Beer Money: Mechanical Turk on Campus

A constant issue in the Mechanical Turk community is the rate of pay: given the low prices of HITs, and the time it takes to execute them, many people have complained that - even at breakneck speed - they're having a hard time hitting minimum wage.

Others take a more casual attitude, saying that Mturk is an online pastime like blogging, chatting, or surfing - only this one pays you to do it.

Perhaps it boils down to personality types. Or maybe it's a matter of finding the right audience. In the early days of Mturk, the inevitable trend seemed to be that India would dominate the worker population, with their killer combo of English skills, internet access, and low wage demands.

This hasn't happened (yet) mostly because Amazon's payment system is very low-tech and US-centric. If PayPal becomes an option, then it'll be a very different ball game.

But for now, given the current set-up, is there an ideal workforce for Mechanical Turk? College students seem like a no-brainer: they are smart, low on cash, and have high-speed connections on many campuses. But let's look more closely at the factors, because they do a lot to highlight the benefits of working at Mturk.

  • Many on-campus college students don't have cars, so job opportunities are limited. Mturk's telecommute not only makes work more reachable, but also saves the cost of driving for students that do have cars (a huge factor these days.)
  • Mturk is a casual take-it or leave-it workplace. I can log-in for 15 minutes or an entire Saturday afternoon - how many jobs offer that? College students have their studies and their social lives to think about, so flexibility is a huge draw.
  • Also, think about the upfront cost: all the steps a person must take to find even the simplest part-time position. Plus the commute, plus the workplace friction, etc. For a college student looking for a couple hundred bucks a month, Mechanical Turk is compelling because there's no barrier to entry.

In short, the appeal of Mechanical Turk is not that it's big money, or even fair money, but that it is literally easy money.
I'm sure a lot of other audiences share some of those factors, and would find Turk equally appealing.


spamgirl said...

"For a college student looking for a couple hundred bucks a month, Mechanical Turk is compelling because there's no barrier to entry."

Are you on the same Mechanical Turk I am? I know onla handful of people who can make $100, let alone a couple hundred on mTurk in a month!

Sherwood said...

So, what do the three-figure workers to do get their pay? Are they using notifier and accepter scripts to snag work as it's posted? And if so, do you think that advnatage will matter less once work becomes more plentiful?

The other glaring issues is - yes - the low prices of HITs. NowNow has reached a new low by offering zero cents, with bonuses being the only incentive.

With trends like this, who needs enemies.

spamgirl said...

They're using their own scripts, that's all I know :) For now, that is what keeps us on top... and is the only way to make more than $100 a month.

When GOOD work becomes more plentiful, then yes, it will matter less, but unless we see a A9-like HIT suddenly appear in a volume like last October, nothing will change.

FWIW, NowNow HITs pay between 0 and 2 cents randomly.

AWArulz said...

Of course, if you want to make the fantastic bucks we make on turk, you need the tools, and I know different folks use different tools.

and I do know college student who make a few bucks a week while they sit arond and update their myspace and footboard accounts.

FreeRangeAuthor said...

I just ran into this Mech Turk thing, today (Dec 19).

Payrate would seem to be a competition with our welfare state - can I make more on the the public dole, for the time invested to comply with the welfare red tape; some of the Mturk completion times appear to exceed the red tape investment for the welfare state benefits.

OR, can I make more begging on the street - some people have good careers being full time beggers, presenting false personas - maybe someone could start BegTurk?

Also strange is the comment that scripts are being used to facilitate completion - bots answering bots, which seems to defeat the purpose of MTurk.

From my cursory view of the system, it doesn't impress me; but I'm not privy to the transaction stats.

Michael said...

I'm a turker in the UK. I usually divide the actual time required to complete a task by the pay rate.

Rating a few web sites might take only five minutes each, but if the pay is ten cents for rating three such websites in one hit, that in turn pays less than transcribing 10 minutes of audio which takes two hours to perfect. In turn, improving the quality of a transcription might only take an hour, but pays half as much.

I don't do this as a mainstream job, but I am learning all sorts of interesting stuff - conversations range from yoga sessions to web site page design and the art of selling paintings.

My earnings are around $4 a day for two hours work. This compares favourably to any local part-time work which would require me to travel to the work place, work a six hour shift, and take a taxi home.