People in developing regions have limited knowledge of the marketplace of goods and services beyond their immediate friends and neighbors. This limited knowledge contributes to inefficiencies in local markets, which, in turn, affect their larger economies. The central goal of this project is to build software and services that help create localized marketplaces in developing regions.

Two recent examples show how mobile phones can improve peoples' access to information in developing economies. Robert Jensen studied the effect of the growth in mobile phone use in fishing villages in the Indian state of Kerala. As cellular coverage grew from nothing to 100% from 1997 to 2000, the fish market became more efficient: fishermen knew where that days' catch would fetch a good price, price fluctuations between villages diminished, and fewer fish were discarded at the end of each day.

A second example shows how markets for agricultural goods -- accessed via phone -- aided farmers in East Africa. The Kenyan Agricultural Commodity Exchange makes nationwide prices available through text messages. Prior to the Exchange, the main source of pricing information was the middleman to whom the farmers were selling -- people who were motivated to buy the commodity as cheaply as possible. Armed with better pricing information, farmers can now sell their goods for prices closer to market rates.

As both examples show, providing people with better information helps build the "long tail" of developing markets. Like the Kenyan Exchange, we aim to develop long-running services that extend the flow of information one or two degrees beyond peoples' current friends and neighbors, improving the efficiency of developing markets.

Craigslist for the Next Billion

Billions of people have mobile phones but only a small fraction of those people have access to the Web. We are focusing on three main types of services that are widespread on the Web, but are absent in developing regions: classified advertising, social networks, and information sharing through Wikis. In all three service aspects, we seek to provide an intuitive and dynamic infrastructure for user-generated content.

Craigslist, in the US, and similar free classified services in other developed countries have created marketplaces for exchanging goods and services where none existed before. Their web-based access cannot be brought to developing countries in the near future. Instead, what if we could assist people in forming similar types of connections using only their mobile phones? Because this classifieds functionality is our initial primary focus, we call our project Mosoko, for Mobile Soko. In Swahili, soko is a local market where people go to sell their goods.

A few example scenarios:

Short-term goals:

Long-term goals

We are currently seeking Computer Science and Anthropology students to work on the Mosoko project.

Audio Wiki

In addition to currently working on the Mosoko Craiglist-like functionality, we at NRCC are collaborating with the Audio Wiki project at MIT CSAIL, lead by Prof. Saman Amarasinghe.

This project seeks to develop an "audio wiki" -- an open platform (like Wikipedia) that people can freely access and contribute to, but rather than using a desktop computer, they use a cell phone. This means that all content will be spoken rather than written, and there are a host of interesting challenges in user interfaces, speech recognition, and audio processing that need to be tackled.

The Audio Wiki project has a working prototype. This prototype allows users to post and edit movie reviews through an audio interface using their phones. Jonathan Birnbaum will improve the prototype's functionality for his MIT UROP in January 2008.

Audio Anthro

Using similar technology developed to support the Mosoko Marketplace and the Audio Wiki, we plan to build an audio-driven NPR Storycore-like application that helps people in remote regions record stories from their lives for free.


Nokia Research Cambridge

MIT CSAIL and Media Lab



East Africa

Related Work

Companies and Organizations

Projects in Developing Regions

Classes, Reading Groups, and Research Groups

News Articles


Dec 3 2007

Dec 17 2007

Jan 14 2008

Feb 7 2008

Jun 20 2008

Sep 19 2008

Mosoko (last edited 2009-05-29 00:22:38 by JonathanLedlie)