The Eagle has landed: mobile crowdsourcing

pleasetranslateTxteagle is social innovation project designed to leverage an underused work force in some of the poorest areas of the world. It does this by distributing small jobs via text messaging in return for small payments. Users can sign up to project and complete tasks such as translating phrases and single words, gathering local data on consumer products or completing market-research surveys. This mobile platform for social innovation is proving a great success. It has recently expanded into 80 countries and is now able to reach 2 billion subscribers.

In developing countries only 18% of people have access to the Internet, however more than 50% owned a mobile-phone handset at the end of 2009. That number is rapidly growing as mobile services expand further into the developing world. The social innovation provided by Txteagle is how the service harnesses this social group to create a potentially a massive workforce. The project centers around local data gathering. Information that comes from hard to reach communities such as rural African villages or slum dwellers in South America can be of great value to companies trying to provide services to these sectors of society. Texting tasks such as simple translations are economical not only in a business sense but also provides participants with an additional source of income. Participants get paid every time they complete a small task using an airtime compensation platform. Payments are transferred to a user’s phone by a mobile money service, such as the M-PESA system run by Safaricom in Africa, or by providing additional calling credit. This means the service has the added advantage of being able to instantly compensate its users, a significant factor for those subsisting on an average of a couple of dollars a day.

Txteagle was formed in 2008 by former MIT faculty member Dr. Nathan Eagle and Dr. Ben Olding from Harvard’s Statistics Department. Txteagle has raised funding from top-tier investors that include Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, Flywheel Ventures and Esther Dyson. Dr. Eagle has previously carried out research at the Santa Fe Institute and NSF-funded start-up NDM Labs into the gathering and analysis of petabytes of data being generated by mobile phone users. Through this academic study, Dr Eagle developed the idea for the business, believing it to be a tool for positive social innovation in developing nations. Nathan Eagle holds three engineering degrees from Stanford University and a PhD from the MIT Media Laboratory. His research involves engineering computational tools, designed to explore how large-scale human behavioral data can be used for social innovation and social good.

Theoretically Txteagle’s unique platform could be utilized by other agencies needing to analyze data from hard to reach communities in developing nations. NGOs and Aid organizations might use it to gather health and community data. Researchers looking at various aspects of these particular areas of society could make use of it. Hopefully even governments may one day use it to analyze the needs of their citizens. For the moment though Txteagle’s main area of social innovation is the extra income it can generate for billions of people living in poverty. Dr Eagle says, "If we could get a small fraction of a percent of these types of tasks going 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".

Photo credit: Txteagle