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The Surprising Trends in Who Crowdsources Work From Where
© Image: Screenshot by Eric Mack /

The Surprising Trends in Who Crowdsources Work From Where

Elance, one of the largest global marketplaces for cloud labor, recently directed me to their annual report that looks at trends in global online employment based on their internal data. The numbers paint a picture of clear and sustained growth for the online labor market that's consistent with what we've been seeing for at least the last half-decade, but what is most interesting is to note where many of the workers and the companies they perform tasks for are located.

According to Elance's 2012 data set, the top hiring country and the country where the most freelancers are located is one and the same -- the United States. According to the most recent numbers, there are over 700,000 American freelancers on the platform, with more than 200,000 of those joining up in the last 12 months, a number that makes up more than a quarter of the total new freelancers added worldwide.

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The platform also breaks down growth by state, finding that "Hard-hit states with higher (un)employment rates saw record freelance earnings over the past year: Rhode Island (+89%), Mississippi (+67%), New Jersey (+58%), Michigan (+54%) and California (+41%)."

Some of the skills most in demand that saw a surge in freelance earnings on Elance in 2012 centered around designing for the web and programming for platforms like iOS and Android, as well as online content creation.

Besides the United States, other top hiring countries include Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and UAE, but the nations seeing the most growth in hiring include China, South Africa, India and a handful of European countries. In terms of where freelancers call home, the U.S. is followed by India, Pakistan, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, but Brazil, Australia, Egypt and South Africa are on the rise, as are a few of the European nations hardest hit by the economic downturn, namely Spain and Italy.

The online labor landscape painted by these statistics bucks the conventional wisdom about crowdsourcing and cloud labor in more ways than one. First, there's the fact that more cloud workers are based in the United States than in India, and then there's China's rapid rise as a major hiring center for online workers, with a 204 percent increase in hiring from the mainland via Elance in 2012.

While this data reflects just a single, Silicon Valley-based cloud labor platform, it appears to be yet another microcosm demonstrating how the crowd and cloud are shifting the geography of where work gets done, often in ways that defy the current assumptions.

You can see Elance's full 2012 report here.

 - Eric Mack is Managing Editor for  He has covered business, technology and politics for more than a decade for major outlets including CNET, CBS, AOL, NPR, Wired, and the New York Times.  You can contact him at Find him on Twitter and Google+. Also be sure to follow on Twitter and join our Crowdsourcing community on Google+.

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