Elance, Spammers, and the Global

Elance, Spammers, and the Global Economy
A friend recently mentioned that he had had good luck using eLance for outsourcing some work at his company. eLance is a web site that connects contractors with companies looking to outsource projects. Companies post projects, including detailed descriptions of the work to be done, and contractors or contract houses bid on them. My friend used eLance for some web design and graphics work, as well as some Java coding, and he was terribly impressed. The bids were cheap, and the work was done as promised.
My interest was piqued, and I browsed the site. There are several potential projects at Trustic that could be outsourced. Bids for many of the software development projects were way under what I believed they should cost. Many of the bidding companies are based out of India or other developing nations. It’s encouraging to see that technology know-how continues to spread throughout the world, although it’s easy to see that much software development work will leave the U.S. over the next few years for these countries. There’s just no way to compete when salaries in India are 1/3rd of what they are in America. And thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to collaborate with a team that’s half-way around the world. There’s still the time difference, but that’s manageable. There are, of course, several valid reasons to not outsource projects in this way, but that’s not the point here.
So eLance is apparently a good way to harness a cheap, knowledgeable workforce. But what I found that was really interesting were the projects themselves that were up for bid. While you cannot view an entire project description on eLance unless you’re a registered service provider, you can get a pretty good idea of what a project’s about by looking at the project titles. So what were many of the projects on eLance about? A quick scan revealed project titles such as: “Email Address Extraction From Web Site”, “Ebay Email Extractor”, “Linux highspeed directmailer”, and “Bulk E-Mail and E-Mail Extraction Project”. Elance is providing a way for spammers to develop new spam technologies, utilizing a cheap, skilled global work force!
If it wasn’t apparent before, this is ample evidence that not all spammers are dumb, get-rich-quick types. Spamming technology is developing right along with anti-spamming techniques, and you can’t assume one side has technical superiority. Because of this, I believe that a system like Trustic is the best long term solution to the spam problem. Divide the world into trusted and untrusted email servers and depend on a community of users to maintain the list. It’s not based on a filter algorithm or other system that can be reverse engineered or tested against. Either a server has been judged to have a tendency, through either policy or configuration, to send spam, or it doesn’t. No spammer technology can get around that.