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November 06, 2005

Turkish Delight

I spent a bit of time today working for the Mechanical Turk. This is Amazon's new thing-a-mabob (I'll assume you know what it is). I've got four kids that will eventually need college tuition paid, so why not earn some extra $$$ from the comfort of my den.

The Turk presents you with Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) which you are then paid to complete (actually you're paid when your work is approved by the person who submitted the HIT). At the moment only tasks from Amazon itself are presented. They are in 3 varieties: "A9 BlockView(tm) Image Adjustment", "Automotive Product Title and Feature Point Content", and "Automotive Product Description Content".

The first one involves looking at pictures and trying to find which one best matches an address. The pictures were apparently taken every 20 feet or so from a vehicle driving down the street. GPS can give a rough idea of the address but they are using us to find the best match. For this you get 3 cents per answer.

I tried two cities, Las Vegas and New York. Las Vegas was hopeless. The addresses were all in strip malls so they had no particular relation to location within a block, and most of the pictures were the side of whatever building in the mall happened to be nearest the street (not to future Turkers: you should accept the HIT before looking at the pictures; if you look at the pictures first, by the time you accept it will have been assigned to some other smoofhead with nothing better to do). Then I tried New York, which was much better. For example for an address like 114 First Ave. you might see addresses 124 through 110. In New York, business actually display their addresses prominently, like in giant letters on the awning, so it is easy to find the right place if it's in one of the pictures (although it isn't always there: one HIT looking for 119 W. 57th tantalizingly ended at 117 W. 57th, just short of the intended address).

After racking up enough do-re-mi to buy stock in a piece of gum, I checked out the other two HITs being offered. But these required actual work.

One involved looking at an existing product title and set of feature points, and updating them to be accurate and match a style guide. You were allowed to copy text off the manufacturers website, but not from other retailers. For this work, which seemed to require some skill and would probably take about 5 minutes, minimum, they were offering 40 cents.

The other one was even worse/better. Given a product, you were supposed to write a new description, after doing your own research. For this you received the munificent sum of 65 cents, IF they liked your work (which would be manually reviewed by someone, presumably earning more than 65 cents for their time).

The thing is in beta, so I would suspect that they are offering ridiculously low pay to test it out. Or else they are trying to leverage the "coolness" of the Turk to pay researchers $2-$3 an hour (even for the image recognition, which is brain dead simple, you probably couldn't do more than one a minute, or less than $2 an hour). Then again this is the Internet, land of the wiki, so it may work.

Posted by AdamBa at November 6, 2005 09:02 PM

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the name Mechanical Turk is politically incorrect and should be changed.

Posted by: Honor Gunday at November 6, 2005 10:30 PM


I have a felling this will be pretty popular in India and other South Asian countries whose currencies are enormously devalued w.r.t. the US$.

Agreed, the $$ for each of the tasks is below minimum wage, but when you convert it to Indian Rupee (X50), it is not throwaway money in India. One more thing to note is that 50 INR gets you MUCH more than the equivalent US$1, considering purchasing power parity.

Posted by: Arun at November 7, 2005 12:45 AM

This is a great use of the internet. Too bad the pay is so low. Those Houston addresses were pretty impossible too. If they want a nail solon, why take a picture of a Karate place?

Posted by: Brian at November 7, 2005 11:01 AM

Actually this kind of pay rate ($2/hour) is typical for Amazon, which is a run by a pathological bunch of cheapskates.

Posted by: JB at November 7, 2005 12:11 PM