Amazon's Mechanical Turk

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One of the earliest and best-known crowdsourcing marketplaces, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, also called MTurk, utilizes what it calls the “human intelligence” of an army of independent contractors who complete small online tasks. All of these online jobs are things that Amazon's “requesters” (referred to as clients) need real people, not computers, to do. This work-at-home division of Amazon is part of Amazon’s Web Services division and is separate from the online juggernaut’s home call center employees—which you can learn more about by exploring a profile of Amazon.

Types of Work-at-Home Opportunities

Online workers at Mechanical Turk accept human intelligence tasks (HITs) and are paid small sums for each task. Though Amazon is a U.S.-based company, workers and requesters are based all over the globe. (You can also discover more about WAH jobs hiring globally.)

Because of its global diversity, what HITs pay and what they require can vary greatly. Some jobs might pay 1 or 2 cents but take only minutes to complete and require very little expertise on the worker's part. Other HITs mandate that workers gain qualifications before being allowed to work on the jobs. Meeting qualification standards may come in the form of a potential worker taking a test but could also simply be a worker being approved or rejected based simply on their previous work, location, profile, and so on.

Jobs requiring certain qualifications usually pay more.

The types of tasks might include:

  • Surveys
  • Blog comments
  • Transcription
  • Short editing and writing jobs
  • Keyword searches
  • Photo captioning and tagging

How Mechanical Turk Works

To begin working for Mechanical Turk, go to the Mechanical Turk website and simply choose to accept a HIT. The site will then prompt you to sign into your Amazon.com account or to create one. In taking this step, you agree to the Mechanical Turk privacy notice.

You can then browse HITs and begin looking for jobs that interest you. Next, you can examine the “Reward” field to see what a task pays. The “Time Allotted” field tells you how long you have to finish the task before it is considered abandoned and is assigned to someone else. This is not necessarily how long it will take. Many HITs give an estimated time for completion, which you'll find in the full description, but not all tasks provide an estimated time.

Then you simply click on the name of the HIT that piques your interest for a very brief description and click on “View a HIT in this group” to see a full description. On this screen,​ you can choose to accept a HIT or you can skip it and look at other HITs from the same requester.​

You can also search HITs by keyword or sort them by reward amount or qualifications required.

Two Examples of Typical Work 

A recent Mechanical Turk listing offered workers 80 cents to read a restaurant review and then answer a survey about their impressions. This task had a set time limit, which was 45 minutes. Another listed task asked workers to fill out a 15-minute psychological questionnaire about what motivates people to do certain tasks. This particular task paid $1 and noted that the job could take up to three hours. As you can see, the diversity on the site is vast, and the best way to find the right tasks is to invest unpaid time perusing the site to see what works best for you.

Pay

The pay-for-task work varies greatly. You can get paid $4 to $5 an hour simply for filling out personality questionnaires and answering surveys, or get paid as little as $0.01. Because of the discrepancy in pay, and because only 4 percent of workers earn more than $7.25 an hour, the median hourly wage is really about $2 an hour. Because Amazon's Mechanical Turk workers are independent contractors, not employees, they are not guaranteed the minimum wage.

Payment

After accepting a HIT, the requester is paid via an Amazon Payments account. However, it may take a few hours to a few days for a HIT to be approved once completed.

For U.S.-based workers, money can then be transferred to a U.S. bank account. Workers in India can elect to receive a check in Indian rupees. For all workers not based in the U.S. or India, earnings can be transferred to an Amazon gift card.

All workers are required to submit tax information. U.S.-based workers need to submit a tax ID or Social Security number. Non-U.S. citizens living outside the United States also need to submit an IRS tax form. U.S. citizens living outside the United States may not work for Mechanical Turk.

Pros and Cons

The benefits and drawbacks of Mechanical Turk can be summarized as follows:

Pros:

  • Largely not difficult tasks.
  • Someone with a high school education can easily complete most tasks.
  • Once just one-off jobs for peple in a down economy, many workers rely on Mechanical Turk for the bulk of their income.
  • It's sometimes the only option for work in depressed areas.
  • It's a good stop-gap if you have a big outlay approaching—just spend more time at the computer.
  • You can choose to get paid every day, instead of every two weeks.

Cons:

  • The work is largely unregulated.
  • On balance, the work pays terribly.
  • The tasks that pay the best and are the least time-consuming get snapped up quickly; you need to be glued to your computer to nab the best jobs.
  • A 20-minute task may need one hour to complete.
  • If you criticize Amazon online, you could have your account suspended.
  • You may have to send a task back because the requester did not provide clear directions—and you don't get paid for that.
  • Workers pay Amazon 20 percent of the requester's listed fee.

    Unlike some other micro job sites, which may offer real-world as well as online tasks, Mechanical Turk is 100 percent online.