will get on oDesk come from the service providers themselves, not from the tool.
Victim of its own rules
It is true however that it is in the tool's responsibility to influence how a community grows and encourage better quality. Like in any tool, each feature has an impact on how the community will behave.
StackOverflow as an example of good design
StackOverflow.com is the perfect example of how smart rules and features helped build a smart community.
They introduced the concept of badges and score to award their users and grant them more access gradually.
They also enabled the website to self-moderate itself by having clear rules, empowering their trusted users.
They have found the right balance between restrictions and freedom.
Bad early design can impact what your community becomes
Before working on TaskArmy, I used to develop games on Facebook.
I found early that the words I was using in every pages on my games influenced who would use my games and how they would interact with it.
In one of my games for example, by using a fun tone the community grew younger.
But the features I would include would also influence the community.
By including a live chat on the front page (something that no one had done before in Facebook) the community started to grow stronger bonds between the players. People were making true friends inside my games.
But features or rules can destroy a community too.
The way I designed the game made it possible for people to cheat. They would create ghost accounts in Facebook to get more points or create automated bots.
Gradually, the players started complaining about the cheaters or became cheaters themselves and soon enough everyone was accusing each other of cheating.
Although I was aware of the issue and the trend, I had no easy way to fix the problem because the issue was so deep in the fundamental rules of the game.
I believe Odesk faces issues of the same nature. They would have to dramatically change the way the platform works to be able to increase the quality of your experience on the website. They are victim of their own rules.
On oDesk, the freelancers bid against each other in a war to the bottom. This drives the perceived costs down for the buyers but it also dramatically drives the quality of the work down as well because the freelancers don't have the time to pay attention to the details, the budget not allowing it.
Anyone can join oDesk as a service provider and this low barrier of entry leads to many low quality applicants. A recent discussion on Hacker News attests that this topic is really becoming problematic right now.
How TaskArmy solves this
This is why at TaskArmy, all the service providers are pre-filtered before they can appear on the website. This alone removes a lot of risks and noise for the buyers. We do the hard work of picking the good ones from the bad ones.
Also, it is the freelancer who defines the price of his services. Like in the supermarket, you simply choose the service you want and see what price it has. We never encourage freelancers to lower their prices and emphasize the value of a service over the price of a service.
To conclude, Odesk is not a scam but I believe it opens their platform to abuse.
TaskArmy intends to minimize your risks when you outsource. Give us a try!