Use of location based services (LBSs) is helping to form new models of crowdsourcing.
Internet Evolution’s 6DEE II session on LBSs, led by Alan Reiter earlier this year, taught students that location-aware phones are spreading worldwide. By this year’s end, 80 percent of all shipped phones will be GPS-enabled, as reported by research firm iSuppli Corp.
According to another report on GPS and Mobile Handsets from research firm Berg Insight AB , by the year 2014, 770 million GPS-enabled phones will be shipped around the world annually. GPS is not only spreading to phones; we are also seeing more location-aware devices, such as laptops and portable game players.
Developers are taking advantage of the fact that on any given day, 1 percent of all Internet users interact with at least one LBS, as determined by a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey. I bet that number is only going to increase, as will the potential for revenue.
So how does mobile crowdsourcing come into play? So far, most LBSs require users to send out their locations, and the interested companies reply with an offer in the form of coupons and discounts. But there’s another model that could potentially work, where the user sends out his location along with information regarding his environment, which an interested party may, ideally, be willing to pay for.
A model like this is being deployed by Nathan Eagle, the CEO of txteagle Inc. As described by Eagle, txteagle is an “artificial artificial intelligence” system that enables 2.1 billion mobile phone subscribers living in the developing world to earn money, in the form of airtime sent to their mobile phones, by completing simple tasks. As an example, a subscriber in the developing world could use the location-based service to translate things into his or her local language.
Governments can use this model to obtain information on many things, including street conditions (such as lighting, potholes, etc.), traffic jams, parking spots, leaking water pipes, and even corruption in government offices.
The beauty of crowdsourcing is that you don’t really need data validation. When a critical mass of users report similar conditions, you should be able to trust them as a whole.
Citizens will have to opt-in to the service and send information, probably through text messages, as they come across it.
One caveat is that there must be some way for users to validate their identities, to avoid pitfalls such as one person using several prepaid phones, for example. But validation should also be open enough that that it won’t turn people away from using the service.
The benefit for companies, governments, and the environment is potentially huge and could result in major cost savings. Such a system also presents new income-generating activities for people in the developing world -- and it’s all thanks to GPS.
— Jorge Roques is a telecommunications engineer at INDOTEL, the telecommunications regulator of the Dominican Republic.