Amazon Mechanical Turk, or "MTurk" as site users call it, is a freelance crowd-tasking platform that enables cash-strapped individuals looking for a side hustle to make a few bucks performing in-demand tasks for clients - usually for short pay and on tight deadlines.
Workers on MTurk only engage with clients on a task-by-task basis - it's part-time work where freelancers can connect with companies, organizations and individuals looking to get help performing a short-term task or job. Amazon's (AMZN - Get Report) goal is to bring human intelligence onto the MTurk platform, thus giving as Amazon describes it, "a diverse, on-demand, scalable workforce that gives workers a selection of thousands of tasks to complete whenever it's convenient."
All a freelancer has to do is sign up on the Amazon Mechanical Turk site and choose from thousands of tasks and jobs across the globe, and start earning part-time gig money that may help with the household budget - if you choose the tasks that offer the best return on investment for your time and effort.
Any pay earned on MTurk won't create an immense amount of wealth (some gigs pay only pennies on the dollar), but the platform does give workers a pipeline to instant cash to use as they see fit, whenever they feel like logging in and taking a gig.
The short-term tasks available vary, and may include the following work:
- Transcription services, usually involving audio notes that need to be transcribed and organized
- Data entry, usually for back office accounting work or for data spreadsheets, workflow documents and for academic studies and reports
- Online translation of articles, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and other information content forms
- Describing or identifying an online photo or image
- Writing and editing for online content creation
- Graphic design, web site design, and search engine optimization (SEO) tasks
- Computer programming
- Identifying social media trends
- Entering an up-to-date price on online products and services (like those sold on Amazon.com or eBay.)
- Capturing screenshots of online photos and digital videos
- Reviewing videos, articles, social media posts, and photos.
- Taking paid surveys
- Machine learning tasks like tagging data and annotating data.
Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) uses the term "micro-tasks" for the above jobs, i.e., quick, short-term jobs that don't take a lot of time to complete (if you know what you're doing) and don't pay a lot of money (more on that below.)
The goal is a quick turnaround for MTurk micro-tasks, which does give knowledgeable freelancers an opportunity to turn over jobs quickly, and line themselves up for more work and more money, using the platform.
How Does Amazon Mechanical Turk Work?
For freelancers and taskers looking for work on MTurk, the entry point is both easy and straightforward.
Signing Up In signing up on the site, you automatically become what Amazon (
Get Report) calls a "Mechanical Turk Worker", or "Turker." After signing up a Turker can review a list of Human Intelligence Tasks submitted by a company, organization, or individual (known as Requesters) looking for tasking help on the platform.
Finding Work on MTurk
The Requester lists the job that needs to be done, the rate of pay offered, and the timetable for delivery. The Turker clicks on the task and expresses interest or ignores the task. If the task is a good fit, the Turker is chosen to do the work.
Completing the Task and Getting Paid
The tasks, more formally known as "Human Intelligence Tasks" (HITs) on the platform, need to be completed to the Requestor's satisfaction before pay can be submitted. Once the task is approved as "complete", the money owed is automatically paid within 24 hours, and appears on the Turker's personal MTurk dashboard.
MTurk freelancers can also elect to steer their payment to an Amazon gift card or Amazon account, for personal use as they see fit.
Turkers have a great degree of flexibility in using the platform and choosing jobs, but they are required to complete a minimum of Human Intelligence Tasks completed in their first 10 days as an MTurk freelancer.
Basically, the more HITs you complete, the faster you hit key payment benchmarks like 100 or 1,000 HITS, which once cleared, provide the Turker with access to better-paying gigs.
Tips on Maximizing Your Earning Power on MTurk
Potential taskers need to face facts - you're not going to get rich working on the platform. Most jobs pay a few dollars an hour, with the more technology-oriented tasks paying the most ($10 or more per task) and tasks like completing surveys ($3 to $5 per survey is common.)
To maximize your payment experience on MTurk, there are a few steps you can take to increase your earning power beyond simple task selection:
Be Vigilant During Business Hours The highest paying jobs on the platform are usually available during U.S. business hours. Thus, it's best to check in first thing in the morning, when MTurk Requesters are busy trying to fill tasks, and will likely pay extra to get the job done.
Correspondingly, weekends are the slowest period and offer the lowest paying jobs.
Stay Busy The more tasks you complete, the more "in demand" you'll be on MTurk. Requesters prefer to work with Turkers who are experienced using the platform and have a good record.
Consequently, if you can accumulate, for example, 1,000 HITS on the platform, that shows you know what you're doing, are reliable, and can get the task completed. That's what Requesters want to see.
Taskers are rated for quality of work on the site, as Requesters want to how well a Turker scores on reliability, quality of work submitted, and attention to directions. Turkers who do a good job not only get paid promptly, but they also earn a high score (any score above 90% is what you're aiming at.) Typically, Requesters hire platform taskers at that scoring level - anything below that and you may not get the job.
Be a Qualifier Note that you may have to "qualify" for some jobs. That could mean more vetting from the tasking provider or taking a quick test from MTurk to show you have subject matter expertise. The more tasks you qualify for, the more work you'll get, so spending time qualifying for different tasks can be worth your while as a regular MTurk user - doing so separates you from other taskers on the site.
Risks in Using Amazon Mechanical Turk
There are downside risks to using Amazon Mechanical Turk, and they land primarily in the time and money side of the ledger.
After all, time is a commodity, too, and users surely want to be rewarded for time spent completing tasks on the MTurk platform.
Consequently, the largest risk in using Amazon Mechanical Turk is wasting precious time for little money. When tasks take several hours to complete, and you've only earned $9 for two hours of task work completing surveys, for example, the risk is that you've spent too much time chasing too little money.
While that's the biggest risk when using the platform, it's not the only one:
You don't get paid by the Requestor, you get paid by Amazon. Amazon plays the middleman on payments to companies and organizations looking for micro-tasking help on MTurk. Amazon gets a 20%-to-40% cut of the project/task proceeds, which doesn't leave a lot of cash for the individual who completed the task. Know that going into any MTurk tasking scenario.
Task times can be extended, but you don't earn more money. You don't want to complete a task worth $15 and be told your work was incomplete or incorrect, and are tasked to go back and redo your work. But that's a common scenario on freelance job sites - for whatever reason, the client needs more done on the project but doesn't pay any more money for the extra work. If you want to get paid as a Turker, and are asked to revisit and complete the task, you'll need to do so to get paid.
The "burnout" factor is high. When you're chewing up the clock to complete a task that's only worth $8, and you do so repeatedly, you stand a decent chance of burning all your energy working on the platform.
With time constraints heavy and the financial return low, on average, you don't want to make a full-time job out of Amazon Mechanical Turk - most Turkers don't.
It's never too late - or too early - to plan and invest for the retirement you deserve. Get more information and a free trial subscription to TheStreet's Retirement Daily to learn more about saving for and living in retirement. Got questions about money, retirement and/or investments? We've got answers.