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January 31, 2009

Crowdsourcing to Africa

It's a high honor to be slashdotted, so congrats to my friend and colleague Nathan for being featured yesterday:

Technology Review has an article about a startup that wants to build a business out of crowd-sourcing the developing world. The company, called txteagle, seems to be interested mainly in using local knowledge to translate information into less common languages. The Finnish cell-phone company Nokia is a partner in the project, and CEO Nathan Eagle says that it provides a good example of a Western company that could benefit from txteagle workers. Eagle explains that Nokia is interested in 'software localization,' or translating its software for specific regions of a country. 'In Kenya, there are over 60 unique, fundamentally different languages,' he says. 'You're lucky to get a phone with a Swahili interface, but even that might be somebody's third language. Nokia would love to have phones for everyone's mother tongues, but it has no idea how to translate words like "address book" into all of these languages.'

Nathan and I have chatted several times about txteagle. The basic idea is similar to Amazon's Mechanical Turk, but rather than crowdsource any task to anyone with a computer, txteagle is focused on simple tasks that can be done on a cell phone. The tasks will still be those that require a human-style intelligence (that is, a task like image recognition or language translation that requires semantic knowledge of human culture and preferences), but being able to do them on a mobile phone limits their complexity to some degree.

posted January 31, 2009 12:20 AM in Computer Science | permalink