Amazon Mechanical Turk–Are You Freaking Serious?

on January 15, 2010 in Freelance Writing Business, Freelance Writing Jobs
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In this series, we personally test traditional online freelance marketplaces to share first-hand experiences and honest assessments of marketplaces and resulting jobs, as many freelance writers turn to these outlets to find writing gigs. You can read all the posts in the series here.

This week, I tried Amazon Mechanical Turk. Mechanical who? Why, Mechanical Turk. Yeah, the name doesn’t make any sense to me either.

Amazon Mechanical Turk’s tagline is, “Artificial Artificial Intelligence.” They act as a middle-man to website owners and workers. On Mechanical Turk you can find HITS (which are what the individual jobs are called) that entail doing transcription work, labeling photos, and writing blog posts and articles.

Now before, in the first paragraph, when I said I “tried” Amazon Mechanical Turk this week, I lied a little. I should have said I tried to try but then got physically ill and threw up a little in my mouth and decided that trying to try to do anything on Amazon Mechanical Turk is stupid.

Once Upon a Time….

I didn’t always feel that way. When I first started out I used Amazon Mechanical Turk. After earning a whopping $5.65 by labeling photos for someone I realized the site was not for me, but felt that it was a good option for people with a little extra time on their hands who needed some cash. Having gone through many embarrassingly poor patches during childhood, I know what it’s like when you need money now and Amazon Mechanical Turk is not the worst way to get it.

When I logged in to my old account yesterday I thought that I would take some writing HITS so that I could tell you how much I earned and give you tips and stuff. Turns out it was way easier and less time consuming than I thought it would be.

Freelance Writing Tips for Using Amazon Mechanical Turk


Advertisement

Don’t use Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Okay, A Little More Detail…

The first writing HIT I found was for a 400 word article for $1.55. Did you get that? $1.55. Not only was the pay bad, but the instructions for SEO and formatting were about 139 words long. I mean, it would take me 30 minutes just to go through this person’s never-ending checklist to make sure I had even written the article according to spec. This person is so delusional he’s probably holding coal up his ass crack to try and squeeze out diamonds.

So I moved on to a different HIT thinking that this was just a fluke. Found one to write three 200 word or more posts on Easter baskets for $3.00. Now, before you point out that this is actually more per word than the one above, consider this—the guidelines/instructions for doing this gig were 645 words long! 645! WTF?

The Upshot

Many inexperienced freelancers out there will take this information and say—“See, freelance writing rates are going down. Content mills like Demand Studios are really the best way to go. They even try to provide health benefits and grants for creative pursuits!” The sad part about these inexperienced freelancers is that they have the key to unscrambling the low paying rates right there in their statement and they don’t even realize it.

Content mills and low paying webmasters like those who post their gigs on Amazon Mechanical Turk are losing in the money-making game and they know it. So they either start paying less (in the case of Amazon Mechanical Turk webmasters) to try and eke out a little profit from their Adsense or affiliate sales or they try crazy gimmicks like offering non-insurance health insurance and token grants to fill their factory of writers (in the case of Demand Studios) so that they can get more and more and more content to try and maintain earnings or get a small increase. Freelancers who spend their time finding private clients understand that, if anything, rates are going up for web writers--not down. They also understand that the contraction of the print industry it not a harbinger of doom for all writers, it's an indication of the popularity of online content--which means even more opportunity for high paying web content writing gigs.

If you are a good writer, don’t get sucked in to these sites. Set your own sites a little higher, market yourself, and define your career and your possibilities yourself—don’t let someone else do it for you.

Oh and, yes, Amazon Mechanical Turk is an offshoot of the real Amazon.com--but they are just a middle man. I wouldn't blame them for the rates.

Thanks for sharing!
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Yo Prinzel
Yolander Prinzel is the profit monster behind the Profitable Freelancer website. She has written for a number of publications and websites such as American Express, Covestor.com, Advisor Today, Money Smart Radio and the International Travel Insurance Journal (ITIJ). Her book, Specialty Ghostwriting: A New Way to Look at an Old Career, is currently available on Amazon.

