Maybe you’ve heard about it. It is a marketplace (owned by Amazon) where you can find easy tasks to earn some extra income. Or if you want, you can convert it into your full-time job. Is this possible? Can you make a living being in front of your computer screen for several hours every day or week, performing some diverse assignments? Let’s try to find out; the best way to discover and understand is giving it a shot and have your own opinion. So I did it.
They say the future of work is going to be entirely different for the labor market we know today, and in another universe compared to. They say most of the profiles the market will demand in 10 years do not exist yet. Some experts tell us that, due to AI, robots, and other technologies, there will not be enough jobs for everyone. If so, we’ll have even more time for leisure, and the source of our income will be basically earning money selling data about ourselves. It will be time to be paid for watching ads for selling data about our workouts. Time to get money out of the data that our wearables will be sending every second to a server. Maybe the lucky ones will get a decent sum broadcasting their lives on YouTube (geez, this is already happening). All kinds of different tiny gigs and monetizing ourselves as a product. Is it a distant future? Maybe not that far away.
What are we talking about?
That’s why Amazon Mechanical Turk seems so weird. A thing from the past, so in the present, and apparently quite stable for the near future. A place where you can get money through doing things we thought were doing by machines already. What is it? In their own words:
Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) is a crowdsourcing marketplace that makes it easier for individuals and businesses to outsource their processes and jobs to a distributed workforce who can perform these tasks virtually. While technology continues to improve, there are still many things that human beings can do much more effectively than computers, such as moderating content, performing data deduplication, or research. Traditionally, tasks like this have been accomplished by hiring a large temporary workforce, which is time-consuming, expensive, and difficult to scale, or have gone undone. Crowdsourcing is a good way to break down a manual, time-consuming project into smaller, more manageable tasks to be completed by distributed workers over the internet (also known as ‘microtasks’).
Ok, looks promising. As usual, you could find on the internet many different opinions. From the long journalistic analysisto the guys claiming they are making thousands every month. In between, a load of different experiences. So I thought it would be good to experience myself, and at least have my own perspective. If you’re curious about where the name comes from:
The name Mechanical Turk was inspired by “The Turk”, an 18th-century chess-playing automaton made by Wolfgang von Kempelen that toured Europe, beating both Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. It was later revealed that this “machine” was not an automaton at all, but was, in fact, a human chess master hidden in the cabinet beneath the board and controlling the movements of a humanoid dummy. Likewise, the Mechanical Turk online service uses remote human labor hidden behind a computer interface to help employers perform tasks that are not possible using a true machine.
The process to be a “worker”
Once you decide you want to go for it, everything is straightforward using your Amazon account (who doesn’t have one?). It takes minutes to know how it works, the basics of the idea, and submit your application. You can be a “worker” (performing tasks) or a “requester” (posting jobs to be done). Some personal data, tax details, and a promise from Amazon that they’ll evaluate your request and send you an answer in about two days. Which, in my case, happened in about 24h, with a positive response. I only needed to fill in some more tax data and paperwork, and we’d be done.
From this point, you’re confronted with your dashboard with a list of thousands of tasks. You can imagine many, or just do a quick search to find an endless list of different possibilities. Some details of every HIT (Human Intelligence Task) are available for you to evaluate how much time could take every task, and what will be the reward. Amazon reminds you to do any HIT as carefully and well as possible, as the “requester” decides if they pay you or not. True, you can complain, send messages, and spend even more time when your “salary” is not approved. Still, basically, your payments depend on the will of who posted the task. I forgot to say that Amazon does not respond to any “requester.” Of course, there’s a policy to be followed, but if you come across a scammer, you’re basically on your own.
Let’s start working
Anyway, you start searching for something interesting to be your first HIT. For many of them, you’re not still qualified, due to several different criteria. Some of the most common, because you don’t live in the USA, or because you need that your “Total approved HITs is greater than 100”. Still, you can also apply to many (around 10% of them, at a first look), so you make your choice and start your journey.
My first has something weird. The website asked me to answer a google form but wanted me to log in with my personal google account. Forget it, I’m not that pro yet.
The second one was related to a market survey. This is fine, I thought, there are no right or wrong answers. But it simply didn’t work. After a couple of profile questions (age, gender, income range), something went wrong. And of course, I didn’t want to start again.
The third one was the first that seemed next to normal. I had to check in some paragraphs of a podcast transcription if any company was a sponsor for the program, and write down the names of the companies. Reading took a bit long, and you were getting around one cent to read 1,000 words.
Another one was related to pictures. You had to review photos of license plates, say whether they were that or not, and if so, click on a corner of the plate (sometimes upper right, sometimes upper left…).
Penultimate in my one-hour experiment. Audios. You had to listen to two recordings and say which one had better quality.
And finally, the last one I tried. Reviewing pictures and moving a slide to put a limit when the image started losing quality.
Does it pay?
All in all, some 50 minutes with my NR headphones on and no interruptions, listening to some relaxing music (except during the audio tasks). The final cumulative record was an amount of 1.2 dollars (still pending to be approved by the requesters). As time goes on, the repetitive tasks hit your focus, and I’m not sure you’re able to keep focused and productive for long without breaks.
If I finally get the total amount, the most convenient would probably be to convert that sum into a gift card, or put it into my Amazon balance for my next purchases. I know this could get more and more productive, discovering more rewarding tasks, the ones I’m better at, best times, requesters, hidden gems. I know I’ll be qualified for a higher number of tasks if I continue completing and submitting a lot of them, many requesters might even ask me to perform some of their HITs because they know I’m good at it. Imagine I get five times better than this first test, and I work some spare time like ten hours a week. That would mean fifty bucks a week, two hundred a month? Everyone should decide if that’s for you.
What I’m not sure is I’ll wait for that. If this is the future of work, I think I’ll do my best to find my space somewhere else.