Amazon's Mechanical Turk

How micro-jobs and payment work on Amazon's MTurk Marketplace

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Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, also called MTurk, is a crowdsourcing marketplace that connects independent contractors to small online tasks.

All of these online jobs are things that Amazon's “requesters” 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 company's work-at-home call center employees.

Types of Work-at-Home Jobs on Mechanical Turk

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. The types of tasks that requesters post include:

  • Surveys
  • Blog comments
  • Selecting photos to represent a product or article
  • Transcription
  • Short editing and writing jobs
  • Data verification
  • Keyword searches
  • Photo captioning and tagging

Both the tasks and the payment can vary widely. Some jobs might pay 1 or 2 cents but take only minutes to complete and require very little expertise or effort. Other HITs mandate that workers have specific qualifications, such as taking a test or living in a certain location, before being allowed to work on the jobs. Jobs requiring qualifications usually pay more.

In HIT postings, the "Reward" field tells you what a task will pay, while 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. For example:

  • Workers are asked to read a restaurant review and then answer a survey about their impressions. The time allotted is one hour, but the estimated time to complete the task is 30 minutes, and the reward is $0.80.
  • Workers are needed to fill out a 15-minute psychological questionnaire about what motivates them to do certain tasks. The reward is $1 and the time allotted in three hours.

Finding tasks that you are qualified for and can be approved to complete may require unpaid time browsing the site.

How to Get Jobs on Mechanical Turk

To begin working for Mechanical Turk, you will need to:

  1. Go to the Mechanical Turk website and choose to accept a HIT.
  2. Follow prompts to sign in to your account or to create one. (In taking this step, you agree to the Mechanical Turk privacy notice.)
  3. Browse available HITs for jobs that interest you.
  4. Click on the name of a HIT for a very brief description and click on “View a HIT in this group” to see a full description. (You can also search HITs by keyword or sort them by reward amount or qualifications required.)
  5. Choose to accept a HIT.
  6. When you have completed a task, submit your work and get paid.

Your work must be approved by the requester before your earnings will be available. If the requester is not satisfied, you may have to redo the work before you are paid.

How Much Can You Earn Through Mechanical Turk?

Both the pay per task and the time needed to complete a task vary widely, which means there is no set amount that MTurk workers earn.

Most workers do not report earning more than a few dollars per hour. Because Amazon's Mechanical Turk workers are independent contractors, not employees, they are not guaranteed a minimum wage.

How Do You Get Paid Through Mechanical Turk?

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.

U.S.-based workers can have payments transferred to a U.S. bank account. Workers in some countries, such as India, can elect to receive a check in their local currency. However, most workers not based in the U.S. must have their earnings 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 of Taking Jobs on Mechanical Turk

The are multiple benefits to taking micro-jobs through the Mechanical Turk marketplace.

  • Jobs are mostly simple tasks that are quick to complete.
  • Most jobs can be performed by someone with high school education.
  • Micro-jobs provide additional income on a flexible schedule.
  • Tasks are 100 percent online and can be completed from your home computer at any time.
  • Jobs are accessible from any location, which can benefit those who live in areas with depressed economies or employment.
  • You can choose to get paid every day, instead of every two weeks.

Cons of Taking Jobs on Mechanical Turk

There are also drawbacks to taking micro-jobs through Amazon's Mechanical Turk marketplace, particularly relating to income and payment.

  • The work is largely unregulated.
  • Average pay is far less than minimum wage.
  • Tasks that pay well and are the least time-consuming are taken quickly by workers who spend all day on the site.
  • The time needed for tasks is unpredictable, and the estimated time in the description is not always accurate.
  • You may have to send a task back without pay if the requester did not provide clear directions.
  • Amazon takes 20 percent of each task's listed fee.

If the cons of working for Mechanical Turk outweigh the pros for you, you can also investigate other work-from-home jobs that are available globally.