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A Brief Guide to Getting Started With Amazon Mechanical Turk

Updated on April 17, 2012

Making Some Extra Income

When I was laid off from my job, I spent a lot of time thinking up ways to make a little extra scratch for myself. Any small amount of money I could earn would be greatly helpful so I could keep stocked up on toiletries, miscellaneous household items, and maybe even buy some gas now and again to keep the job hunting efforts rolling. My efforts were not very successful - I donated plasma a few times, which pays decently, but is a pretty big inconvenience. Not to mention I felt miserable and drained of energy afterwards. I tried plucking some garage sale findings for cheap and reselling them on eBay, but found that I just wasn't very good at judging the value of items effectively enough to make it a real money earner.

I kept researching in my spare time, and started to come across a few websites and rewards programs that were supposedly good for generating a little extra money. At first I was very skeptical, because I had tried in the past to do some of those programs. Taking surveys, reading ads in my email, you name it. But the payout was very little, it was very inconvenient, and there was always an inherit risk involved in the kinds of websites you visited, and who you gave your information to. Frankly, it was all bullshit, so I quickly gave up on them long ago.

But then I discovered Amazon Mechanical Turk (or "Mturk"). Amazon Mturk consists of Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) that can be performed for a small compensation, anywhere from $0.01 to several dollars a HIT. These tasks come from "requesters", and are often research groups, market studies, or anyone with a task which a computer is still not suited for that a person can do.

Mturk is legitimate, and once you've learned the ropes and found a rythym, has very good earning potential. I'm averaging around $20 a day from a modest amount of work (2-3 hours), and I believe I could probably do a lot better if I tried harder. Often times, it will also depend on the availability of good paying, high quality HITs, but even on a slow day, I can make $5 easy. Some users are reporting income of nearly $1000 a month, which I have no doubt a dedicated turker could achieve. This is by far the best way to earn legitimate extra cash that I have come across. As I said before, it does require effort, but it beats flipping burgers. You can cash out your earnings either via direct deposit, or Amazon gift cards.

Since I love this service so much, I wanted to write a little guide for people getting started with Mturk for the first time. I hope this information helps anybody looking to make some extra money.

Getting Started With Amazon Mechanical Turk

Since Mturk can be a little confusing for newcomers, here is a brief guide on how to make the most of your Mturking experience. Please pass this along to any other new turkers you may know, as the quality of the workers affects the quality of jobs that is available for all who use the service. First off, a few FYIs for newcomers about questions that get asked a lot. Hopefully this will clear up any confusion that you may have as a new turker!

  • Once you've signed up for an account, you may be asked for your SSN or Tax ID. This is so Amazon can provide you with the proper tax forms if your income exceeds a certain aggregate amount per year. (I believe this is $600, but I am not a tax guru and it could vary depending on your state). You will never be asked for credit card or banking account information (unless you opt in for direct deposits via Amazon payments).
  • There is a ten-day holding period for new users before your earnings are deposited into your Amazon payments account. You must be active on Mturk for at least this period of time. Once the ten days have passed, HITs you have been approved for will start to be paid, and the money will trickle in. You can either transfer your balance onto an Amazon gift card, or directly deposit it into a bank account. Direct Deposit can require up to 7 business days to process, depending on your bank. Amazon gift certificates are instantaneous.
  • Some requesters can take up to 30 days to approve HITs that you've submitted. You can see the status of your HITs via the Mturk dashboard by clicking on the day the HIT was completed, and looking to the "Status" column. The Statuses are:
  • "Pending Approval" in yellow means the requester has yet to accept your HIT.
  • "Approved - Pending Payment" in green means the requester has accepted your HIT, but your earnings have not been deposited into your Amazon payments account. Possibly due to the ten day hold as mentioned previously, but sometimes they are just not instant. Be patient, if it's green, you will get paid!
  • "Paid" in green means your hit was accepted and your earnings were deposited into your Amazon Payments account.
  • "Rejected" in red means the requester did not accept your HIT for some reason. I will go over this in a bit more detail soon.

Completing HITs

Now that your account is set up and you are ready to start working, It's time to actually complete some tasks on Mturk!

