Amazon Mechanical Turk


A few years back I heard about Amazon’s new “Mechanical Turk” service. Basically you post a task, an amount you’re willing to pay to have it completed, and then people from all over the world work on it.  In my opinion it is best suited for super repetitive simple tasks that you can’ have a computer program do.  For example:

  • Visit URL xxxyyy and copy the article author’s name, and date of the article
  • Look at this video and tag it with 5 relevant / descriptive keywords
  • Choose the best category for this product
  • Flag offensive content images

It seemed like a great idea, but in a cursory view it also felt like an overly complicated process, and at the time I didn’t have thousands of simple and similar tasks that I needed cranked out.

Fast-forward to this evening (yes, it is 1:00 am right now) and just as I was about to send off a mind numbing task to my new virtual assistant I paused… then the image of the Mechanical Turk came into my mind.  Not only did I feel this project was a perfect match for what I understood about Amazon’s groupsourced system, I was excited about the opportunity to finally test it out.

While Amazon could do a better job with documentation and training videos,  the process honestly wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be.

My task:  Visit all the URLs in a spreadsheet and copy specific information from each one and fill in the blanks.  Basic data mining / data entry.

Here are the steps (simplified) that I went through:

  1. Signed in with my Amazon account (cool… no other registration needed!)
  2. Learned that “HIT” stands for Human Intelligence Tasks
  3. Watched the “Get Started Video: Creating Your First HIT” video
  4. Clicked the “Design” tab and used the “Data Extraction” template
  5. Edited the template to add a few more questions and fields
  6. Downloaded the “sample of the input file for this HIT template” data csv which gave me the exact fields I needed to upload to work with my design template.
  7. Filled in all the data into the csv and uploaded it.
  8. Deposited the pre-payment funds into my account (used my existing credit card already on file with Amazon… COOL!)
  9. Published my “HIT”
  10. Watched as within 25 minutes 13 results had been submitted!

I wasn’t sure how to price out the per result / assignment  price.  I saw a LOT of HITs that were listed for $0.01 – $0.03 each… CRAZY.   I decided for my first test to list at $0.05 each.

What’s so cool is the “Manage” tab where you can see the magic happen in real time (auto refreshed every 5 seconds).  This page shows cool stuff like:

  • Time Elapsed:
  • Average Time per Assignment:
  • Estimated Completion Time:
  • Estimated Completion Time: (my favorite)

Here’s a screenshot:


As you can see my “hourly rate” is about $2.90 based on how long it is taking my little turks (there are at lease 4 people working on this as I type) to complete each “assignment”.

So, the question becomes, is this hourly rate good or bad compared to having my virtual assistant do the task instead?  Well, I guess that depends on if my VA is faster or slower, or if my VA would do better quality work or worse.

I think it is too early to tell, especially since this is just one single experiment.  With that said, so far I’m pretty impressed and I think I’d be inclined to use the Amazon Mechanical Turk for future projects that I feel is something that would bore my vitual assistant or take him away from other projects he’s working on.

(btw, in the time it took me to write this, my “effective hourly rate” has dropped to $2.47 and 10 more results have been submitted)

So, have you used this tool?  What are some super huge repetitive projects you think you could outsource to a bunch of Turks?

(Morning Update) – I woke up and found this: