Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is Amazon Mechanical Turk Moral?

Making money online with Amazon Mechanical Turk (Mturtk) is the hard road to take. If you’ve read some of my posts, then you definitely caught some of my ambivalence about Mturk.

In some ways I see Mturk as being a modern version of the sweatshop. Instead of a thousand workers being housed under one hot, steamy roof with tyrannical pit bosses with a whips walking up and down the aisles ready to “incentivize” the less productive, you have lots of workers all over the world in their own private sweatshops -- sans pit bosses.

In an earlier post, I told you the results of a survey conducted with Mturk workers. One of the questions in that survey is really the best framing device for answering the question as to whether Mturk is moral or not.

The question asked:
Is the money you make on Amazon Mechanical Turk your primary source of income?

Only 12% of the U.S. respondents answered yes to this question. Workers from India responded with 28% affirmative.

So, in the U.S. no one is really making you work for Mturk.

But does that justify the shamefully low wages offered by requesters on Mturk? Because no one makes anyone work on the HITs, it’s okay to pay a someone a sub-standard pay for work? The bottom line: Is it okay to exploit people that allow themselves to be exploited?

Certainly the vast majority of workers on Mturk could walk away from Mturk and find a way to earn similar or better wages. This does seem to true. Sure, just about anyone who works on Mturk could go out and find job, but in this economy, some people need the money they get on Mturk to make ends meet and jobs aren’t the most plentiful things out there.

In the free market world of capitalism, anything goes I guess. Freedom means the freedom to be exploited or starve. It’s all about about choices. Some choices just aren’t as enjoyable as others.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Maximizing Earnings Per HIT

As I’ve said many times before working for Amazon Mechanical Turk (Mturk) is not an easiest way to make money online. In fact, it’s slow and tedious. And if you’ve read any of my past posts, you read between the line (or maybe I’m more obvious than I think), but I’m not a big fan of the low-paying/high volume strategy.

I was reading some posts on the Turker Nation forum where some Mturk providers discussed their average reward per HIT. Here’s some excepts from the forum:

“My income per HIT: $0.270.”

“$4595.53 / 40550 = 0.113”

“183.16/796 HITS = .23 per HIT”

“$3,604.75 / 243,920 = 0.014”

On another post, I read of a poster who advocated a low-paying/high volume strategy. This poster like doing a horde of low-cost/low-thought HITs. Here’s an except from his post:
“All told, in the span of almost a year, I've done about 25k hits and made about $530. I try when possible to do the 3, 5, 10 cent hits (to me, those are "big money"), but the one centers are my bread and butter -- literally!”

My operating philosophy for Mturk is diametrically opposite to this poster. I take almost exclusively writing HITs and I like maximizing my earnings. To illustrate my point here are my numbers from the past 30 days:
Past 30 days -- 216 HITs = $348 -- Average per HIT: $1.61

Now, I certainly can’t quantify my time spent compared to this poster’s time spent, but I can point out that I made nearly 2/3’s of what this poster made in one year in only one month of work. I have averaged around two hours a day working on Mturk and made over $10/day. I don’t know who has the more tedious job, but I can say that I learn something from my work on Mturk -- along with making money.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

HITs to Avoid on Amazon Mechanical Turk

The world is hard enough making money online and with the low wages on Amazon Mechanical Turk (Mturk) it’s even more difficult. To add insult to injury, there is a small contingent of requesters that want to exploit the workers of Mturk in the worst possible sense of the word.

But how do you know who to work for and who to avoid? Well, below are simple guidelines to follow.

You should avoid HITS that involve:
  • Secret shopping
  • Testing a website that requires that you enter personal information
  • Testing software - I recommend you avoid any HIT that asks you to download and test software. The risk is too high (you don’t know what you’re getting) and the reward is to low.
  • Free trials that ask you to sign up for a service
  • Surveys that request you input personal information (Although request from academic sources and have a human subjects disclaimer are usually good to go.)
The above HIT examples to avoid are usually ones posted by scammers. There is a big risk that you will be opening yourself to any number of problems, plus you very well might not get paid at all for taking on this risk.

If you want you can review my two previous articles on Turker Nation, a forum for Mturk workers, and Turkopticon, an online database with reviews of requesters by Mturk workers.

