There is rising awareness among staffing firms and contingent workforce buyers on the subject of what SIA is calling "online staffing." As with many emerging developments, the semantics are still getting sorted out across the workforce management and technology industries. Different terms abound like online work (or labor) platforms, crowdsourcing platforms, talent exchanges, human clouds! And getting a firm grasp of what's actually going on can be challenging (and can even lead to--an unwarranted--cynicism).
To try to establish some clarity in our subsequent discussions and research of this significant set of developments and their implications and potential impacts for the staffing industry, we recently introduced a set of terms and definitions into our (recentlyupdated) "Lexicon of Global Contingent Workforce — Related Terms." Those terms and definitions are restated here below (and these terms and definitions are followed by links to two relevant articles/posts on the subject):
Talent Exchange — As defined by the Human Capital Institute (and used by other organizations, such as Taleo), an online (possibly cloud technology-based) platform spanning worker type (direct employee or contract, task based, project based or position based), location (work where appropriate, needed), and time (global environment, work when it makes sense).3 This broad definition could conceivably include job boards/social networks, crowdsourcing platforms, and what SIA identifies as “online staffing” platforms such as oDesk, elance, etc. (see Human Cloud, Job Board, Crowdsourcing, Online Staffing).
Online Staffing — A type of Talent Exchange (typified by a growing number of companies like oDesk and elance), consisting of an online platform where contingent workers, contractors, freelancers can offer their skills and services for limited projects or even on-going assignments and where organizations and individuals can post their requirements or put tasks/projects out to bid. Such platforms support not only the process of bringing buyers and sellers of contingent work together, but also support a range of other functions such as online work spaces or ways to transfer and communicate about work scheduled and performs and payment transaction mechanism between buyers and sellers. Online staffing platforms differ from crowdsourcing platforms in a number of ways, but the essential difference is that online staffing entails a clear set of work requirements and a (usually sub-contractual) commitment of an individual (or possibly an organized, orchestrated team) to complete the work for a determined financial reimbursement. Compensation is typically hourly or by fixed bid (SOW), but in crowdsourcing can also include significant pecuniary and non-pecuniary prizes.
Crowdsourcing — Merriam Webster Dictionary defines it broadly as “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.” Other definitions are more restrictive in the following requirements: (1) online work, (2) publicly sourced volunteers or people working for an achievement-based prize, (3) synergistic work activity performed independently, and often not contemporaneously, by individuals to solve a problem or complete a task. The crowdsourcing term is sometimes applied to the online process of “putting out to bid” specific work activities to remote independent workers who conduct the work and are compensated for it — a process and form of work engagement that SIA distinguishes from Crowdsourcing (see Online Staffing)
Human Cloud — Basically a very new term used to describe Talent Exchange, but with the implication that the online platform is supported by “cloud technology architecture” (see Talent Exchange)
For further SIA perspective of what is underlying these developments in terms of (generally speaking) 21st century e-platforms, see: "Why e-platforms Are a Force to Reckon With."
For oDesk's (3rd party platform provider) perspective on what such developments might mean to the staffing industry (at least in the short term), see: "OnlineSourcing Enhances Staffing."