Remote work via Text: Nathan Eagle’s txteagle

I first heard about Nathan Eagle, an MIT Media Lab alum and Santa Fe Institute Researcher, through his work on mobile phone application development in East Africa. He’s now combining aspects of crowdsourcing, a trend I wrote about earlier in a post on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, with forms of remote work such as transcription and translation. Txteagle, his new startup, will allow anyone with a cell phone to complete small pieces of larger tasks, “empowering the largest knowledge workforce on earth.”  Mobile payment products like Safaricom’s Mpesa, which launched last year in several East African countries, complete the system–soon, it may be possible for poor people to work remotely using only their hand-helds.

I’m not sure how long a project like txteagle will be relevant, given how well computers already handle tasks like translation and transcription. More sophisticated material still requires a human eye, but parsing this sort of content across thousands of users and then re-assembling the output seems like a difficult thing to get right. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating attempt to enable poor people to participate in the global service economy.

The Technology Review has a decent summary of the project here.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Remote work via Text: Nathan Eagle’s txteagle

  1. While reading through, the first thought that came to mind was payment systems. But then you mentioned Mpesa. One of the biggest hurdles to any form of e-commerce, especially in Uganda is payment systems. The easiest option would be an airtime-for-cash-and-vice-versa model, but the networks were not very cooperative, last time I checked.

    Anyway, if his case studies are anything to go by, this has the potential to be fundamentally helpful to the rural poor.

    • The payment issue is especially tough because telecoms aren’t regulated as banks (which makes it impossible for them to handle international micro-payments). That means that in the remote work arena you need to have some sort of middleman to accept payments and disburse them to people in poor regions. There are very few middlemen that don’t operate as profit-maximizing businesses; Samasource is one of them.

  2. Theres this wonderful project called Frontline SMS started by a friend of mine at Stanford, Ken Banks. http://www.kiwanja.net Seems like world is doing amazing things to create generative systems and avoiding red-carpets.

  3. Ahh lovely. Great dude. Nice to see the work you’ve been doing. Keep up the good work 🙂

  4. Ah great. Yea paypal doesn’t work in Pakistan and there has been a severe outcry about this. Middle man has to be authentic and again institutionalize to some degree to be deemed as authentic, in my opinion. So how does that whole thing work? Whats your business model? Great Review in Technology Review by the way. Its editor-in-chief Jason Ponting is a very nice fellow and friend of mine too. Wrote me a recommendation letter long time ago. 🙂

  5. Gopalakrishnan

    I am excited to learn about this micro outsourcing jobs. In fact, I ran a BPO company with 25 systems but to close down due to global and local environments. Please tell me when will you come to India.

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