Today's website is harder to do, due to open source...
True, the bar is higher. Back in the 90's you could slap together some HTML and a few animated GIF's and call it a website. Today, expectations are higher. But is it harder to do? The breadth of technologies involved are definitely more complex, but our tools have also become much more sophisticated & powerful.
A lot of the things I do are much easier now than they were years ago. When I think of the early days, and the horrid little projects I built (in ASP) and how many months & weeks I laboured over the stupidest little widgets, slicing up graphics to make rounded corners, nesting <table>s fifteen deep to accomplish simple layouts, wrangling Access databases with ODBC... I shudder.
And do you really think it's harder due to open source? I don't...
But I'll think of you the next time I rev up a new Linux instance, set up a blog for a client in less than 5 minutes, or piece together an awesome AJAX widget using MooTools.
freelancer programmer no market today
Actually, programming skills - especially web technologies - are in hot demand.
I think the O.P. might mean for programmers. And I agree, it's devalued, when buyers/clients caught wind they could "outsource" everything for pennies on the dollar, these highly technical skills brought less and less dinner to the table.
Until programmers and developers stop selling themselves - and the rest of us - short by working for pennies, it's not going to get any better.
I don't think it's developers selling themselves short. It's more like free market forces resulting from the international market. When you can get the same percieved skills in a western country for $100 an hour, or get similiar services for $10 in a non-westernized or developing country, there goes the job at $100/hour.
If we could hire lawyers and real estate agents from around the globe instead of locally, how long do you think it'd be before they were still earning the income that they do now?
They're already outsourcing doctors. I've heard that in some countries, it's cheaper to fly a consumer to India for a medical treatment than it is to have the medical treatment done in country.
Thankfully I'm in a niche where I don't have to compete with hungrier people on the other side of the world.
Given that the dollar was worth a lot more then, that's almost fair market. :-) There's nothing wrong with that - all I'm saying is this is what the entire market has gotten to, not just a newbie trying to build a portfolio or cut a break.
To put my comments in "real numbers," I'm talking about bids for website design, coding a design to a full site, install a wordpress blog and configure my template to it, install a cms and build my web site, custom coded solutions - there are more but all of these I've seen (and co-bid on) a whole list of opening bids of $50 - $100. Much of the competing market is from India, Pakistan, Philippines, Africa, Russia, but a lot of it - IMO almost half - is right here in the U.S. and Canada.
As a freelancing programmer or coder, even with years of skills behind you, the market is not just tough, it's brutal. "Web Gurus" have output whole ebooks on how to work providers to the last dime. The one thing that allowed me to survive was comprehensive proposals that focused on the client's problem, not my skills or portfolio. example [webmasterworld.com]
I think you need to take into account several factors for the low bids you see by freelancers.
Someone may have the work ready and while you calculate the work to do from scratch can cost $1000, all the competitor has to do is to copy some files and configure switches. This happens a lot with popular applications. What if you had the work ready also? You could ask for half of what another party bids on.
Also when bids are published the competition is very different, it may not even be real and cost of work artificially lowered. That doesn't mean you should be disappointed trying to get a month's work for $100. Position yourself with contracts you have expertise on and build long-term relationships with your clients. If the provider sees results on his investment he will get back to you.
At the same time choose your providers wisely. I stay away when I see providers stating the work should take 5 minutes or they don't have the time to do it themselves, or in general notions which imply quick hacks and long term problems.