Ask the Google gods how to make quick money online, and you’re bound to come across a couple of articles that recommend Amazon Mechanical Turk. Also referred to as mTurk, this Amazon platform allows users to complete tasks that computers can’t in exchange for easy money.
Easy money doesn’t necessarily mean good money, though. Often you’ll get paid pennies for your time captioning a video, transcribing an audio clip, taking surveys, writing trivia questions or even writing a full-fledged article. When you first sign up, you’re likely to see jobs, or Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) as they’re more commonly known, offering anywhere from a penny to a couple dollars.
Back in 2011, when I knew nothing about pulling in extra cash online, I came across one of said articles and took mTurk for a whirl. I spent a cumulative five hours earning a little over $5, bringing my average hourly wage to a little over a dollar per hour.
I quickly abandoned the platform, but things haven’t gotten better since I ran my experiment five years ago. Amazon Mechanical Turk is commonly referred to as a digital sweatshop because of the obscenely low pay, and many report feeling like the work they’ve done is unethical.
How Amazon Mechanical Turk Works
There are 500,000+ people around the world turking. While most of them are from the US and India, Amazon has enlisted the help of workers from over 190 countries total. If you’re interested in joining the force, you’ll find the set up process is pretty simple and straightforward.
How to sign up
To get started with Amazon Mechanical Turk, you’ll need something most of us have: an Amazon account. However, you need to take it one step further than just having a credit card on file for easy check out. For turking, you need to set up your Amazon Payments information which includes your mailing address, Social Security number, tax information and payment settings.
How to perform HITs
After you’re all set up, you’ll be able to view available HITs. To give you an idea of what you’ll be doing, here are some of the jobs from just a few days ago:
Primarily, these jobs involve transcription work. For example, if you took the second job, you’d earn $.01 for extracting and transcribing purchased items from an image of a receipt. If you took all 117,046 HITs yourself, you’d earn $1,170.46, but you’d also have spent a lot of time deciphering 117,046 receipts.
Other jobs that have appeared in the past include writing trivia questions, captioning videos, taking surveys, and writing articles of varying lengths.
To accept a singular hit, you click on the “View” option to the far right. You will be shown an example of the HIT, and then have the option to “Accept” or “Skip.”
How to get paid
Any money you earn from completing your HITs will be deposited into your Amazon Payments accounts. From there, you can decide if you’d like the money transferred directly to your bank account, or if you’d like to redeem your earnings via an Amazon Gift Card.
Some People Do Make Money Turking
If you spend a lot of time turking, you’ll start to see some higher-paying jobs. “Higher-paying” is a relative term, though; if you have tens of thousands of HITs under your belt, you can start seeing jobs that pay around $9-$25 per hour. You’re also more likely to be approached for private contract work.
You will have to spend a significant amount of time building up those tens of thousands of HITs, though, and you’ll have to maintain an approval rating of as close to 100% as possible. This means avoiding shady requesters. There are some solid strategies to making sure those rating your work are doing so fairly.
How to maintain a high approval rating
- Be careful who you accept work from: Don’t accept a huge number of HITs from someone you haven’t worked with before, as each, individual HIT has the potential to negatively affect your approval rating. If you haven’t yet built up a good relationship, you don’t know how they will rate you.
- Avoid opinion-based HITs: You also want to avoid surveys and other question/answer-based tasks that require you to provide an opinion. If the requester uses a true/false rating system after asking you what you think, you’ll be guessing as to which opinion they want to hear. If you get into a HIT and realize this is what’s happening, return it. Losing the small amount of money is better than having your approval rating lowered, as that’s what will affect your ability to get higher paying jobs in the future.
- Use resources available to you: Some turkers use the University of California San Diego’s Turkopticon plugin to identify requesters who don’t pay and/or give unwarrantedly poor approval ratings. This tool allows you to benefit from the experience of others so you don’t suffer the same fate.
Some People Don’t Care that They’re Not Making Money Turking
For some, Amazon Mechanical Turk provides a way to bring in extra money when there seems to be no other alternative. While the pay is extraordinarily low, the flexibility of working from home and accepting HITs only when you are able to with no running obligation provides those with chronic, yet unpredictable disabilities such as depression and Multiple Sclerosis with a way to supplement an extremely limited income as their illnesses prevent them from taking on jobs that require a set schedule.
Still others use mTurk as a way to get their hands on extra spending money. These people aren’t struggling to pay their bills every month, but would like a little extra cash on hand for the occasional splurge. They work full-time jobs, and aren’t interested in adding a regular part-time position to their routine. They view the flexibility and low obligation of mTurk as positives that outweigh the very real negative of low pay.
Alternatives to Turking
Turking pays a pittance. There are much better ways to pull in some cash on the side, even some that are legit stay-at-home gigs, which have low barriers to entry. Here are just a few of them:
- Get a part-time job. Even if you’re only getting paid minimum wage, you’ll be massively outperforming the potential starting rate on Amazon Mechanical Turk.
- Sell your stuff via the internet. Go through your house and find the things you don’t need or use anymore. List them on an online marketplace such as craigslist or eBay. If you use craigslist, you won’t even have an obligation to leave your house. You can have buyers come to you. The time you spend taking pictures, listing and mailing is almost sure to have a better hourly return than turking as a newbie.
- Actually get paid for your work as a transcriptionist. If transcribing or captioning from home sounds like a realistic way you could bring in some extra money, shop around. mTurk is not the only platform that pays for these services, and there are many that pay much, much better—even into double digit hourly wages.