Of course, like most aspects of the cryptoeconomy, much of the Ethereum-based innovations that are being built toward gig economy workers are still fledgling themselves. Accordingly, some of these innovations’ novelties are still in an experimental state or on the horizon for now.
With that said, the potential is there to change how the blooming arena of temporary work is performed in our increasingly hyper-connected, digital world. And the stakes are getting higher, as the Harvard Business Review estimated last year that 150 million workers in Western Europe and North America were now gig workers.
Gig Economy Is Ripe for Disintermediation
The fact is there are no shortage of centralized freelancer-focused companies in the world today, but many of the most popular ones charge high fees or run unaccountable operations and thus leave much to be desired for workers.
A rather infamous episode happened a few years back, when popular freelancer website Elance rebranded to Upwork. Unfortunately, the transition wasn’t desired or smooth for many in the platform’s community, and the shift essentially ruined the profiles of more than a few of Elance’s top earners and beyond.
That anecdote is not dissimilar in spirit from one provided by Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin on his own website, wherein Buterin described how he first realized the immense frustration that a centralized company can create:
“I happily played World of Warcraft during 2007-2010, but one day Blizzard removed the damage component from my beloved warlock’s Siphon Life spell. I cried myself to sleep, and on that day I realized what horrors centralized services can bring.”
And so later came Ethereum and the dApps built on top of it, and they offer new decentralized ways forward. One of those ways is to efficiently disintermediate middlemen in gig economy transactions where middlemen can be egregious, e.g. in charging unreasonably high withdrawal fees.
Projects to Track in the Arena
There are a few interesting threads currently happening around the Ethereum ecosystem that may be of increasing interest to freelancers.
For example, this month the decentralized employment project Opolis announced it had received a grant from DeFi heavyweight and Dai stablecoin creators MakerDAO, with the grant being set to help Opolis integrate Dai payments within its jobs platform.
Excited to announce that we have received a development grant from @MakerDAO! The grant will allow us to bring #Dai payment integrations to #Opolis' employment platform to further power the future of the #selfsovereign worker. Read the full announcement: https://t.co/DJdC8hMYh0 pic.twitter.com/hIiCXzLTik
— OPOLIS | ReGen Employment for Web2 & Web3 (@opolis) September 17, 2019
Toward powering the “future of the self-sovereign worker,” the employment project will thus soon have Dai within its wider umbrella of freelancer-friendly offerings:
“Through membership with one of Opolis’ Guilds, or Decentralized Employment Organizations (DEOs), freelancers, creatives, consultants and gig workers can access the same high quality benefits and services as full-time workers while remaining independent. Opolis will offer health insurance, cryptocurrency and traditional retirement plans, tax compliance automation and more to Guild members.”
Another project that strikes in a related vein is Sablier, which was first introduced back in June. Billed as a dApp for offering continuous salaries on Ethereum, Sablier — which was recently downgraded to the Rinkeby testnet out of caution — is designed around offering real-time payments to workers — payments by the minute, even.
2/ The payer deposits an amount of money in the smart contract and sets a pre-defined rate of payment.
Then, the contract allocates portions of the deposit to the recipient as time passes by (block numbers being the time proxy).
— Paul Razvan Berg (@PaulRBerg) June 1, 2019
But the dApp should return to the mainnet in due time, particularly if the MakerDAO team’s grant to the effort last month is any indication.
Yet Opolis and Sablier are but two examples of the possibilities that freelancers might be increasingly interested in using going forward. Even a simple Ethereum address and a verified cryptocurrency exchange account is enough for a remote worker to start getting paid online, but there are other creative options too.
Consider, for example, how Week in Ethereum News author Evan Van Ness offers annotated versions of the newsletter to those who have purchased associated non-fungible tokens of his own creation. These could be early sparks in a new kind of gig economy.