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Robit: an extensible auction-based market platform for challenged environments

Azarias Reda, Quang Duong, Timur Alperovich, Brian Noble, Yidnekachew Haile

Open and competitive marketplaces, like those enabled by the internet, bring enormous value to consumers while fostering innovation and growth across a wide variety of businesses. Electronic commerce has forever changed how people trade goods and services. Last year alone, US consumers spent more than $150 billion dollars on internet sales [5]. However, developing countries largely have not benefited from these advances, often due to low network penetration, lack of locally relevant markets, and requirements for additional facilities (such as credit cards, shipping arrangements etc.) to take advantage of such marketplaces. Even when these markets are established with local content and poor connectivity in mind, they are often specific to a certain domain or community. This paper introduces Robit, an extensible auction-based market platform for use in challenged network environments. Robit enables developers to incorporate a market layer in their applications and open their service to a wider audience. Robit is built with challenged environments in mind, where communication channels are narrow and potentially expensive. The market structure in Robit is based on a survey of studies in auction theory and economics, and incorporates widely available communication tools. To demonstrate how Robit can be used to add a market layer to digital services, we have modified an open source data fetching application targeted towards challenged environments to use our platform. In addition, we analyze a standalone auction-based marketplace constructed using the Robit infrastructure. We also describe an in-country user study and a small pilot deployment for proof-of-concept.

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