[Paul Makin] In further proof of the power of the mobile phone, our favourite mobile payments scheme – M-PESA – is in the news again. The BBC has this interesting article about a new scheme that uses SMS to distribute small units of work (translation of short phrases into local languages such as Giriami, a regional language in Kenya) to people who have registered:
Txteagle is making it possible for many people in countries like Kenya to earn small amounts of money by completing simple tasks like translations or transcriptions……All payments for completed tasks are received by mobile phones, using M-PESA, a popular mobile banking service.
Recipients reply with a translation; if their translation matches that of other recipients who were sent the same ‘work package’, then they are paid a small fee, using M-PESA.
The potential of such a scheme is clearly limited, since the individual fees would necessarily be small. But even a small payment can have a significant benefit for poor families in developing countries. Without M-PESA there would be no means of getting a payment to such people at all – even better, M-PESA does it economically.
This example of the use of people’s idle time – which the article quantifies at ‘more than 250 million hours every day’ – put me in mind of another such application I was looking at recently, reCAPTCHA, which uses a similar approach to assist in the digitisation of books where OCR has failed. Amongst other things, it can be used to hide your email address from spammers. As an example, my email address is hidden here. Now, if only they would pay a few pennies for each translation – using M-PESA, of course…