In many cases, these types of bad HITs should not be on Mturk at all since they violate Amazon Mechanical Turk’s Terms of Service, but review is lax and enforcement is almost non-existent. My recommendation is that you should avoid any or all of these. The risk/reward ratio is just too skewed to the risk side.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Getting Back at 95% Approved with Amazon Mechanical Turk

Making money online is hard enough without being judged. And on Amazon Mechanical Turk (Mturk) the judgement can be harsh. With each HIT you take on, you are placing yourself out there to be rejected. Now, some people may say, “Hey, it’s only a $.02 cent job. I can take a rejection on that, no big deal.”

Well, as I said in an earlier post, going below the 95% approved threshold can have a dramatic effect on ability to access HITs. So, it’s not the monetary quality of the HITs that matter - a $.02 cent rejection carries the weight of a $2.00 rejection. It’s the cumulative effect that can kill you. Once you drop below 95%, your already difficult job becomes even harder.

In my earlier post, I discussed my own tragedy with dipping below 95%. I took on a long series of low earning HITs and all the while I was doing them this little buzzer was going off in the back my head. The HIT was poorly constructed and while I did the best I could, I got hit with around 30 rejections, dropping my acceptance rate down to around 91%.

Because I don’t use a strategy of taking on a slew of low earnings HITs, it took forever for me to get my approved rate back above 95%. At the point of my downfall, I had done in the order of 600-700 HITs. So, to get myself back meant taking on a boatload of HITs to off-set the negative impact of those 30 rejections.

Well, that day finally came. I decided to use the percentages in my favor and found a one cent HIT that I could produce in a relatively quick fashion and an hour and 121 HITs later, I had my approval rating back at 95%.

Woo-woo. Now, did it really change Mturking for me? Not by much, really. Since my work on Mturk doesn’t involve the low paying/high volume strategy that I discussed in an earlier article, I was able to get by on an approval rating of less than 95%, but I have noticed quite a few more available HITs since making back to 95%.

So, if you find your approval rate trashed by a bunch of rejections, bide your time and find some low earning HITs you can plow your way through and you’ll back at 95% in no time.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Writing for Dollars on Amazon Mechanical Turk

When it comes to making money online with Amazon Mechanical Turk (Mturk) there are definitely different strategies and philosophy for making money. In an earlier post I talked about a low impact strategy of taking on low reward HITs in high volume. In this post, I will flip this strategy on end and discuss high reward/low volume strategy with a focus on writing.

Two Criteria
The first two criteria for taking on writing HITs on Mturk are:
One - you should be able to write. That doesn’t mean writing Pulitzer quality material, but you can string a few sentences together and make sense
Two - you have to want to write. If you want to work for this low of wage, you should at least enjoy it.

To SEO or Not to SEO
There are a multitude of writing HITs on Mturk. Many are ones that you require you to write SEO (search engine optimization) targeted material. You’re basically given a topic and have to include a phrase about that topic two or three times in the article. These articles usually have to be between 350 and 600 works, but sometimes requesters want 1200 words. Rewards vary on these and sometimes you can make $3.00 on these HITs.

There are also HITs that aren’t SEO related. These work pretty much the same as the SEO articles, but aren’t as stringent in the phrasing of phrases and words.

General Writing Assignments
I tend to prefer general writing assignments. If I can get into a groove, I can knock out three and sometimes four articles in an hour with average pay between $1.70 and $1.90 per article. If I do hit that sweet spot, I’m making over $5.00/hour.

In the past month alone I made over $300 taking on writing assignments in my spare time. And I mean my spare time. I usually write an hour in the morning before work, then over my lunch hour and maybe do a couple in the evening. If I can get six completed in a day, I can average $10 a day and that gets me to $300 a month.

Speed is the key to making this work. You have to be able research and write quickly.

If you get bogged down in the research, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot. I basically do a quick Google search of the topic and then find a primary source to work from. That source needs to substantive. If there’s only a couple sentences you’re going to run into trouble stretching the story to the required word length.

Conversely, if you have too much source material or the material is dense and complicated, you can lose efficiency. I’ve abandoned many HITs because the topic was just too complicated to summarise quickly.


Once you’re ready to write you need to get the words down quickly. Don’t spend a lot of time looking for the right word. Remember you’re not being paid enough to win an award, just to get the facts down in a logical and readable fashion.