Yo Prinzel

24 Comments

  1. Carson Brackney January 15, 2010 Reply

    First, HORRIBLE place to find work. If anyone out there is on a quest to find the bottom of the barrel, just head on over to AMT and call it a day. I’m more prone than many (okay, most) to see viable options for some writers in low-paying markets, but seriously…

    Second, I wish this was true:

    “Content mills and low paying webmasters like those who post their gigs on Amazon Mechanical Turk are losing in the money-making game and they know it.”

    Unfortunately, I don’t think it is. Many AMT job-posters and others trying to snag content at those rates are losing, but many are winning. Some are winning big. I think that’s going to continue until (a) Google gets its shit together with respect to how it ranks content or (b) we see a larger movement away from traditional search on the part of the Internet users.

    Third, WORST name ever. Why would anyone want to sign up to play the role of some cut-rate Turkish robot? Doesn’t the very name of the site make you feel weirdly dehumanized?

  2. Yolander Prinzel Author
    Yolander Prinzel January 15, 2010 Reply

    I think you are right Carson, and I should have clarified that those who are still making money see the writing on the wall re: Google Adsense revenue changes and ranking and are trying to beef up their content NOW. I think unless they figure out a new way to monetize the articles they get, they are going to have a big problem in the future.

  3. Carson Brackney January 15, 2010 Reply

    Absolutely. The writing is on the wall. Google can only function profitably to the extent that it successfully brokers the exchange of information to the end user.

    The shortcomings in the algorithm and the “creativity” of those doing business online are clearly (and inappropriately) rewarding sub-standard content. At some point, those polluted searches turn people off from using Google.

    I think it’s safe to say that Google will try do whatever it can to fix the problem (or at least to fix it enough to secure it’s own profitability and growth). They know that they’re losing many “ahead of the curve” users to other methods of finding quality content and information. The number is undoubtedly small as an overall %, but it’s an indicator that things could get bad down the road.

    If they can’t get the job done, someone else will. If that doesn’t happen in terms of old school search, it will just happen via some of the various social media and folksonomic alternatives.

    Right now, it makes sense for many webmasters to gather up as much cheap-ass content as they can, because they can experience some positive ROI over a short period. Eventually, evolution will probably slice that model’s throat.

    Once it’s bled dry, many of those freelancers will disappear. Some will struggle to move on to “whatever happens next.” Some of us will already be there.

    That’s one reason why I think even those of us (like me) who take a slightly more positive perspective on the idea of working in lower paying markets should probably do a much better job of explaining that the cheap joints can be a decent way of generating cash when you need it (as your post pointed out, there are times when you need money and you can’t be picky), but that it’s not a tenable long-term business model.

  4. Carol Tice January 15, 2010 Reply

    When I had a social-media expert tell me in an interview that she teaches her clients to use AMT to get 25-CENT articles, I was floored. I consider AMT to be prime fodder for my pressure campaign to embarrass portals out of business: http://caroltice.com/blog/27?PHPSESSID=b210f92e0b825b6ee866b910b04b51aa

    Amazon is a public company…tempted to stand up at their next annual meeting and ask why they have this sweatshop site offering these rates. Do they need this negative PR? I don’t think so.

    GREAT article, Yolander.

    Carol Tice
    http://www.caroltice.com
    http://Twitter.com/TiceWrites
    Make a Living Writing blog: The 7 Habits of Highly Paid Freelance Writers: http://www.caroltice.com/blog/39

  5. Lori January 15, 2010 Reply

    Oh my lord. Yolander, thank you. Thank you for the biggest laugh I’ve had all week! Hilarious account of a decidedly un-funny job “offer.”

    The strangest part of this is the fact that the client could’ve saved himself a buck and some change if he’d taken his extensive list of requirements, cut it in halve, and called it an article.

    People who want to take a stab at some form of writing will take these jobs. People with established careers and the ability/willingness to market themselves know it’s horse pucky.

    Personally, I’ve seen the opposite occurring in terms of rates. I’ve had clients coming back, stating they went cheaper and couldn’t match the quality to the lower price. I’m also seeing some who originally post these slave-wage jobs actually considering writers who demand higher rates. There are a lot of content mills jumping on board the same leaky business model. It may already be starting that the point of saturation has been reached and that fewer will need these thrown-together articles.

