On Tuesday night, the Internet lit up with big news: Facebook, along with a partnership of six other companies, launched a new global initiative called Internet.org. The mission is a bold one: making Internet access available to all, extending the opportunities of the connected world to the two-thirds of the world currently without web access.
A furor of commentary has followed the announcement, including speculation on whether the effort will be successful, how much it matters, and who stands to gain. But one key point has been missed: If Internet.org is successful, the increased connectivity that results would radically change the future of work.
A $27 Billion Opportunity
If the entire world were online, the possibilities for businesses everywhere would be massive. With more people able to tap into job opportunities via the Internet, there would be two key changes:
- Businesses will be able to alleviate talent shortages, helping them grow faster.
- More professionals will be able to find work and earn what they are worth in a global economy.
This sounds nice in theory, but what would the actual numbers look like if it were possible to have 100 percent of the world online? Based on current Staffing Industry Analysts market projections, analysis we've done at oDesk predicts that such a change would lead to approximately $27.6 billion of additional work via the Internet over a 10-year period.
An opportunity of that scale indicates just how poorly our job market currently functions. We have high unemployment rates, yet we constantly hear about talent shortages (especially in technology). In fact, according to a 2012 study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 66% of multinational companies say "talent shortages are likely to affect their bottom line within the next 5 years."
In the traditional employment model, there is no fluid transfer of supply and demand of talent between geographies. But imagine a world in which these talent-constrained companies can make the hires they need by finding people online and, in turn, give more work to the people who want it.
A Boon for Small Business
The truth is that talent gaps don't need to be so painful. Gaps exist when it's difficult to find an appropriate worker with the skills a business needs, when it needs them. This pain is especially acute for entrepreneurs and small business owners, who may not be able to justify full-time hires and who may have to compete against larger companies. Going online allows businesses to staff flexibly; this is a better fit for the more results-driven organizations of the future.
Companies are waking up to the fact that they need to think bigger. For example, Tom Preston Werner, CEO and co-founder of GitHub, says that anyone not running a company in a distributed way is, by definition, not hiring the most talented people in the world.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the U.S. government expanded interstate commerce by improving telephone access and highways across the country. The efforts of Internet.org, Google's "Loon For All" and other groups can now accomplish a similar task on a global level. Internet.org may be just a lot of talk at this stage, but the promise it holds is real. I, for one, hope it succeeds--for the sake of all of us who are ready to think bigger and build businesses together, regardless of where our ideal colleagues happen to be located.