Users would be paid either in credit to their mobile accounts or in cash, as facilitated by a service called mPesa, which allows people to send and receive currency via cell phones and use their phones to claim money at mPesa agents and post offices, says Eagle.
One technical issue that he has considered is quality control. Eagle says that he and his colleagues are developing machine-learning algorithms that can determine the accuracy of different workers’ responses. Essentially, identical tasks are off-loaded to a number of workers, and if a high percentage of those come back with a particular response, then it can be assumed to be the most accurate, within a certain level of statistical confidence. Also, if a person consistently responds correctly, then the system deems her more trustworthy, providing her with more tasks, and allowing her to make more money. But Eagle admits that there are still some kinks in the system that need to be ironed out, especially for the translation and transcription tasks, whose accuracy can be somewhat subjective.
Txteagle will use a reputation system similar to one developed by a San Francisco startup called Dolores Labs that works with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. CEO Lukas Biewald says that such a system is a powerful tool for txteagle. “You don’t have to make assumptions about who can do your work and who can’t,” he says. “It allows you to take much more risk with the people doing the job,” without sacrificing overall accuracy.
Sharon Chiarella, vice president of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk project, says that bringing crowd sourcing to developing nations could be a good idea. “One of the things that’s powerful about this space is the promise of leveraging a worldwide workforce,” she says.
But Chiarella adds that there will be some limitations. The most widely available cell phones, for instance, are generally only able to send and receive text and voice messages. This makes crowd sourcing more complex tasks, such as tagging images, impossible. “The cell-phone screen size somewhat limits the tasks that can be viable via the phone,” she says. “But I think that as cell phones continue to evolve, some of those issues will go away.”
Eagle agrees but says that his goal is to start small and see if the model works well enough to expand. He hopes to receive grant money that will allow txteagle to roll out the service in Rwanda, Kenya, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic within the next year.