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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

July 19, 2011 at 4:00 AM

Microsoft Bing taps Gigwalk’s iPhone “mobile workforce”

Want to earn a few dollars and help Microsoft make Bing more visual?

The Redmond company has hooked up with Gigwalk, a startup that pays people to take photos and do other small tasks with their iPhones. (Only iPhones at this point, cough cough …)

Gigwalk has already signed up 50,000 people who get paid $4 to $7 for tasks such as photographing street signs for navigation companies or menus for restaurant websites. Participants — called “Gigwalkers” — build up a reputation on the site that can lead to higher paying jobs, worth up to $90 and even retainers.

The app can notify users when they are near a possible gig, using the phone’s location data.

The Mountain View, Calif., startup launched publicly in May and began offering gigs in Seattle earlier this month. It’s now operating in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Miami.

Microsoft is its largest partner by far. The company is hirign “Gigwalkers” to take photos of stores and restaurants, which will be used by Microsoft’s Photosynth app to generate panoramic 3-D renderings of places that will be shown in Bing Maps results.

Gigwalk was founded by a group of former Yahoo employees, including Chief Executive Ariel Seidman. It raised $1.7 million in its first round of funding in December.

Ironically, Seidman and another co-founder were part of Yahoo’s search team that was trimmed after Microsoft began handling its Yahoo Web search. Seidman received a bonus for staying on an extra year to help with the transition.

“I stayed, collected the bonus and then was able to boostrap Gigwalk for basically the first six or seven months of its life,” he said.

So indirectly, Microsoft funded the company that it’s now using to gather imagery.

Gigwalk company is a distant cousin to Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk labor system, which hires people for small tasks that can be done online. Since it launched in 2005 the world has changed and smartphones are now widely used, Seidman noted.

“You’re basically walking around with your computer today,” he said.

To participate, Gigwalkers have to download the company’s app to an iPhone. An Android version is next. Seidman said he’s also interested in building a Windows Phone version (especially now …).

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