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How much market is there for freelance web developers

24 May 2020 - Fabian Muema

The market for web development as a whole is very large indeed.

The industry (of web media) is a very complex one, it is not like any other industry, we have these items labelled ‘websites’, ‘web applications’ and there is a general perception that these are commodities, but the problem is, they are not commodities.

This is where we encounter the first layer of complexity.

You see, everything about publishing to the World Wide Web is broadly defined as ‘digital media’. This overarching category represents what we are producing. We are producing media on a digital medium (!)

The big problem really, is that a vast number of people in our society simply do not understand what the World Wide Web is actually about.

We have coined the expression: “The Digital Divide” to describe the huge gap in understanding between the technically skilled and informed, and the public at large.

Web development is very much driven by commercial intentions, but this is not the only objective we have for publishing media on the web; the internet as a whole has a very mixed history.

I think we can gain a lot of clarity from studying the origins, and the main features of the internet, and the subsequent development of the World Wide Web; we are offered a specific version of what the web/internet is for, and about by Silicon Valley pundits and venture capitalists, but this is by no means the only version. The Silicon Valley ‘paradigm’ is dominant, but not absolutely so.

Very early on, when the TCP/IP protocol stack was very new, some very astute, and clever people immediately looked ahead, these people understood the implications of being able to combine all of the different private/public computer networks of the world into one enormous communications entity.

In terms of business and commerce this global network represented the means to reach everyone in a way that vastly improved on the broadcast technologies.

And so the web as ‘electronic billboard’ emerged.

But the WWW is not about presentation, it has a dual communications channel, this is the critical difference.

We went from being a single channel communications society, with television, radio, text publications, to a ‘dual channel’ society very rapidly!

We need to examine the implications of this dual channel, because this is precisely what differentiates the WWW from all other publication and communication media.

We all transitioned from passively receiving, to actively participating and producing. This, right here is what underlies the entire shift of our society.

We are still getting used to this enormous shift.

1995 to 2020 is 25 years, and this is about the time period where this complete shift of communication dynamics has been playing out.

Of course we can argue the precise timing, I have drawn the line in the sand from 1995 because I think it was this year which saw the most significant uptake of home based computing, and the emergence of telephone modems to connect with ISP accounts in great numbers.

Right from the start, we were confronted by the commercial ambitions of internet companies.

We all perceived the WWW as being like Don Draper’s ultimate dream!

But of course, there are multiple aspects to the ‘digital culture’ we began to build.

We rapidly discovered the benefit of being able to connect, but we were herded into mass coagulations, onto the Silicon Valley media baron sites.

Our inclination to flock, to collect into large groups quickly asserted itself, and ‘Google’ exploited the herd instinct very cleverly indeed.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, LinkedIn, YouTube -the major social media; it seems the people as a whole were able to be directed in vast numbers to these media sites.

Plutocrats, gurus, VC’s, technocrats, pundits, media personalities, marketing wizards of every type have been able to leverage the emergence of digital media; the web has become the new ‘mass media’ of our 21st Century.

Web Development is not just about building sites, it is concerned with the production of all kinds of media, placing these in favorable ways, adjusting the conditions and technical foundations, tweaking and rearranging, editing, securing, creating, designing, presenting, all kinds of verbs.

For the most part, people seek out technically skilled people to help them produce what they perceive as being the right way to present their intentions on the web.

There are a huge range of different intentions, but a majority of them are all concerned with promoting, enhancing, enabling the sale of something.

From the aspiring author, to the seller of second-hand items we are all trying to sell to one another.

This is what freelance web developers tacitly imply: “I will enable you to make money, and become visible on the WWW.

This is the prime objective for many people.

For the most part, this is what is being said, but of course the devil is in those details!

People develop all kinds of ideas, and impressions concerning what will be advantageous for them.

Freelance sites are bursting at the seams, chocked full of customers all telling skilled people what they want them to do.

And this is the problem.

People don’t like being not in control.

People feel uncomfortable having to hand over their destiny to a technical person; they want to feel they understand and know what is required, so they form this view of developers as being an irritating necessity, and they have developed this false idea that web applications, and sites, and videos, podcasts, graphics, text are all products they can purchase off the shelf.

So, yes, there is a huge market for good skills.

There is a growing demand for people who can help others to achieve their ambitions, and get their ideas up and published on the web.

But, there is an even greater need for effective education, and informing people about the WWW, communication, practical skills.

We are still in the very early days of being immersed in the digital media world, we like to think we are sophisticated and clever, but in reality that ‘digital divide’ is as wide as ever.