[iDC] Exploitation...

Trebor Scholz scholzt at newschool.edu
Mon Jul 6 07:36:57 UTC 2009

Txteagle (http://txteagle.com/)

"For users: In many parts of the world there is an abundance of idle
time. txteagle makes it possible for anyone to earn small amounts of
money while completing tasks that just take a few seconds, whether while
waiting in line or resting at home."

"There are over 2 billion literate, mobile phone subscribers in the
developing world, many living on less than $5 a day.
Corporations pay people to accomplish millions of simple text-based
txteagle enables these tasks to be completed via text message by
ordinary people around the globe."

New service is all in a day's SMS by Alka Marwaha
BBC World Service

11 February 2009


A new scheme that distributes simple tasks via text messages is being
used to target a potential untapped work force in developing countries.

Txteagle is making it possible for many people in countries like Kenya
to earn small amounts of money by completing simple tasks like
translations or transcriptions.

Amazon's "Mechanical Turk" similarly divides up tasks but Txteagle
differs in that it distributes them via text messages over mobile
phones, which have a higher penetration rate - particularly in the
developing world.

Software localisation

The service was founded by Nathan Eagle, a researcher at the Santa Fe
Institute in New Mexico.

"What we typically focus on is words and phrases, and at the moment most
of our clients are interested in software localisation," Dr Eagle told
BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

"They approach us and say look, we have this whole slew of text-based
tasks, things like translations and transcriptions."

According to Txteagle, the total amount of idle time that literate,
English-speaking mobile phone subscribers have within the developing
world is estimated to be more than 250 million hours every day.

He feels that texting tasks like simple translations to participants in
developing countries is economical not only in a business sense but also
provides participants with an additional source of income.

"In Kenya there are 60 different unique languages, and companies -
whether they are Microsoft, Google or Nokia - would love to put their
software in each of these languages.

"But they really have no idea what these particular words would
translate to," said Dr Eagle.
“ Not only can we affect the lives of a lot of people, we can impact the
GDP of the nation ”
Nathan Eagle

"For example, the word 'address book' is very common on almost all Nokia
handsets and where I was living in this small village called Kilifi in
Kenya, the mother tongue is a language called Giriama.

"An individual in Kilifi receives the text message saying, please
translate the word 'address book'.

"They type in that particular word and it gets sent back to our server,
which is collecting a lot of responses from that same task until we are
confident we have the right answer.

"Once we get the right answer we push it back to - in this case - Nokia.

"This system enables companies like Nokia to build-up a corpus of these
translations, so that they can do software localisation," he said.

Exploitation or globalisation

Although the concept seems like an ideal way of helping the developing
world, Txteagle could also be seen as a means of profiteering.

Dr Eagle disagrees and feels that given the high rates of unemployment
and marginal income sources, much of this population would greatly
benefit from even an extra dollar per day.

"One of the things that we would like to see happen is to have lots and
lots of tasks and have individuals potentially doing this full-time," he

"For the moment this is something that would be a system that enables
people to augment their existing income stream and not for them to quit
their job and do this full time.

"If you just look at the business of outsourcing industry, we're talking
about hundreds of billions of dollars a yeagoing into rural villages in Africa, not only can we affect the lives of
a lot of people, we can impact the GDP of the nation," he added.

All payments for completed tasks are received by mobile phones, using
M-PESA, a popular mobile banking service.

"I would love to be able to come up with a way that we can do much
larger scale translations, but remember we are constrained by this 160
character text message limit," said Dr Eagle.

He is hoping to expand the service to enable a single phone to have
multiple user accounts, so that family members could each use a shared
phone to create their own individual savings accounts.

Txteagle is set to be rolled out in the Dominican Republic and South
America later this year. 

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