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.