  6. Tamahome Jenkins January 15, 2010 Reply

    IMO, I think AMT works best for developing nations where 5 dollars for an hour worth of work is a lot of money: Exploitation 2.0

  7. Lori January 16, 2010 Reply

    Oh gawd, did I really type “cut it in halve?” Shudder! Sorry. My mind was going in two different directions. I blame Robutussin.

  8. Allena January 16, 2010 Reply

    “Threw up a little in my mouth”=freaking HILARIOUS! Thanks you Jenn!

  9. Anne Wayman January 18, 2010 Reply

    Lol, sort of.

    I’d totally forgotten about AMT – Carson is right – it’s a horrible name, and probably racist to boot.

    But that aside, I’d forgotten it because it’s so horrid.

    The sense that the writing is on the wall re seo I share… it can’t go on like it is much longer or Google et al become mostly useless.

    Those of us who’ve been online awhile have watched the slow change… search engines have both gotten better and worse. We’ve had to constantly alter our own search methods; google’s algorithms have gotten better and better. I gather they have skipped keyword stuffed pages for awhile now.

    It will be interesting to see how it’s working in a year, and even further down the road.

    A

  10. laura February 15, 2010 Reply

    First of all, take a few seconds and Google Mechanical Turk to find the meaning of the name. It makes complete sense.

    Second, I do writing work on MTurk. I live in the US and desperately need money. So yeah, I will do 200 words for $1.70 and be grateful I’m getting paid. Otherwise, I don’t eat! I’ve tried freelance writing sites and it’s really hard to get started. I have no track record, I don’t have knowledge that is required by quite a few of the requesters or the time to learn enough about the subject, and many, MANY freelancers have been working longer than me and get the job easily instead of me.

    Low wages on MTurk, or nothing. I’ll go with MTurk, and wish for higher pay while knowing it won’t happen.

    • Jennifer Mattern February 15, 2010 Reply

      You’re right Laura. With that attitude, it definitely won’t happen. If you really want better, you’ll stop making excuses (you gave plenty right here) and you’ll go out there and improve your career. Anyone who can construct a sentence can do better than MT. The only thing holding you back is you. That’s true for any freelancer who blames others for their choice to settle instead of working for better like the rest of us did. It isn’t easy. But until you’re prepared to do that, MT is probably where you’ll stay I’m sorry to say.

      • Anonymous April 15, 2010 Reply

        How is she blaming others? She said she uses MT or she doesn’t eat. Is that blaming someone else? If so, I’d love for you to enlighten me. I hope you’re not a freelance writer, and if you are, I hope you don’t have to rely on comprehension.

        The fact is, doing a few jobs on MT each day nets me $180/month. It takes me about 10 minutes to quickly peck out a “HIT winning” 300-400 word story. That’s 40 minutes of work, and about $9 per hour. I’m sorry, but I’d rather do this than push shopping carts in a sultry 95-degree parking lot for $7.40 per hour.

        • Jennifer Mattern April 15, 2010 Reply

          Speaking of comprehension, maybe you need to re-read Laura’s comment. She very clearly puts part of the blame on the experience of others rather than finding other ways to convey value to compete. That’s an excuse. It’s a common excuse. And it’s an excuse that condemns freelance writers to mediocrity (not sure I’d even rate MT as high as that frankly) because it’s easier to complain and blame someone else for your shortcomings than figure out what they are and how to move past them.

          I’d also suggest doing a bit of research on freelance finances. You’d find out that $9 per hour freelancing in many cases (if not most) actually works out to less than $7.40 under a normal employment scenario. Rates to wages are not directly comparable. Freelance rates to an employee’s total cost to a company are. That’s usually a huge difference in pay to get all things equal. I even gave specific examples recently (possibly on another post). You can find this information specific to your own local area at www.Salary.com. In my results looking at several different levels of writing work, it came to about a 30% difference between salary as an employee and what the freelance annual earnings equivalent would have to be to match it.