Plagiarism Protection
Do not plagiarize material. Do not cut and paste from your source. Most requesters run the writing assignments through plagiarism checkers and your work will be rejected. Even worse, you will run the risk of being banned from taking anymore HITs from that requester. Take a few moments to run what you’ve done through a plagiarism checker before you even submit it.

I’ve used a plagiarism checker in the past and have caught some of my original writing that was too close to an already existing source. When this happens I have had to just do some small re-writes to make sure my work doesn’t seem too much like something else that is already out there.

My favorite plagiarism checker right now can be found at

Final Proof
If the article is short, I recommend that you give it one last proofing before you hit the submit button on the HIT. I’ve caught more than fair share of mistakes in my writing that just needed small tweaks.

Writing my not be your thing, but it works for me and I think that if you compare it with the low-reward/high volume strategy, writing will be pay better dividends.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Taxes and Amazon Mechanical Turk

We’ve all heard the line, “Everything can be put off, but death and taxes.”

Well, you’d think in this arena of making money online and the shamefully low wages offered on Amazon Mechanical Turk (Mturk), you’d be exempt from taxes. Well, you’d be wrong. Well, partially wrong. If you only make a small amount of money off Mturk then you are exempt from paying taxes, but there is a threshold amount you can make before you have to legally pay Uncle Sam his due.

One you reach a certain threshold on Mturk, you will be prompted by the system to enter you tax information. (The system will already have some of your other vital information when you set-up your account and associated bank account -- provided you do set-up a bank account.) Being a U.S. citizen, all I had to do was provide my Social Security number. They already had my address.

One thing you don’t want to do is what I did. When you first get that prompt, please don’t ignore it. It will just stay there and bug you. And if you wait too long and refuse to provide your information, guess what happens? You get your account shut off. Well, at least the capability to earn more money. I was slothful in my response, but did eventually enter my information. My problem came when Amazon was slow to process my information and I did get my ability to take on new HITs shutdown. Fortunately, I sent Amazon a message early in the morning and they processed my information and I was back in business in a few hours. There’s no guarantee that they will be as responsive with you.

So, take my advice, when prompted for your tax information, just go ahead and enter it. Then you’ll avoid all the hassles.

Now, you may ask, what is the my income threshold. Amazon defines this amount as:
“...the minimal payment a company can pay a Worker before the company must report the payments to the IRS.”

So there you have it, death and taxes are truly unavoidable even in the world of Mturk.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Getting Paid For Your Work on Amazon Mechanical Turk

If you’re looking to make money on line and you’re curious about Amazon Mechanical Turk (Mturk), my first piece of advice is....find a better way to make money. Okay, for all you Mturkers out there, I don’t want to offend you, but there’s got to be a better way to make money -- either online or in the real world. If you’ve worked for Mturk for any amount of time, you already know of the deplorably low wages.

Okay, that’s out of the way. You, like me, have decided to spend time at the modern online version of a sweatshop and you’re wondering how it works and, more importantly, how you get paid.

Well, getting paid on Mturk is a mixed bag. The two factors I will discuss are how you get paid and how quickly you get paid. I will avoid the discussion of how much (or little) the wages are.

As far as how, you have two options. Option one is that you can choose to link your Amazon payments to a checking account. This is a fairly painless procedure -- just follow the links to your account, follow the instructions, and enter your account information. Just a note, though; this does take some time to process. Amazon will test your account by sending one or two small deposits to your account and you have to confirm that you have received them.

Option two is using your hard won earnings Mturk to buy merchandise on Amazon’s incredibly large and diverse store. It’s easy to start using your money to buy merchandise. Just go to your account settings and then look for a link under “Your Earnings” then look for the link that talks about transferring your money to your bank account or to use on Amazon. Easy as pie you will be taken to your Amazon Payments page where you need to log-in and then chose how you want to spend your money.

When considering timing, you have to know that some Requesters are notoriously slow in play and there’s not a lot you can do about it. If you get terribly impatient, then you can elect to write to them and see what’s up. Writing Amazon staff doesn’t do a lot of good. I currently have one Requester who hasn’t approved one of my HITs I completed from 15 days ago. And this is for a lousy $.50 cents.

I have used both methods of payment. I have transferred money to my bank account and I have purchased merchandise off Amazon with my hard-won earnings. I recently wanted a new MP3 player and started putting in my time in the virtual salt mines. Three weeks later I had the money and pulled the trigger when Amazon dropped the price on my coveted item.