ThimphuTech was the first technology blog in Bhutan. We started writing it in 2009, just as broadband and mobile internet started to take off. (Although internet in Bhutan was launched in 1999, it was either super-slow or super-expensive, and was only used by a selected few).

In the blog, we wrote about technology and food, but also about plenty of other stuff. The blog became popular and influential in Bhutan. A companion bi-weekly column -- Ask Boaz -- was published for many years in the Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper. (The complete Kuensel columns are available as an ebook, Blogging with Dragons).

We stopped updating the blog when we left Bhutan in 2014, but the information within the posts can still prove useful, and thus we decided to keep it online.

We thank all our readers.
Tashi Delek,
Boaz & Galit.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Using Mobile Apps for Crowdsourcing

© Kuensel Corporation
Congratulations to NSB Dzonkhag officers who will be using a new "price collection" app, developed by Athang Training Academy, to enter food prices around the country. The purpose of the price data is to measure quarterly inflation rate. The new system replaces the pen-and-paper system, thereby reducing errors and speeding up data transfer.  According to the Kuensel article,
"The application is loaded with the number of ‘sample’ shops in each of the 23 urban centres, and the items contained in the market basket used to index inflation."
Mobile apps are a powerful data collection mechanism. With the increasing number of smartphones and tablets in Bhutan, there are opportunities for taking the mobile data collection idea one step further to what is called crowdsourcing. The idea behind crowdsourcing is distributing a task to the general public. Each person then does some small part of the task and gets rewarded in some way. In the food price collection, for instance, crowdsourcing would mean that not only the NSB officers would be able to enter food prices around the country, but the application would be available for free to anyone with a smartphone.  This would allow collecting a lot more data, in many more locations, and at much faster rates. Of course, the quality of the data might be lower, but with sufficient entries, some data cleaning is possible.

What would be the benefit for someone to enter the data? That's another question. Companies who crowdsource typically use monetary incentives: they pay users for their services. A different type of crowdsourcing is social in nature: the data that you collect benefits you and others. An example is the free Waze app, "a fun, community-based GPS traffic and navigation app". It collects the location information from drivers' mobile smartphones and combines the information from all users to construct a map of road traffic. Users can then see traffic patterns in real-time and change their driving route accordingly. Note that the phone owner does not need to enter any data -- the location data is pulled automatically.

Smartphones have another device that allows automatic data collection: a camera. During disasters, for instance, news websites often post photos and videos sent by people from the disaster area. Such information typically arrives faster than sending out journalists and a camera crew. Also, sometimes the disaster period is too short for the media to reach it.