oDesk: job search meets the online exchange

Online service bills itself as an on-demand global workforce

Back in the day, dot-com marketplaces -- virtual bazaars where buyers and sellers could shop, haggle, and conduct business -- were all the rage. (Remember eCattle.com, the online exchange for livestock?) Most of those environments went down with the bursting of the Internet bubble, but that doesn't mean the idea of online exchanges wasn't a good one -- just that it needed time to mature.

oDesk, which bills itself as an on-demand global workforce, may be evidence that the idea is ready for a renaissance.

CEO Gary Swart describes oDesk as a global marketplace that lets employers hire, manage, and pay at globally competitive rates software developers, designers, and programmers. Buyers, or employers in this case, are able to search for talent around the world based on skills, work history, pay rates, and ratings from former employers. On the other side, skilled workers post their resumes along with special skills, job history, and desired rate of pay.

The site is managed by oDesk. Once an employer hires a worker, the remote employee gains access to the company's team room. Using the typical multi-tenant architecture, oDesk creates virtual team rooms for each employer where they can communicate through video, instant messaging, and voice chat with their remote employees. Team rooms also allow participants to share code, do bug tracking, and make assignments.

The team room is a collaborative environment that gives the employer a view into how their employee is working. They can see when their hires check in, how long they have been working, and even what they are working on.

"When a person logs in, they have effectively just punched the clock. There is always online presence," says Swart.

Part of the oDesk solution is a work monitoring component that gives the employer visibility into an employee's desktop, taking a snapshot of the desktop six times per hour. The system also has an activity log that monitors keyboard strokes and mouse clicks.

Half of those posting their job skills are individual contract workers, while half are actually represented by "affiliate" staffing firms that send out contract workers.

Employers can also conduct skill tests.

"We pay for the skill test like a test on AJAX skills," Swart said.

Swart also notes that employers get can some real bargain rates.

"AJAX programmers usually get $US100 per hour, but if you go to oDesk you can pay as low as $15 per hour."

Although it is just under three years old, oDesk already has 11,000 providers with their technical skills rated, ranked, and tested. There are currently about 1,000 jobs posted.

As a remote site, Swart breaks down the contract worker locations: 30 percent of the work is being done in India, 30 percent from Eastern Europe, and the remainder from the U.S., Canada, South America, and China.

Although this is a SaaS (software as a service) solution, oDesk's business model is not based on a monthly fee. Rather it gets paid 10 percent of the hourly rate, usually paid for by the buyer.

Employers are happy, and so are workers, citing one "stay at home" mom who earns $US30,000 a year as a part time programmer.

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