The People Behind Amazon's Mechanical Turk

Amazon's Mechanical Turk is a web service that lets you assign tasks to human workers in exchange for payments. It is named after The Turk, a chess playing automaton made by Wolfgang von Kempelen in the late 1700s (it turned out that a chess master was hiding inside the machine).

Andy Baio of Waxy was curious to see what exactly the Amazon Mechanical Turk looks like, so naturally he started a new Turk experiment to answer two questions: what do these people look like, and how much does it cost for someone to reveal their face?

Here are his answers, #1:

And #2: about $0.50

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@Ursula - sorry, I thought you were referring to this Turk experiment.

I can't fathom any job on the Turk that would make it a sweatshop. I can't imagine anyone being coerced into relying on the Turk to make a living (either through force or lack of other options).
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Barry, I duno, there's some serious money being made by "gold farming" in MMOs. It goes both ways you know, people with jobs don't want to waste the time playing to gain gold in game so they just buy it on the internet. I would also like to add that apparently another big sweat shop industry is accounting. It's cheaper for people to send your taxes elsewhere then for them to do it themself.
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Writing copy is a real job. Doing transcription is a real job. Research is a real job. But a set-up like this takes these jobs, breaks them into lots of little tasks and gives those tasks to people who will do them for virtually nothing. If you have just about any job that involves using your brains and a keyboard, make no mistake, this business model is a very real risk to your career.
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If you want to earn a real wage, go get a real job. But if you're just killing time on the computer--earning nothing--why not earn a few dollars? Probably a much more productive use of your time than playing WoW.
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The jobs listed on that site often take hours, or days. Here a few of the current "generous" offers:

"Research & Write Copy for Bio" for two dollars.

"5 Restaurant Review in your Area" for $1.01

And then there are jobs like "Write a 10,000 word article on the latest IM trend" - for a penny.

Salon published an informative article about this in 2006: http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2006/07/24/turks/ The article describes this as a virtual sweatshop, and that is spot on. Instead of having to hire a person to write something and paying them the going rate, they can hire 60 bored college kids at 2 cents each.

Now, in addition to outsourcing to other countries, jobs are being "crowdsourced" for pennies. At this rate, I seriously wonder what jobs will be left in the US by 2020.
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