amazon mechanical turk represented by cogs in hads

Ever since its inception back in 2005, Amazon Mechanical Turk has been one of the leading crowdsourcing platforms in the world. It serves clients (“requesters”) by taking up huge or complex assignments and breaking them down to easy microtasks. Then, those microtasks are delegated to hundreds of workers. The result? Maximum efficiency and minimal cost from the client’s point of view. But what does it look like from a worker’s perspective? That’s what this Amazon Mechanical Turk review is here to determine.

It’s self-explanatory why microwork makes sense for the requesters. Firstly, they can save tons of cash and time, without having to bother with HR and recruitment. Secondly, the turnaround time is much shorter than it would have been with traditional workforce.

Let’s say you need a transcription of a 300-minute conversation. The old-school solution would be to hire a transcriptionist and pay her a hefty sum for high-quality work. And wait three days for her to finish. Or you can submit the recording to MTurk or TranscribeMe, where they will break it down to 300 one-minute recordings, and throw them to a crowd of 300 eager microworkers. The work will be completed in an hour or two, saving you hundreds of bucks. And because these people are mainly living in poor corners of the world, they will do this without ever complaining or asking for a raise.

Amazon Mechanical Turk homepage preview

What’s With the Name?

In case you aren’t familiar with it, here’s where this provocative name came from. The symbolics are clear. However perfect technology and machine intelligence may have become, the human mind is still number one in both performance and subtlety.

Is it me or does this concept sound a bit cynical? If humans still manage to outperform machines in the 2020s, why is their work underpaid so often?

Making Money on MTurk

Do you already have an Amazon account? If yes, you won’t need to register with MTurk separately. Just enter your email address and password and you’re in. However, that still doesn’t mean you’ll be accepted. They will have a look into your account to determine if you’re eligible, and notify you on your status within three business days. Once (or if) they do, you will be able to start working. A 10-day trial period will require you to complete at least one HIT (short for “human intelligence task”). After that, you will be able to unlock a full membership, with no limitations of any kind.

Mechanical Turk pending invitation page preview

What Types of Tasks Are There?

Most of the HITs I received were paying significantly less than a dollar per task completed. As an example, you are to create a title, provide at least five keywords, and pick a category for a very short video (about three seconds). In return, you would get $0.01 as a reward.

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Another $0.01 HIT was to provide three short descriptions of an object on a photo. That’s very easy indeed. But can you muster enough focus and creativity to do it a hundred times over, just to earn a single dollar?

Okay, let’s consider some of the higher-paying HITs.

One of them would have you answer ten queries. Each consists of a “story” or a sequence of sentences, one of which is highlighted. You are to mark the part of the story that causes or enables the highlighted sentence. Do that ten times, and the coveted $1.10 are yours. In my estimation, you would need about ten to 15 minutes to achieve this.

mturk task list

However, not all tasks are paying peanuts. I encountered HITs worth $20, where native speakers of certain languages were supposed to make 15 short recordings of themselves, saying short phrases. The time allotted was 60 minutes, but in reality it shouldn’t take more than half an hour. However, these tasks are typically highly restrictive in terms of location or demographics.

When you hover over a requester’s name, you will see their activity level, HIT approval rate, as well as average payment review time. Those info are there to help you determine if you want to give them a try at all.

But let’s try to sum it up and answer the most important question.

How Much Does It Pay on Average?

Take a look at their Pricing page. Requesters may pay you however much or little they want, with $0.01 as a minimum. Really – $0.01?! If there existed a denomination lower than one penny, I bet they would set that as a minimum.

mechanical turk payment rewards list

Even though there’s no clear-cut way to determine the average hourly rate, a team of researchers tried to do it back in 2017. They interviewed over 2,500 workers and concluded that the median hourly rate is at meager $2 per hour. That’s far below the federal minimum in the US, but still more than with your average survey site.

MTurk Pros

  • The platform is most definitely legit, which can’t be said with 100% certainty for most get-paid-to sites.
  • You can work from the comfort of your home – or wherever else you feel like. Plus, you can decide how much or how little time you want to spend on the platform. Note, however, that the more you hang out there, the better your chances to land those higher paying tasks.
  • Two payment options – you can have your earnings transferred to your bank account or opt for Amazon gift cards. Naturally, I would recommend you to go with cash. (But if you’re a frequent Amazon shopper, I suppose it’s okay to give them back the money they paid you. That’s 2:0 for Amazon, yay!)
  • If you’re persistent and careful, you may start getting better tasks in time. To do that, make sure to only accept HITs from requesters with high approval rates. That way, you’ll keep your own ratings high, improving your chances to work with respectable requesters.
  • There isn’t a cashout threshold unlike with most other GPT sites and survey panels. In other words, you can withdraw your earnings whenever you feel like.
  • There are always hundreds if not thousands of various tasks. If data entry or scraping bores you to death, switch to surveys or transcribing or video recording.
  • Nearly anyone can use this platform to supplement their income. The majority of MTurk workers are residing in the US and India, but they will accept people from all across the globe. Plus, you need no specific skills, education, or work experience. 

MTurk Cons

  • Overall, the pay appears to be miserly. Granted, the above research that arrived at $2 as a median hourly rate is nearly three years old. And there are many tasks that pay way better than that. But it takes time to hunt those down – and you won’t always get lucky. But what if things have changed for the better in the meantime? Slim chances if you ask me.
  • It’s hard to snatch the well paid HITs. Whatever the conditions are, global workplaces will always be swarming with workers. That translates to fierce competition, which means it won’t be easy to make it to the top.
  • Even if you live in the developing parts of the world and manage to make a living on MTurk alone, you only have responsibilities and no rights. That’s because you’ll always be an independent contractor, and not an employee. Which means they aren’t bound to treat you fairly as a worker. Plus, the requesters can deem your work unsatisfactory on whatever grounds. And still use it while denying you the pay, even though you spent significant time on the task. If I hire a new waiter for my restaurant and am not happy with his performance, can I just not pay him and get away with it? Obviously not. The most I can do is decide not to hire him again. So why are things different online? Because workers are contractors, not employees.
  • Mindless can quickly become mind-numbing. Captioning videos or describing photos is easy enough. But if you do it for hours on end, you’ll likely spend the evening staring into the ceiling, drained of your life juices.

Conclusion – How to Get the Best From This Amazon Mechanical Turk Review?

If the above cons don’t sound intimidating to you, feel free to give Amazon MTurk a shot. Just keep in mind that it’s not wise to think of it as your primary source of income. If you’re out of job or in desperate need for money, try at least to combine it with some other platforms such as Clickworker.

Also, to maximize your earnings and get the best HITs, try to log in as often as possible, preferably during business hours. And make sure to follow the Turkkit and TurkerNation subreddits as well as MTurk Forum so you can always be in touch with your fellow turkers. They have a bunch of useful tips and advice that you will appreciate. Staying in the loop and connecting with the community is paramount. As creators of Turkopticon plugin say, microworkers need to “watch out for each other—because nobody else seems to be”.