Virtual Outsourcing: Signs of a “Me and Mine, Online” world

A new company specialises in ‘virtual outsourcing’ – piece rate work for the 21st century, enabled by the internet. It is a sign of one plausible future: a highly networked where successful companies are now more like branded hubs, coordinating often temporary and short-lived supplier relationships to deliver customised products.

In 2008, I led a project with Capgemini on the future of business and sustainability. We created four scenarios, and the resulting report was named after the fundamental recommendation: Acting now for a positive 2018, preparing for radical change. One of the scenarios we proposed was a highly networked world where people get small pieces of paid for work through the internet called Me and Mine, Online.  Now the Economist has called found a business which does ‘virtual outsourcing’ in the developing world, txteagle (see here, requires subscription)

“THE idea came to Nathan Eagle, a research scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, when he was doing a teaching stint in rural Kenya. He realised that, as three-quarters of the 4.6 billion mobile-phone users worldwide live in developing countries, a useful piece of technology is now being placed in the hands of a large number of people who might be keen to use their devices to make some money. To help them do so, he came up with a service called txteagle which distributes small jobs via text messaging in return for small payments….

“Mr Eagle hopes txteagle will do its bit by mobile “crowdsourcing”—breaking down jobs into small tasks and sending them to lots of individuals. These jobs often involve local knowledge and range from things like checking what street signs say in rural Sudan for a satellite-navigation service to translating words into a Kenyan dialect for companies trying to spread their marketing. A woman living in rural Brazil or India may have limited access to work, adds Mr Eagle, “but she can still use her mobile phone to collect local price and product data or even complete market-research surveys.” Payments are transferred to a user’s phone by a mobile money service, such as the M-PESA system run by Safaricom in Africa, or by providing additional calling credit.”

What is interesting is just how difficult it was for people to imagine the consequences of a highly networked world. I remember my colleagues looking at me as if I were a madman when I said that successful companies would be more like branded hubs, coordinating often temporary and short-lived supplier relationships to deliver customised products.

So, I’m a little relieved to find txteagle. It is a – small – proof of concept. And it will make explaining Me and Mine, Online a whole lot easier.


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