Amazon Mechanical Turk Review: Quick Money or Waste of Time?

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Editor’s Intro:

This Amazon Mechanical Turk review is something I’ve wanted to post for a while. However, as with WriterAccess, I wanted to wait until I found someone who’d used the platform extensively. There’s no point in posting a review of something having only glanced at it, and that’s not how we do things at HomeWorkingClub.

As such, I’m delighted to hand you over to Patricia, who’s been using “MTurk” for some time, and has used that experience to produce this detailed Amazon Mechanical Turk review.

What is Amazon Mechanical Turk?

Amazon Mechanical Turk, or MTurk, as it;s popularly known, is a crowdsourced microwork site that was created in 2005. It’s a place where you can do be paid for carrying out small online tasks.

The name comes from a device invented by Hungarian Wolfgang von Kempelen, who in 1769 convinced much of Europe that he’d built what amounted to a chess-playing robot. However, the “robot” was powered by a chess master sitting inside the mechanism!

While computers are good for tons of things, they’re not good for everything. Tasks such as transcription, research, and object verification are best performed by real people. Rather than hiring a temporary workforce, companies find it easier to outsource these tasks to a large group, particularly since the tasks don’t take much time individually.

How to get started with Amazon Mechanical Turk

MTurk has its own site, independent of the main Amazon site. You can sign up with your existing Amazon account. Alternatively, you can create an account with your name, address and phone number. You then have to answer a couple of very basic questions about why you want to work for MTurk. It generally takes about 48 hours to be verified, and once you are, you can start picking up tasks immediately.

(Editor’s Note: I’ve also noticed that Amazon Mechanical Turk seems to temporarily suspend applications from some countries at certain points).

Before you sign up, be aware that at the time of writing only workers in the US and India can take their earnings in real money. Everyone else can transfer their earnings to an Amazon gift card, but that balance is only good on and not any of Amazon’s international sites, including the UK, Canada or Europe.

If you’re working on MTurk from America or India, you can set up an Amazon Payments account and connect it to a bank account to get paid. If you already have an Amazon Payments account, there’s no need to set up another.

What kind of Amazon Mechanical Turk jobs are there?

Work orders are known as HITs or Human Intelligence Tasks. The majority of HITs are:

  • Completing surveys
  • Online research
  • Transcription, either from written or audio sources
  • Image identification
Mechanical Turk task examples

How much work is available on MTurk?

Unlike other microwork sites, such as ClickWorker, MTurk always seems to have plenty of available tasks. I have never run out of HITs, particularly if I’m accessing the site during regular business hours.

One requester can submit multiple “HIT requests.” The most I’ve seen one submit is about ten thousand at once. I’ve gone online at two in the morning on a Sunday and still found plenty to do.

In the first ten days after you’re verified, you’re limited to accepting 100 HITs per day. After that, you can work as many as 3800 per day. If those numbers sound ridiculously high, keep in mind that the majority of HITs take less than five minutes to complete, and some can even be done in seconds.

How Amazon Mechanical Turk works

The view of Mechanical Turk shown below gives an example of the kind of “HIT” tasks that are typically available. Any orange box marked “Accept & Work” is a HIT that you can jump into right away. Gray boxes marked with a lock icon and “Qualify” have additional requirements. Those generally involve having completed a certain number of HITs or a low rejection rate, although some do ask you to take a short test or just click to ask to be “qualified.”

Using Mechanical Turk

Below is an example of a HIT task, along with information on the qualification requirements and what you can get paid.

MTurk HIT Example

The HIT screen view can be filtered just to show the HITs for which you’re qualified.

What do HITs look like on MTurk?

Because of confidentiality agreements, I can’t show you an actual HIT, but they tend to be pretty basic.

If you’ve taken surveys elsewhere, the interface is little different; you’ll see lots of the same companies that pop up on other survey sites.

For data collection, you’ll be asked to go to websites or be shown photographs, and then be asked simple questions such as “is this a vegan cookbook” or “what is this site’s Pinterest address?” A popular HIT involves extracting data from store receipts.

Transcription usually involves entering data from handwritten forms or audio recordings. For those with webcams, you can do HITs that ask you to record gestures or read lines. A time limit is set on each HIT, but since HITs tend to be uncomplicated, the chances of running out of time are slim to none. You also have the option to skip a HIT if it doesn’t look interesting, or to auto-accept HITs from the same requestor so that the work keeps rolling.

