Amazon Mechanical Turk is an outsourcing platform perfect for small, repetitive tasks that can’t otherwise be automated. The service launched in 2005, primarily as a way for Amazon to cheaply outsource some labor-intensive projects.
After the initial launch, interest in Mechanical Turk waned until it discovered by the corporate and entrepreneurial set as a way to improve their business processes.
Each task is called a Human Intelligence Task (HIT), and at the time of this writing there were more than 400,000 HITs available. Mechanical Turk has become a thriving crowdsourcing marketplace. It’s not exactly a virtual assistant service, but you can access an army of low-cost workers willing to do your most mundane tasks for just pennies.
The cost varies by the task, but you get to set your own price. I’ve seen HITs ranging from $0.01 for really quick and easy tasks to $5 for more time-intensive requests.
If you submit a batch of work and no workers are jumping on it, that’s probably a sign it’s either priced too low or your instructions aren’t clear. Some of the common tasks people outsource on Mechanical Turk are filling in spreadsheet data, tagging images, transcribing podcasts, and rewriting sentences. You might even find people offering a few cents to like their page on Facebook.
Amazon takes a 20% fee from every HIT, with a $0.01 minimum. It adds a little bit to your cost, but is still a small price to pay for access to the cheap labor. The billing is conveniently linked to your Amazon account, but you have to fund your Mechanical Turk account before any work can get done. Since the tasks are generally very basic, the quality of work is usually not a problem. Workers are anonymous, but subject to feedback ratings from their “employers.”
The platform can be a little tricky, and support is minimal, but no other service gives you access to such a large army of virtual workers. There are over 100,000 workers from every corner of the world ready to tackle your HITs.
Have you ever used Mechanical Turk? If so, please share your experience below.