Txteagle pays mobile phone users for short tasks

MIT researcher turns to entrepreneurialism.

Published October 2, 2008 6:12PM (EDT)

Whenever I'm waiting for a train, or am waiting in line at a shop, I find that I can't just be idle. I either am listening to a podcast, or texting a friend, or using the Internet on my iPhone. Probably lots of people have a few minutes a day where they're just waiting for something to happen and they happen to have their cellphone handy. This is certainly a worldwide phenomenon, as people from California to Kenya are armed with mobile phones. But what if there were a way to both harness that communicative power and tap the brains that those phones are attached to -- say, a more mobile and human version of SETI@Home.

Enter txteagle (that's "text eagle"), a crowd-sourced mechanical turk of sorts for mobile phone users in the developing world. Created in April by MIT researcher Nathan Eagle, txteagle lets mobile phone users complete small tasks by sending and receiving text messages as jobs on behalf of companies who pay for that work in cellphone credit (airtime) or money.

Here's an example: Nokia wants to translate its technological words like "address book" into localized African languages, like Giriama. A bilingual and literate speaker of English and Giriama could receive such a message and send back whatever he or she thinks the appropriate translation should be. Or another example would be a short audio clip that a company or public entity might want to be transcribed.

As the txteagle site states:

Using SMS concatenation [splitting a single long text message over multiple messages], we have shown that 5 lines of audio text can be written down by hand and then copied into an SMS in less than 2 minutes. Paying proficient users $3/hour to do this work on their mobile phone drops the cost to 2 cents per line. Even collecting 100% overhead to cover payments to the operator and our other partners, this still results in a price reduction of over 60% from the today’s transcription rates, corresponding to an annual savings within the medical transcription industry of over 7 billion dollars.

As best I can tell, txteagle isn't live yet, but is soon to be launched in Kenya and the Dominican Republic. (I have an e-mail in to Nathan Eagle to ask him what the status is these days.) But beyond working in the developing world, I think this would work well in the global North as well. I'd love to be able to do a quick little task in exchange for some cellphone credit or text messaging credit -- especially given that here in Europe (as in the developing world) a lot of people have prepaid accounts.

What do you guys think? Would you spend a few minutes on some quick task in exchange for money or phone credit?

[via CBC Spark]

By Cyrus Farivar

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