Newsletter - sign up here
Search Webster
Webster's pieces from The Oldie
Webster's Webwatch

New jobs for old

June 2016

One of the more intriguing pursuits on the internet, with all its glories and tragedies, is watching more and more people using it to earn a living in ways which simply would not have been possible twenty, or even ten, years ago.

This might be a specialist who is hired to impersonate you online, for example.  Despite what you might think, many public figures who appear to post topical and witty comments on Facebook or Twitter are often employing a professional copywriter and someone to do the technical work.  The apparently effortless snap from your favourite actor on holiday may well be the result of a couple of hours of work.  You can also be sure that when David Cameron “tweets” he is far from being the only person involved.

There is a growing industry of people doing this work, and all those people get paid, because their work safeguards the profile of the person concerned.  This sort of income just didn’t exist ten years ago.   It’s true that famous people have always employed Public Relations experts, but the connection between star and fan has never before been so immediate, and apparently, so intimate, whilst at the same time being totally public.  It takes some managing.

Then there are the profitable businesses that have sprung directly from the roots of the internet, like ivy growing up a tree.

A good example is  If you are one of those (as I am) who use oil to heat your house, then you will be aware what a jungle the oil supply industry is. You have to ring several local suppliers and play them off against each other; it’s a tedious and very un-British way of going on.

However, if you group together and order in bulk, suddenly the suppliers are interested.  This is fine if there is a local person with the time and energy to organise it, but it’s a lot of work, and unrewarding.

This where the internet steps in.  Amongst other similar websites, can do it for you.  I order my oil through them; they amalgamate orders in a locality and then the oil companies bid to supply what is by now a decent sized amount of oil.  The cheapest gets the deal.  It costs me nothing; get a fee from the winning supplier.

It is a national service but run by only two people who started it in the bad winter of 2010, realising that as a single small customer they meant very little to the big oil companies. I imagine that the individual commission payments are quite small, but by using the ubiquity of the internet they can handle many orders, and you know what happens to the pounds when you look after the pennies.

Then there’s, which watches prices at the major supermarkets. The trick here is to use it to monitor some branded goods that you always buy (in my case, Famous Grouse Whisky).  It will alert you when there are special deals, and you can pounce.  In the case of Famous Grouse, it seems to be cheapest in the run up to major Christian festivals; I don’t know what that says about Church of England congregations.

Then there are very large businesses you won’t know about, with names like Dotdigital and VE Interactive, which help companies manage their email or their online visitors and which are crucial to making the websites profitable.

All these business are really a numbers game; the individual commissions they receive are often very small – pennies – but by harnessing the almost limitless marketplace that is the world wide web, many a mickle makes a muckle.

The internet has made it possible to create new, profitable businesses that employ thousands, just as older industries wither and die.  We are only a couple of decades into this; as I keep on saying, we haven’t seen the half of it yet.