Collecting product prices in Africa using crowdsourcing (I)

It just finished my participation in the Workshop which took place in Brussels. I couldn’t speak too much because there was many people in the room, but I took many notes and reached some conclusions I’m going to express in this post.

The issue of this meeting was the feasibility of using crowdsourcing as a method to collect information about the prices of products in African markets. There have been various initiatives that have been carried out with different results, and many questions have been expressed but there wasn’t time enough to give them an answer.

The use of crowdsourcing to collect prices is feasible, but has a number of limitations and implications that add some difficulty.

A concrete crowdsourcing type

Crowdsourcing refers to a process in which a task is proposed to the crowd (large, heterogeneous and undetermined). Normally this task can be performed from anywhere. Some examples could be: translate a text, tag an image, etc.

In this case, the task requested is to collect prices from specific markets. Therefore, this peculiarity of the task (the specific market) will limit per se the amount of people who could form the crowd to participate. In this case, not everybody is going to be able to participate, but “only” those who live or move near certain area (where the market is located).

This has a positive and a negative consecuence. On the positive side, we talk about a more limited crowd, which therefore can be better known. Knowing more how the crowd is, can help offering better rewards (close to the crowd needs or interests), its behaviour can be better identified, most used social networks can be also used for communicating, etc.

On the downside, potential candidates to join my crowd are less numerous, which will result in a smaller crowd.

The low integration of ICT

A fact that has been highlighted in the workshop, and that directly affects the crowdsourcing, is the low integration of ICT in African society (although it varies widely between countries).

Crowdsourcing depends directly and completely in the use of information technology, so this low integration will make the use of crowdsourcing harder. The main consequence is the reduction of potential people who may be part of the crowd, and therefore the efficiency of the initiative.

User communities

One thing I wanted to say (but there was enough time) is that crowdsourcing is based on Internet user communities. All Internet users are, in one way or another, insede a user community. It may be the user community based on family, co-workers, old classmates, people interested in gardening, etc…

La baja integración de la TIC, implica que no habrán tantas comunidades de usuario, pero no que no existan. Habrá que buscarlas: twitter, facebook, foros de páginas web, lectores de determinados blogs, etc.

The low integration of ICT implies that there won’t be many user communities… but it doesn’t implies that don’t exist. Those communities, in concrete those related to the markets, will have to be found: twitter, facebook, forums, websites, readers of certain blogs, etc.

Resorting to user communities, instead of trying to go hunting user to user, greatly facilitates the application of crowdsourcing.

(Will continue…)

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