WARNING: Amazon Mechanical Turk tasks shouldn’t require you to hand out any personal details, so if you encounter any HITs that do, they are best avoided.

The Big Question: How much does Amazon Mechanical Turk pay?

The quick answer: not a lot – but the earning potential is much higher than it is on some other similar sites.

The less work that’s involved in completing a HIT, the lower the pay rate. HITs only paying a penny or two are plentiful. However, some requestors do pay small bonuses for completing a certain amount of HITs. Also, the more HITs you successfully complete, the more you’ll be qualified to do and the better the pay. This can mean forty cents per HIT rather than three or four cents.

I read and type quickly, so I can complete a large number of HITs in a short time. As an experiment, I let my husband, who’s not a fast typist by any means, try MTurk out. Even as slow as he was – and trust me, he was slow – he was able to crank out twenty-two HITs in about fifteen minutes, and all of them were accepted.

He made $1.55 for his time, including a couple of time bonuses, so that worked out to $6.20 an hour. This is not the American minimum wage, but not that horrible compared to other microwork sites. Obviously, with practice comes speed!

There are some interesting MTurk Reddit threads out there, where people report a wide range of income levels, from less than five bucks an hour to $12-16 per hour. Technical competence and speed will always be the main factors.

How to get paid (or gift-carded)

One very positive thing to raise in this Amazon Mechanical Turk review is that there’s no “hoop-jumping” required with MTurk pay.

Once a HIT has been accepted, your earnings appear on your dashboard and can be immediately transferred to your bank account or your Amazon gift card balance with no minimum required.

The majority of HITs I’ve completed have been accepted within minutes, but if you’re working for a requester with a large number of HITs, acceptance might take a little longer. Rejections do happen, but you can always touch base with the requestor and learn the reasons behind them, so mistakes can be avoided in the future.

The Bigger Question: Can you make a living from Amazon Mechanical Turk?

I stated earlier that once you get past the ten-day probationary period, you can work up to 3800 HITs a day.  I take it that MTurk set that number based on someone’s crazy hustle! Working a few hundred HITs, though, is not out of the question for dedicated workers.

I’ve cranked out over three hundred HITs in about four hours when I’ve been motivated, and I can say that I made more than minimum wage doing so. Scripts such as MTurk Suite exist that can streamline the process. If the work is available and you’re willing to invest the time, yes, you can make a semi-okay living wage. Just don’t expect to be that entertained by what you’re doing.

MTurk is well worth considering as a side hustle, or as a way to fill in quieter periods when you first start freelancing. It makes a good addition to your portfolio and remember that even at Amazon there are plenty of additional ways to make money from home.

Amazon Mechanical Turk Review: Pros and Cons

The Pros:

  • MTurk is a legitimate microwork site. If you do the work and the work is accepted, you’ll get paid, period.
  • An uncomplicated interface.
  • The majority of the HITs are incredibly easy and can be previewed before acceptance.
  • A very thorough help section is available on the site.
  • There are many forums, including the Amazon Mechanical Turk Reddit thread, where you can share experiences or ask questions.
  • You can move up in earnings if you push out a lot of HITs.

The Cons:

  • Cash payment is only available to US and Indian workers, and earnings outside of those countries can only be used on the American
  • Most HITs pay literally pennies.
  • As with any other online contracting site, you’ll run into requestors who are asking too much for what they’re willing to pay, or those who seem to reject on a whim.
  • Difficult to sustain extended work times due to repetition.
  • Getting into the upper echelon, aka Master Qualification, is practically impossible if you listen to people on forums.
  • Even at the highest levels, you’re not going to make that much money.

Amazon Mechanical Turk Review: Conclusion

I conclude this Amazon Mechanical Turk review by saying that as far as microwork sites go, you can do a lot worse than MTurk. Being backed by the mighty Amazon has its privileges. In my experience, MTurk is best as a part-time gig for pocket money. While it can be done full time, it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a great idea.

If you’ve worked for Amazon Mechanical Turk, please share your experiences in the comments. If you want to dive deeper into making a living from micro-work, there are plenty of books out there on the subject.