If developer David Sterry has his way, the freelance websites of the world, including Upwork, fiverr, peopleperhour, and eLance, won't be around much longer. He's creating a completely decentralized freelance services marketplace that uses smart contracts, distributed microhosting, and bitcoin.
“Nobody can stop your Bitcoin payment from being confirmed. Similarly, nobody can stop trade in a decentralized market.”
- David Sterry, Rein
Rein is described on its project website as an open source, decentralized, professional services market, meaning it's a freelance service that no one controls and no one can take down. Like Bitcoin, it's designed to be unstoppable and uncensorable.
What OpenBazaar aims to do for the free trade of goods, Rein is designed to do for the free trade of labor. That means no middlemen and all of the benefits in efficiency that come with that; No imposed fees, no waiting for another party, no bureaucracy, nobody to remove your listing, no one to freeze your account, and no one to place a hold on your funds for reasons you don't agree with. It's the wild west again, this time in the jobs market.
“For years demand has been growing for decentralized markets, but even as the need has become clearer, it remains unfulfilled. Centralized markets have come and gone while some decentralized projects have an overly broad mission that ignores the key value proposition for Bitcoin.”
The software is currently only available in a command-line interface-driven alpha version, but it has already demonstrated a basic working, trustless trade from beginning to end.
The platform is designed for any kind of labor that doesn't need a physical presence, from social media marketing to writing and graphic design. Rein has been designed to help the parties find each other, host the communication, facilitate and host the cryptographically-signed contracts, and ultimately ensure that no party is cheated by the other in a decentralized manner.
Another blessing or curse, depending on your own personal beliefs, is that Rein is also being designed to be used fully anonymously. Each user profile in Rein can build up a reputation over time, but unless you specifically link it to your real-world identification, such as past work profiles on other websites, it is possible to use Rein completely pseudonymously, again like Bitcoin and OpenBazaar.
Unlike the latter, however, Rein's developers are working on a TOR interface to keep users from being tracked, if they choose to use it. The merits of doing so will no doubt be debated for years, but if similar projects in the past are any indication, using TOR with Rein could prove to be a double-edged sword that runs the risk of inviting black-market activities into the Rein market, from corporate espionage up to hiring professional hitmen.
“You can create one or as many identities as you'd like, however, tools will inevitably be built around reputation common sense states that those with established, positive track records will enjoy the most favorable work and output.”
Like OpenBazaar's moderators, mediators in Rein hold an automatically-generated third key for every payment. The payment for every job is automatically stored in a 2-of-3 multisig address, where escrowed funds can be returned, split or awarded. Signatures also provide accountability and a foundation for ratings and reputation, Stery states. This format also provides a way for mediators to earn fees by resolving disputes.
The closest thing Rein has to competition in the bitcoin world is a pair of centralized freelance services, Cryptogrind and XBTFreelancer. While both of these platforms have similar bitcoin-oriented features, such as multisignature escrow, they are still centralized, censorable, closed-source, and ask for fees of 4% and 5% respectively.
"Online outsourcing (OO) has become a promising alternative to traditional employment in today’s digital era...For employers, OO provides broader access to specialized skills, more flexible and faster hiring processes, and 24‐hour productivity. For workers, this form of outsourcing has created new opportunities to access and compete in global job markets."
- The World Bank
The World Bank Group issued a report in June 2015 predicting that the global freelancing industry, a market it calls Online Outsourcing (OO), will grow to 112 Million registered workers, earning $4.4 billion in 2016.
When including the OO market for microwork, from the likes of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk marketplace, the World Bank projects the total online outsourcing (OO) industry to be $4.8 billion in 2016. In addition, the OO industry will generate gross services revenue in the range of $15 billion to $25 billion by 2020.
The organization also states that of OO workers live in the US, with 23.9 percent of the workforce, and India, with 21.5 percent. However, the Philippines, with 18.6 percent, has the greatest proportion of their population engaged in the industry.
In addition, the World Bank found that most OO workers are “millennials,” individuals born between 1981 and 2000. A separate report by Deloitte estimates that millennials will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, but they are already the largest segment of the workforce in the US. The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016 shows that 66 percent of millennials “would quit his or her current employer to join a new organization or to do something different.”
There’s also a Freelancers Union available, with over 290,000 registered users. They offer benefits not normally extended to freelancers such as medical benefits plans, tax advice, and industry advocacy.
According to an eye-opening report from the union, with statistics from the elance and oDesk (now Upwork) marketplaces: “There are 53 million Americans — 34 percent of the U.S. workforce — working as freelancers,” and “this workforce is adding $715 billion annually to the [US] economy through their freelance work.”
Another independent report, from financial services provider Payoneer, shows that freelance professionals work an average of 36 hours per week with over 80% of respondents reported working on 1 to 3 jobs at a time.
The average hourly rate charged by freelancers worldwide is US$21, while those providing legal services charge the highest rate at $31 per hour.
PeoplePerHour, a popular freelance website in the UK that claims to be the “largest digital marketplace for Freelance talent,” has 412,000 freelancers from several different countries. The site has a dedicated research department that makes some pretty forward-looking claims: "We predict that by 2020, 1 in 2 people will be working in a Freelance capacity in both the United States and the United Kingdom."
Rein’s code has a long way to go before it’s ready for these levels of freelancer traffic, but it is downloadable from the project website and Github today. Anyone who would like to help develop the project is invited to get started by forking the code at Github immediately.
“Rein brings together Bitcoin, multisig escrow, microhosting servers, ECDSA-signed documents and balanced incentives to create a decentralized labor market. With it, we have the potential to grow trustless trade, improve accountability, and reduce friction.” - Sterry