Wouldn’t it be nice if, for once, instead of your phone costing you money, you might actually be able to use it to make money? I’ll be honest this isn’t a “how to make money fast” article, nor is it going to show you ways to make your first million. In fact, what this is about is the growth or trend in “microwork” and how the phone in your pocket can, as Clark Boyd states, “make you extra cash one tiny job at a time.”
In our hyper-connected world if you have a problem or you’re stuck for an answer, what do you do? You either head on over to Google, throw out a #help on Twitter, or ask your friends on Facebook. And let’s not forget about texting too. No matter what method you choose, I think it’s safe to say that you’ll find the answer or solution without too much time wasted. This is because your problem goes from being “yours” to a problem shared by hundreds, thousands, and quite possibly millions of people around the world. This is referred to as “microwork.”
If you’re familiar with Amazon’s e-Commerce giant Mechanical Turk, then you are quite possibly aware of this idea. For those of you who aren’t, in a nutshell people sign up to do bite-sized computer tasks in return for money, and up until now the majority of these tasks have been confined to computer users only. However, just recently a huge number of these bite-sized tasks are targeting mobile users.
With a huge workforce to tap into (studies show there’s almost 7 billion subscribers in the world), quite literally at the tap of a button, users can opt to accept cash for their work, or exchange it in return for phone credit. This type of work, although not necessarily moving mountains in the west, it is helping to change lives in areas of the world with very low income.
Smart Rickshaw Network
This is what Aadhar Bhalinge, an IT manager from Mumbai, India did. Now, I’d like to make one point clear. Bhalinge didn’t invent or create “microwork.” In fact this concept is more likely credited to Nathan Eagle, and his team, founder of TxtEagle (now Jana) in 2008 and Leila Janah, the founder of non-profit Samasource and the person responsible for coining the term “microwork.” What Bhalinge has done, using a combination of his own ideas and existing sites, has built upon the trend of microwork.
As a regular rickshaw traveler, Bhalinge frequently chats to the drivers and has learnt a great deal about their problems, their economic status, the traffic, and their rent. What he began to question was, is there a way for rickshaw drivers to use mobile technology to make extra income whilst stuck in traffic jams? This led to the creation of the Smart Rickshaw Network (SRN).
Bhalinge’s system would allow drivers with GPS enabled smartphones to send traffic updates, or information about a city’s landmarks or tourist hotspots via the internet or SMS. With rickshaw drivers being the most knowledgeable people of a city’s streets and desirable locations, Bhalinge states, “you can imagine someone willing to pay for a subscription service to real-time traffic updates, or tourists wanting information about the newest hotspot.”
He concludes that by “with just a few taps on a touch screen, or with a voice command – when they are waiting at traffic lights, or dropping off a passenger – a driver could earn an extra two to three dollars a day.”
Bhalinge entered his idea into m2Work, an initiative by the World Bank and cell phone maker Nokia. Beating the 940 entries, and claiming the $20,000 prize, Bhalinge is pushing ahead with his idea and is currently in talks with investors. With plans to get his project up and running and online in the near future, as good as an idea as it is, there is some criticism flying his way.
Like with majority of western firms outsourcing their business in the east, SRN could quite easily be described as exploiting workers by the low wages paid. However, according to Bhalinge’s, it’s his firm belief that SRN will benefit the rickshaw drivers and help make the city a better place.
And even though Toni Eliasz, of the World Bank, claims “the jury is still out” when referring to the sustainability mircoworks can be for low income families, he suggests that it “has the potential to provide supplementary income and raise living standards in countries where the average incomes is much lower than in the United States.”
With a roof over your head, a good vehicle in your driveway, and you handsome salary deposited into your account each month, it’s sometimes very easy to overlook how fortunate you are and how easy it can be to make statements like Eliasz’s.