        • Yo Prinzel Author
          Yo Prinzel April 15, 2010 Reply

          It’s right here, “many, MANY freelancers have been working longer than me and get the job easily instead of me.” We have all had to start at a disadvantage experience-wise. If you continue to blame others (those people have more experience and they get the jobs easily so I can’t) then you will never get anywhere. It’s a defeatist attitude and it’s not good for the self-employed.

          Also, your rudeness and insults are unacceptable. You can disagree, but respect yourself enough not to insult others for their “inability to read,” when you may actually be the one who can’t.

          • Jennifer Mattern April 15, 2010

            Especially watch the insults when you don’t have the cajones to sign your comments. The comment policy here is clear — insults are never acceptable if you don’t publicly take credit for your words. I’ll let it slide this once since we already responded, and it would put the additional comments out of context to remove that now.

  11. Chris April 17, 2010 Reply

    Mechanical Turk is Hell

    A couple of days ago I spent a while as “worker” for Mechanical Turk, an Amazon spin-off that feeds tiny bits of work to people, who process it over the internet assembly line fashion.

    The chips are heavily stacked against you as a worker. Most of the HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks) woefully underpay the worker. And two full days later I have only gotten paid for 1 of my 11 tasks. After reading the impenetrable terms, I find that the “Requester” can arbitrarily reject my work and not pay me. He can wait indefinitely to pay me.

    Can you believe Amazon reserves the right to punish me for violating anything in their policies, which they only provide in dense legalese? Explanation in plain English is limited to a few points. Certainly it does not include an explanation of how you are signing access to your bank account over to Amazon, with no further permission required to take your money, which is buried deep in the legal text.

    Working for Amazon as a Mech Turk Drone is a sad place to be. It is a place of mental desolation. With egregiously poor pay and a total lack of rights Amazon runs Mechanical Turk like a PROFITABLE LITTLE PRISON WORK CAMP.

    It doesn’t surprise me. I used to sell on Amazon Marketplace and they have already made me angry enough to start a blog amazonfraud.recessionstories.net Please check it out and contribute. Amazon employees with inside dirt are particularly invited. Recessionstories.net is available to host other socially conscious sites for free.

  12. John Minaberry May 23, 2010 Reply

    Reading all your posts about AMT is certainly a humbling experience for me. I am but a lowly apprentice just starting out in this writing business, and AMT seemed the perfect place to start. Mental desolation? Egregiously ( great word– how do you say it?) poor pay and a total lack of rights? LITTLE PRISON WORK CAMP? Well, rip the veil from my stupid eyes; I didn’t know! The books and articles said write, write,write, right? Well, I’m write, write, writing and I’m getting paid for it, which is more than I got scribbling in my notebooks. Started out revising sentences for a penny apiece, went to 50 to 100 word paragraphs for a nickel to a quarter, and today I did a 500 word essay for 2 bucks. Two bucks! Praise The Lord, I’ve hit the big time! But seriously folks, I really am just learning, and having to do the research and write a paragraph in 20 minutes– and make it readable– is perfect practice for me. Someday, I’ll be able to peck out a 400 word essay in 10 minutes like that guy up there a few pages, and then it will be time to move on to something a bit more lucrative. Meanwhile, I’ll plug away at the Little Prison Work Camp Apprenticeship Program until I get my licks down, and who knows?, … (See? That punctuation shows what I know!) maybe in the future I can make like 10 bucks for an article. Imagine!

  13. Ronald W. Garrison August 19, 2010 Reply

    I tried AMT very, very briefly last fall. It was clear that I would be working for pennies per hour. Those in tight financial straits, I would think, would be the ones who could LEAST afford to mess with this bad joke. (I suppose I could see it if you live somewhere where the cost of living is about $50 a month.) The one point I can think to make, that no one apparently has made, is: If you are willing to work cheap for a while to grow some cred, then you need a job that actually PROVIDES that. Even an unpaid internship, or a volunteer job, makes much more sense. How is anyone going to know about the 5000 HITS you did for AMT (or any other anonymous situation)?

    I mean it—almost ANYTHING is better. For precisely two years, I made daily contributions to Distributed Proofreaders (providing input to Project Gutenberg). I can’t very well promote myself with that, either, but at least I could feel that I was unselfishly contributing to a good cause. But with AMT or any other thing of similar nature, what are you contributing to? It’s DOUBLE-ANONYMOUS: Not only does no one know who you are, but no one knows who THEY are, either!

