The Mechanical Turk was a chess-playing robot from the 1700s that amazed crowds by being able to beat humans at the game. The Turk even beat Napoleon and Ben Franklin in exhibitions. It turned out that the machine was actually operated by a person sitting inside.
Amazon took the name to refer to small tasks that require human intervention. With it’s Mechanical Turk program, you perform things like transcribing small amounts of data or comparing images to find matches or completing a survey. In return, you earn a small amount for each task.
Of course, the tasks are all computer-based and can be completed from home or anywhere with an internet connection.
We recently signed up for the program to test it out and see if it’s a viable way to make money from home. Here’s what we found…
Getting to know Amazon’s Mechanical Turk
You’ve heard of Amazon, but chances are you’ve never heard of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program. It’s part of the tech giant’s portfolio of services, but not too many people know about it. As we said, the program is focused on small tasks. A quick look at the current Human Intelligence Tasks (more commonly known as HITs) show things like “Transcribe text from a photo,” “Audio transcription” and “Write a quick summary of an article.”
The premise is simple. Once you have access, you can search through the available HITs, selecting the ones that are most interesting for you to complete. Each task you do will pay you a small amount of money.
Signing up with Mechanical Turk
Signing up with the program is a little difficult to navigate. There’s no clear button to register as a Mechanical Turk worker. Instead you have to complete the following steps to register:
- Go to the Mechanical Turk homepage
- Click the “Find HITs Now” button
- This brings up a list of groups of tasks. On the right, you want to click the link that says “View a HIT in this group”
- This takes you to a specific task. Click the yellow “Accept HIT” button at the top of the page
- You’ll now be asked to sign in. If you have an Amazon account already, you can use it. If not, simply enter your email and click “No, I am a new customer”
- After you sign in, you’ll receive the following message:
Sure enough, about two days later we received notification that our account had been approved, along with some more details about the program:
Greetings from Amazon Mechanical Turk,
Congratulations, your Mechanical Turk account has been approved.
Please follow this link to complete the registration process.
Here’s some important information about working on Mechanical Turk.
1) Requesters approve or reject your work within 30 days.
Requesters determine whether to pay you within 30 days of submitting
your HITs. Amazon Mechanical Turk does not determine when to approve
or reject and does not estimate when your HITs will be approved. In
the event you have questions about the content of a HIT or the approval
status you can contact the Requester directly:
2) Your work quality is important.
Completing HITs accurately will ensure that Requesters will want you to
continue to work for them. Read instructions thoroughly, answer HITs
accurately, and return HITs you are unable to complete correctly, to
build a positive reputation as a Worker. Keep in mind that returned or
abandoned HITs will not affect your rating.
3) Report HITs that violate the Mechanical Turk policies:
You should not provide personal information in the HIT or register for
another website while working HITs on Mechanical Turk. Please report
any violating HITs using the “violates Amazon Mechanical Turk policies”
link at the bottom right of the HIT. To see examples of HITs that
violate the policies, visit this link:
4) Keep your computer secure:
When you complete HITs on Mechanical Turk, you are accessing the
internet to perform work for Requesters that are not Amazon. We
recommend that you secure your computer with the latest operating
system security updates and virus protection software, update your
browser and plug-ins with the latest versions, and use caution when
directed to other websites or asked to download software.
5) Payment delays and daily HIT limit for new Workers:
For quality assurance purposes, new Workers can only complete a limited
number of HITs (Human Intelligent Tasks) each day. Payments from
Requesters are delayed for 10 days until you have submitted at least
one HIT a day for at least 10 days. Your payments will show the
“Approved Pending Payment” status in your dashboard during this delay
Additional information can be found within our FAQ,
We’re excited to have you join the Amazon Mechanical Turk Worker
Amazon Mechanical Turk
Performing your first HIT + Amazon Payments
After approval, we were ready to get started performing our first Human Intelligence Task. Before you can do that however, you’ll need to login to the program and set up the payment method. Mechanical Turk pays through Amazon Payments (Amazon’s version of PayPal). We already had a payment account, so we got to skip this step. One cool feature with Amazon Payments is that you can buy things off Amazon with your earnings. In that case, the Turk program is like your own little Amazon piggy-bank.
Once we confirmed our payment method, it was time to get started. To be honest, the dashboard can be confusing. This first page lists what look like individual jobs. However, they are actually groups of similar jobs. To see the individual tasks, you need to click “View a HIT in this group” on the right side of the page.
Once you’ve clicked to an individual task, you will see a sample of that task. On this page you can walk through the instructions, and see what is involved in completing the HIT. This is a good way to get an idea of the work level and amount of detail that the task will entail.
If after reviewing the task you want to accept, you can click “Accept HIT” at the top of the page.
Accepting the HIT starts your task instantly. In the top left of the page you’ll see a timer. Every task is timed, but don’t let that scare you. Tasks are not a race. The timer is simply there to keep people from accepting a HIT and then letting it sit. In the tasks we performed, we usually had 10 times the amount of time needed to finish.
Sometimes you may run across a task that you start and can’t complete. That’s no big deal. In this case, you can click the “Return HIT” button at the top of the screen. This will place it back into the queue.
Once you have completed your task, simply click “Submit HIT” at the bottom of the page.
Approval & Payment
After you submit a HIT on Mechanical Turk, it is sent to the Requester for approval or rejection. This process can take a few minutes to a few days. Once approved, you will receive the payment to your account.
Don’t expect to get paid immediately. Not only do tasks take some time to be approved, but you also have to wait until 10 days after submitting your first HIT to get payment from Amazon.
When you start to work on tasks, you might find that some have qualifications you have to meet. Qualifications are exactly what you would think — requirements needed to be able to complete some HITs. Many qualifications are assigned automatically and are based on things like number of HITs completed or approva l rating. Others require you to complete a short test to earn the qualification or agree to terms. In one instance we had to simply check a box saying that we agreed to see adult content to earn a qualification.
Qualifications can end up having a big impact on your ability to earn on Mechanical Turk. Qualifications can open up tasks to you that pay better and fewer people are allowed to complete.
Can You Make Legit Money with Mechanical Turk?
In our experience with the Mechanical Turk program, we were underwhelmed with the program. Starting out, the pay for your time is extremely low. One of our first tasks was transcribing a restaurant check. It took roughly three minutes to complete and paid $0.03. That works out to $0.60 per hour.
In addition, the quality of tasks is suspect. After attaining the “adult” qualification, we were shown tasks to transcribe watermarks on adult videos. Other tasks seem to be clicking to watch an ad for 25 seconds or solving CAPTCHA images to submit a vote in a contest.
For that reason, we aren’t big fans of Mechanical Turk. However, if you can get past the initial hurdles, we have heard stories of people doing well.
There is an entire Reddit community around the program. According to their advice, it’s important to do a large number of simple HITs to earn qualification to perform higher-paying tasks. They recommend 500 HITs as a minimum. Just like a typical job, it seems that you have to get some experience under your belt before you can make decent money.
If you want to learn more about starting out with Mechanical Turk, we’d also recommend this discussion called Your First 1,000 HITs. It has some great information for people just starting out with the program.
Have first-hand experience with the program? Have another resource people should know about? Let us know in the comments below.