Try a Week as a Turker

Mon, Dec 6, 2010, by nightshift


If you’re looking to have a last resort source of income, a work from home task to combine with existing work or just something to keep you active during winter evenings then you might be interested in Amazons Mechanical Turk.

If you aren’t familiar with Amazons, the site allows tasks (called Human Intelligence Tasks – HITs) to be posted up to the site by a client (called a requestor). The tasks are typically the sort that are repetitive and (as a whole) time consuming, yet are difficult for a computer to get right. For example, giving subjective feedback on websites or transcribing hundreds of snippets of voice recordings. The tasks may be low pay ($0.01 and upwards) but fast, or higher pay but take longer. If you’re interested in the history and background of the service I’d recommend the article on the subject over the official Amazon version.

The information that follows aims to help you get introduced to the site for the first time.

Stop! Danger Turker, Danger!

Halt. Don’t touch anything. Do not simply dive in with the first lucrative HIT you see. It’s probably a scam. Anything which asks you to test a phone texting system, enter your personal data, send an email or create an account on a website is most likely a scam. At the very best you won’t get paid and telemarketers will start contacting you, at the worst you’ll be signed up to a premium rate service. Let’s take some steps to protect you.

As a new worker you need to avoid the bad HITs. It is part outright knowledge of how scammers operate and part experience. A fast way to get both is to use other workers feedback. In order to get that and before you take any tasks:

  • Download a Firefox plugin called turkopticon that shows the feedback scores for a requester when you mouse over their name.

  • Set aside an hour or two to browse the unofficial workers forum over at and especially their new workers FAQ. Without posting, read through the various sections and get a feel for the community, problems and types of task. A little time invested now in learning from others experience will save you many in the long run.
  • Read the official Amazon Mturk workers FAQ so you understand what is and isn’t going to be possible via the site.

Ok, are we ready now?

Let’s get started. Find something short, low paid HITS (which usually means easy, but not always) that your turkopticon feedback display says is from a requestor with reasonable feedback. Read the task in the preview pane and decide if you can do it. If you can then click ‘accept’ and get working. If after taking it, it turns out to be impossible click on ‘return’ and the task will be returned to the pile with no impact on your account. A high number of rejected HITS (tasks you submit with bad data) will have an impact on what future HITs you can accept so only submit good work and return things that you get stuck on. Do about five jobs at first so you get a feel for the general procedure.

Ok, so that’s fine but it’s low pay. The good money is usually tucked away in tasks that you need qualifications for. You can either list all HITS and then click on ‘Take Qualification’ when it warns you you’re not qualified for that batch or you can go to the qualifications tab and select ‘all qualifications’ and start taking tests for anything that it looks like a lot of other people have taken, which is a more haphazard technique but works. Don’t ‘request qualification’ from anyone just yet.

Passing a few qualifications should open up tasks (a few key qualifications together will open up about 30% more HITs) from some of the more industrial and long-standing requestors, such as the ones that post up hundreds of tasks requiring minutes of audio to be transcribed. In the website select ‘View all HITS’, order it by the number of HITS per batch then find something you like the preview of. Start working through.

Branching out

By now you’re probably getting the hang of things. For your first day you might want to do a few tasks from a few different requestors. The next day check back to see if they’ve paid yet, rejected any HITS or made contact for some reason. If you like a certain set of tasks and the requestor has paid promptly then you might want to try working on as many tickets as the person has put up. At the end of the time you give yourself, try and work out what your income per hour is; do you think you’re doing ok?

As the week goes on evaluate if you are getting faster. If you aren’t how might you? Evaluate your income, is it dire? If so how are the people on the forums working? Might there be ideas of theirs you could use? The best tasks will change over time, and there are trends in tasks over the week that might mean it’s best not to work some times or days (such as the weekend) due to heavy competition making the income not  worth your time.

Due to the nature of the tasks a faster computer or multiple computers and browser tabs probably won’t make you faster. Depending on the task having reference tools to hand (such as a dictionary) might. The speed at which you can type will also heavily effect your income for article writing and transcription HITs – if you can transcribe at the speed the person talks you won’t need to re-wind and listen again multiple times per task.

Despite the odd person who has found their perfect niche, the pay is typically low, so try and find tasks you enjoy on mturk whilst looking for other methods of income generation.

Good Luck

There are more utilities and tips at the community boards and remember to read through the new workers FAQ if you haven’t already. You might build up a rappot with certain requestors and be offered better tasks.

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