Businesses all over the world almost continually need one thing – good workers. The need for good workers at a reasonable rate is universal – it doesn’t matter if you’re the owner of a one person business or a multi-million dollar business, from time to time you’re going to need help to get tasks done. And now there is a place online where you can find jobs, but you can also find workers. Let me tell you a little about it especially if you are looking for work or are a business person looking for workers because a good resource is too good to keep hidden.
Admittedly, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk has an odd name. Perhaps that’s why the users really call it Mturk. If you want to understand what it is, think of a hiring hall with lots of unemployed workers milling around. Businesses that need workers contact the hiring hall’s clerks, who process the requests and then call out into the hall: Three longshoremen! A finish carpenter! Four accountants who don’t make many math errors! Mturk is that hiring hall – electronically speaking.
In todays market place finding good workers is more important than ever and the ability to provide good work skills can easily be offered at this marketplace. Anyone who wants a job done can become one of the requesters – another word used for employer on Mturk. The requesters use a digital bulletin board to post their needs. Mturk workers then scroll through page after page of these requests, picking out the ones they’re willing to work on.
Consider this example: A professor wants to survey 500 people to get their reactions to certain questions for a psychology experiment. The professor goes to Mturk and requests workers willing to answer the survey for, say, 5 cents each. He sets a time limit on how long they can take to complete the task once they begin – say, one hour (so workers don’t just lock onto lots of jobs but never finish them). The professor may also set certain requirements for the people he wants to survey.
Additionally, some of these filters may be set through them. For example, to avoid sloppy workers, he may require that they have a history of having their work accepted at least 95 percent of the time. For other requirements – that they work in a particular industry, perhaps – he may need to set up a qualifying test, which workers have to pass to be qualified to accept the job in the first place.
Mturk workers scrolling through the bulletin board of job requests would then see the professor’s job and can get a sneak preview of what he wants them to do. If they decide it interests them – and if they decide the time it would take is worth 5 cents – then they accept the job, fill out the survey and submit it. Once the professor has verified they’ve completed the job, he triggers payments into the workers’ accounts.
Consider another example: A social networking Web site lets its users upload photos of themselves. But it doesn’t want to accept pornographic images. It receives hundreds of photos each day. How can it screen all of them? They become a requester. It bundles its photos into batches of five or 10, and sets up an online form for a worker to mark each one as acceptable or not.
Each batch is then offered as a separate “hit”, paid for independently. Just so you’ll know, a “Hit” is Mturk’s word for a job. In the first example, the professor’s survey, there was one hit involving one possible task – but 500 workers could each perform the same task. In this example, there may be dozens of hits each day, but each one is offered only once. Either one Mturk worker could do all of them, or several workers could each claim a few of the hits.
The examples above are common types of work available on Mturk. After all, this is an electronic exchange – you can’t build a cabinet or plumb a sink over the Internet. Other common jobs might include transcribing audio clips, doing basic Web-based research, answering or asking questions in online forums.
It is important to point out that most Mturk jobs don’t pay much – a penny per hit is not unusual, and anything more than a quarter per hit is rare. Compared to what an individual would earn for the same task in a full-time job, of course, the compensation is tiny. But for people who have free time – especially those who already spend a lot of time online, some of it just wasting time – the jobs do offer what people used to call “pin money” – small amounts that can be used for minor incidental luxuries.
The Mturk system can be used for bigger projects, and some hits are available by invitation only, to workers who have established relationships with Mturk requesters. Those requesters and workers can simply use the system as a way to interact long-distance. Amazon does charge the requesters for using the service, but it’s free to workers.
It’s actually surprising someone didn’t think of this before. Think of all those people clicking away at silly games online or paging through chatrooms: an army of potential workers waiting for something to do. Mturk, the Amazon Mechanical Turk, gets them into action, making money and doing business online.