  14. TurkingAway August 20, 2010 Reply

    Hello! Just thought I’d add in my 2 cents here.

    I’ve been working for AMT for about 3 months now, and I couldn’t agree with you more!

    The price per time spent on most of these hits are freaking terrrrrible!

    However, I mostly work for CastingWords, and other Transcription companies (SpeechInk, Claritrans) that post solely to AMT.

    It’s not too bad, I make between $800 and $1,000 per month.

    I make probably between 5-8 dollars an hour. Of course, I have a lot of time on my hands, so I just do as many hours as I can.

    AMT has helped my family out immensely, and we are finally starting to be able to pay off our credit card debt, and are saving up to move. ( This is not the norm, I’m sure. I’ve had to increase my typing speed immensely over the past few months. )

    This is one job that I’m glad that I can take with me anywhere. :D ( No more worrying over job security! Yay! )

    So for people who are doing all of the small HITs on AMT, I salute you. You have far greater patience than I.

    For us typing enthusiasts, all you need is to invest in a nice pair of headphones, torrent some good sound software like WavePad, and Express Scribe, and simply have at it! :) ( Mavis Beacon doesn’t hurt, either. lol )

    I also would like to give props to those who mention Google Adsense. The income I make on AMT will be put to good use, doing market research, investing in marketing, and helping me to build and maintain my web site. So that one day, I can cut back on the hours, and enjoy a little passive income. ( I’m going to have to work extremely hard to get there, since I’m such a greenhorn, but you’ve got to start somewhere! )

    Good luck to all of you, in your search for online income. :)

    ~TurkingAway

  15. Derrick September 4, 2010 Reply

    OMG – who doesn’t see straight through the lies “Turking Away” posted above? Truth is, AMT is filed with tight-wad requesters, greedy to get whatever it is they want done at slave wages. “Turking Away” is probably one such requester, as NO ONE is consistently, or even often – IF EVER earning more than a dollar an hour.

    • Joe October 20, 2010 Reply

      There are valid points being made on both side of the argument. A large proportion of mTurk requestors are looking to get content for the lowest price possible. However, there are those who pay an adequate (certainly not great) rate for people just looking to make some extra money. That is the key, mTurk is not a good choice for people to make a living unless you need very little money to live. I work with a specific requestor that pays about $6 per 500 word article. I can knock out a few of those an hour for a tidy sum. I have other full time employment so this is additional money and I don’t have to work to find these gigs. So the key is perspective and expectations. If you just want a little extra cash, it can be OK if you find the right situation but don’t think you will make a living off of it.

      • Jennifer Mattern October 20, 2010 Reply

        Remember, no matter how much or now little someone needs, “good” will always be relative to other options available. So as long as most other options still offer better opportunities, AMT won’t be “good” for the vast majority of folks.

  16. James Crews December 1, 2013 Reply

    I would like to add something myself. I consider myself to be an above average intelligent guy. My gt score for the military was a 123 and my sat score was like a 1350. I tried MTurk for about 3 hours today. I would follow instructions to the letter, mind you that many of the instructions can take 30m to an hour to learn properly. I rechecked my work three or sometimes even four times. After taking these long qualification test I would be told things like “you only got 78% out of 100, you need work” Keep in mind that these task are being graded automatically, no real person is looking at them. Before any trolls correct me for grammar, just know that I put in real effort with everything on MTURK and after working successfully for other online companies, that i can say this is the CRAPPIEST PLACE you could work online. Its like they don’t even check with the people posting the jobs. One site I went to wanted you to click on a link and watch 6 youtube video’s on how to rate their product. But when you follow the link there is only one video to watch with like four comments under it wondering where the other videos went so they could finish the QUALIFICATION test. It makes on wonder if the job poster was just trying to get additional hits on his/her video to get paid from you tube. MTURK with amazon Is very sketchy, they post as the middle man bringing you supposed work without it seems even verifying the job posters are even legit. I give it a rocking score of 1 out of 10. a.k.a. stay the hell away

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