Thursday, April 17, 2008

Amazon Mechanical Turk

I'm afraid I have to make a digression here. Have you heard of Amazon Mechanical Turk? It's sort of difficult to explain unless you've been to Amazon's page and tried doing what's know as a HIT. Basically, the site is filled with tasks which, supposedly, computers can't do. These tasks are called HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks). And these tasks are assigned to humans. And these tasks are supposed to be things like, "Look at this picture. Describe the picture. What's in the picture?" If you successfully complete the HIT, you get paid, say, a whole cent! So basically, a HIT is something that's even too demeaning for a computer to do.

Well, I got very fascinated by this and spent hours and hours browsing the HITs. Some of it is unreal. Like: this Thursday watch TV from 8pm to 11pm and transcribe all the commercials. Pay? Fifty cents!

I was surprised by how many HITs there were for copywriting. Hardly in the spirit of the original idea. And they want to pay you less than a dollar for something a freelance copywriter would probably charge twenty dollars or so for. There were also people who wanted you to submit comments to their blogs. I have a blog. I'm desperate for comments. Would I pay someone a cent to write up a comment? Tempting.

One HIT was for a recipe that used six ingredients or less. I did that one and earned fifty cents! That's pretty good money in the world of Turk and I was pumped. Overall, for about an hour of work, I made $1.26!

So all was good in the world of AMT -- until I started getting screwed. Like UQSoft + Guessnow wanted you to submit time-sensitive quiz questions. Like who will win the Pennsylvania primary. So I did two HITs. And guess what? I never heard back from them. And these questions were Time Sensitive. Got the hint, UQSoft?

You can also earn qualifications. Take tests so you can qualify for $5 jobs. So I tried to take one from some requester (that's the people asking for HITs) who wanted transcribing done. The test wouldn't download. I was further disqualified from taking their test as that counted as abandonment.

Another problem I encountered was a HIT that was so badly worded, I ended up submitted my HITs to the wrong website (they wanted it done on their website but failed to say so specifically). I was denied payment. I complained. They didn't care.

So I did what you do. I complained to Amazon. Twice. Never heard back from them. And then I looked up the Wiki article on AMT. Turns out that's just the way it is in the Glorious World of AMT. I was surprised. Because the US is so responsive to problems or complaints (can't say that about the UK who once told me there was just no way the jewel box on the CD could have shattered in transit -- well, if you stack fifty pounds of books on top, it can!). So what's the deal, Amazon? Why can't we, the suckers who perform HITs, rate the requesters? You let buyers rate the sellers on Come on, give us some power -- we're only making a couple of cents a HIT. Don't you want to know about bogus HITs? What exactly is AMT all about? A way for Nigerians to make candy money? No wonder Nigerians prefer to send scam emails. (Apologies to Nigerians -- I mean no insult to you, just to AMT.) This is when the cry of UNION has to ring out.

No comments: