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Making cents of work for refugees: Samasource responds to Dowser review

   /   Apr 30th, 2010News, Tech

Editor’s Note: Earlier this week, we reviewed leading microvolunteering applications, including “Give Work” by Samasource. In the review, we described aspects of our experience using Give Work as confusing. Samasource Accounts Manager, Jess McCarter, posted a thoughtful response in our comments section. We then invited him to expand his ideas in this guest blog post.

How microtasks and mobile computers can add up to crowdsourcing for good.

What’s the story behind turning microwork into livelihoods? Samasource and CrowdFlower partnered last year on an iPhone app called Give Work to benefit refugees. We started with our Refugee Worker Program, a group of workers based the Dadaab camp in Kenya. It has since expanded to refugee programs at two other sites.

Give Work enables us to connect a large base of microvolunteers around the world. Their work augments the wages of the refugees and produces a second set of answers to compare the quality of both work pools. This unique combination doesn’t happen every time but it always creates solutions that are valuable to the client. That’s confusing, right?

You can see a problem clearly when you overlap all three groups in a Venn diagram:

The problem is that the intersection is very small. That means that to make Give Work effective some of the work done on it is not the same as the work done by refugees. And some of the work done by refugees simply cannot be done on the small iPhone screen. That is part of the reason we are launching this year, so people can help out from their computers too. And there is another problem with small iPhone screens – this long explanation doesn’t fit on them!

We simplified this complex relationship to say that the work you do on the iPhone raises the wage of the refugee doing the same task. While they are often doing the same task, sometimes they are doing other tasks. And the iPhone user gets tasks such as taking pictures of a park or questions that are culturally contextual. If you think the refugee worker is doing that too, you scratch your head and go “huh?” But if you think about the Venn diagram above you see the big picture – sometimes they work together, sometimes not, but the end result is higher wages and quality by combining it all in CrowdFlower’s unique system.

While crowdsourcing is still in its infancy, some of the tasks seem a bit out there. But as crowdsourcing goes mainstream over the next year these tasks will look more “normal.” We hope that doesn’t bore people because we want them to keep helping. To date using Give Work has yielded over 300,000 points. That buys 60,000 servings of veggies, 200 bags of charcoal, 250 fish, 10,000 bags of yams, and 1,700 oranges. And this is on top of the money earned directly by the refugees who are working. We think that is really good work and you helped us give it. Can you guess where our iPhone app name came from?

Images: Samasource

One Response

  1. Manuel Rosaldo says:

    Thanks so much for this post, Jess. You clarified our confusion about why tasks requiring a high level of web literacy and cultural specificity would be assigned to refugees (they aren’t). It was great to hear about future directions for Give Work–we look forward to covering these and other developments in the field of micro-volunteering on an ongoing basis.
    Manuel Rosaldo (Dowser Project Manager)