Click on the HITs tab from your Mturk home page. This will give you a list of every task that is currently available, with the Title of the HIT, the requester's name, the time allotted, and the compensation. Your goal when choosing HITs should be to select the ones that pay decently, and do not require too much time to complete. There is no exact science to this, but as you become familiar with the different requesters, you will develop a sort of intuition for which HITs are better than others. If you find a requester you enjoy working for, stick with them, do quality work for them, and it's possible that you can earn bonuses and better paid tasks in the future. For starters, I recommend a requester named "Crowdsource". You can search for HITs by the requester's name by typing it in the text box at the top of the page and selecting "go". You should also tick the "for which you are qualified" box to filter out HITs that you as of yet, cannot complete. Crowdsource, at the time of this writing, often has easy HITs that pay fairly considering the amount of time they take. This will get you acquainted with the environment, and help you better understand how to complete HITs. Some of the HITs you do initially may only pay a few cents, perhaps a quarter, but believe me, that loose change adds up really fast.

After you are adjusted, and comfortable doing work on Mturk, try searching for Surveys. Surveys are reliable earners, and will usually bring in anywhere from $0.25 to as much as $1 or more for each survey. I have earned quite a bit completing surveys that only took five to ten minutes, and paid $0.50 or more. Note when searchings HITs, you can specify a minimum payout amount in the box to the right of the search terms. Try searching for "Survey", with a $.50 minimum pay that you are qualified for. These can often be the bread and butter of your earnings on Mturk.

A few DOs and DONT'S for working on HITs:

  1. DO: Read the directions carefully. All of them. Many HITs, especially surveys, will check to make sure you are paying attention. If you rush through, you will get caught. If you get caught, your HIT will be rejected. Rejected hits are BAD, because many of the better HITs require your percentage of accepted HITs to meet a minimum standard. I.E; 95%. Trying to click through HITs as fast as possible will only end in you being rejected a lot and getting frustrated.
  2. DO: Pace yourself. Do work through the HITs as fast as you can while still paying attention and doing quality work! We all want to paid fairly for our time, of course, but as I mentioned above, getting rejected HITs will make things difficult for you in the long run. Besides, many requesters pay bonuses for quality work, and quality work is the only way to obtain the Mturk master's certification.
  3. DO: Remember to accept a hit before you start it. Most of the surveys you will find need to be opened in new tab or window. Don't forget to actually click "accept hit" in Mturk before you start the survey!
  4. DO: Write back to requesters who you believe have unfairly rejected your work. Sometimes HITs get rejected accidentally, other times less reputable requesters may reject HITs to avoid paying out (rare).
  5. DON'T: Accept hits that require signing up for free trials, memberships, or entering any kind of personal information (emails, credit card numbers, etc.) Maybe one half of 1% of these kinds of HITs are legitimate. Maybe. I have never entered one email address or signed up for ANYTHING while using Mturk, and neither should you! (There is one exception: Sometimes legitimate requesters will ask if you want to volunteer your email address so they can contact you in the future if they have more work available. Use your judgement here.)
  6. DON'T: Pay much attention to the "Qualifications" tab. If there are any HITs you want to work on that require a specific qualification, you can request it whenever you are ready to work it.

Mturk Resources

Finally, here are some helpful tools you can use to make your Mturk experience as painless as possible. I get no benefit from recommending these here, these are just simply the tools I have found to be the most useful.

Turkopticon Is a very useful addon for Chrome and Firefox that let's you view, at a glance, a requester's "TO" (Turkopticon rating) straight from within the Mturk page. This makes it much easier to sort through the chaff, and pass on requesters who have bad (or no) reputations.

Turk Nation Is a community of Turkers where people can share tips, advice, and words of encouragement with each other. I learned quite a lot reading this forum. It is an indispensable source of information. Likewise, http://www.mturkforum.com/ is another good community.

Pending Earnings is a small browser plugin that shows you the amount of money you have earned with your HITs that have not been accepted yet. I use this primarily as a motivational tool - seeing those dollar figures add up as I work makes me want to keep going!

In Closing

Once again I hope you found this brief guide helpful. Please pass this along to anybody you know who is a beginning Turker. The better we all do, the more we can all potentially earn using this service.

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    • profile image

      Maddie 3 years ago

      I have HITs I completed from a while ago that are still pending. Will I ever get my earnings?

    • William15 profile image

      William 3 years ago from America

      I need to look into this...