The disruption of work
While crowdsourcing was originally seen as a way to outsource very specific tasks – typically around design tasks – sites such as Freelancer.com are opening up labour markets across a much broader range of sectors and skills.
While there are still a lot of tech-related tasks being outsourced on Freelancer.com – jobs developing mobile, social media and video applications surged last year – the biggest growth area was a task very dear to my heart – writing (and rewriting) articles.
As Barrie explains, a lot of this writing is for SEO purposes. Google loves content, so website operators are desperate to try and get as much of it on their site.
The quality and the price varies widely. As Barrie says, articles written at 50c for 500 words are not really "fit for human consumption" although search engines apparently eat these pieces up.
However, if you really want to splurge, you can get a team of MBA graduates in India writing high-quality bits of analysis for just $5-10 for 500 words.
Those sorts of rates are enough to make journalists shudder, although as we do point out today, even the Google search algorithm recognises the value of high-quality, original content.
Content that people want to read because it adds real value will always beat junk churned out for next to nothing.
However, the way sites such as Freelancer.com has opened up outsourcing to SMEs does raise some interesting questions for entrepreneurs about how we work, what we can charge and the real value underpinning our businesses.
As Barrie argues, the growth of online outsourcing is only just beginning. In the coming years, waves of educated, low-cost workers will come on stream in what represents a huge disruption to the labour market.
"We need to remember that 70% of the world's population is not on the internet but they are connecting now. And the average salary for these people is less than $10 a day," Barrie says.
This raises some fascinating questions about the way businesses operate.
If a company can outsource a high-end task that was previously considered crucial to keep in-house for a fraction of the price, how will this change the labour force?
If your customers suddenly figure out they can outsource more of the tasks that they pay you to do, what product or service will you provide?
Outsourcing isn't perfect – far from it, in many cases – but the internet has made it possible to tap these global pools of cheap labour in new ways.
That is creating opportunities to cut costs, but it's also likely to create huge challenges.