Innovation That Matters

Quick tasks via SMS for phone users in the developing world

Work & Lifestyle

Both ShortTask and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk enable Internet-connected computer users to earn money performing quick tasks for organizations far and wide. Now, a new project aims to bring similar income opportunities to those in the developing world using the ubiquitous mobile phone. Targeting the more than 2 billion literate mobile phone subscribers in the developing world, txteagle aims to help alleviate high unemployment levels in many rural areas of countries like Kenya with a crowdsourcing approach that offers new ways to earn extra money. The service connects corporations with small tasks to be completed—currently, the most common ones include software localization and translation into local dialects for companies like Nokia—and native people who can complete them in minutes by cell phone. Tasks are sent to multiple phone users by text message—”translate the phrase, ‘address book’ into Giriama,” for example—and answers are accepted as accurate when the majority of users provide the same response. Compensation is determined by the number of times an individual’s response agrees with the consensus; penalties are imposed for wrong answers, while “don’t know” responses make no contribution. Over time the system learns a particular user’s expertise, and can actively select the most appropriate tasks for them. It can also weight answers from long-term and historically accurate users higher than others, making it necessary to involve fewer other individuals when those users respond. Payment is made either to a bank account connected with an individual’s phone number—accessible at any post office or local kiosk—or via airtime credit transfers. The txteagle service is currently deployed in Kenya via Mobile Planet and Safaricom, and will soon be launching in Rwanda through MTN Rwanda and in the Dominican Republic through Viva. Additional partnerships in Africa and South America will be announced later this year, txteagle says. Also in the works is a version of the service that uses the commonly found Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) protocol instead of SMS. One to partner with, try out or otherwise get involved in…? Spotted by: Susanna Haynie



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