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News Link • Communications

New Apps for the Bottom Billion

•, By David Talbot
 When it comes to mobile communications, there's still a lot of room for innovation at the bottom. In Bangalore, India, researchers from the University of Toronto and Microsoft are now imagining new business models for the world's poorest phone owners by adapting a little-known protocol that can receive pictures as bitmapped text messages. The technology could readily be used in the roughly 1.5 billion low-end Nokia and Samsung phones in circulation.

The researchers have shown how to use the technology to crowdsource the task of digitizing handwritten documents word by word, a type of work that anyone with an inexpensive phone could do for extra money. A handwritten word is displayed as the image—resembling retro graphics from 1980s Atari games—and the phone owner types in the word, contributing piecemeal to a larger job.

"Crowdsourcing on phones really has potential to provide substantial income for people who are very poor and have a lot of time on their hands," says Ed Cutrell, a computer scientist at Microsoft Research India in Bangalore. "That's one of the main things we're interested in here: are there means to provide supplemental income to people who don't have computer and Internet access?"

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