I’m a huge fan of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service where Amazon has created a platform that allows for simple contracting of web based work on a task by task basis. For those on you not familiar with the service, it allows people to upload work they’d like done that’s better done by humans than computers such as giving an opinion on something, deciding if a particular paragraph is offensive, of if an image happens to be pornographic. It turns out that a lot of people are willing to answer questions like this for pennies per question.
But not all assignments in mturk.com are legitimate. One common issue is Requesters (the people paying for the work) paying people to, essentially, spam online forms for a variety of reasons. I’ve broken down an example of this below.
In the above image, an mturk worker “Turk Requests” has set up a HIT that pays 20 cents for someone to visit a website, look for a specific ad on that website, click on it, then fill out a form on that site. They’re asking workers to look for this ad:
When they find it, they want people to click on it. But they’re not done at that point. Clicking on that ad takes people to this page:
But the point of this isn’t to get people to visit a website, to click on an ad, or to visit a second website. The point is to get people to fill out the form on the above website. If a worker completes the information on that page, receives a confirmation email from RewardPort, and pastes that information back into mturk.com, the worker will be paid a whopping 20 cents. If they could do this in, say, 3 minutes, they’d be able to do around 20 similar tasks an hour and gross $4.00/hr for their time.
You may be asking yourself, “Why is someone willing to pay people 20 cents to fill out an online form?” Good question. Here’s why:
It turns out that RewardPort has an affiliate program where they’re willing to pay people $1.40 for each person who signs up for their program. If we look back at look at what mturk workers are paid for signing up for the service, we’ll see that it’s $0.20 cents. Amazon takes a 10% fee as well, so the cost to the Mturk.com requester is $0.22, so they’re pulling $1.18 for each Mturk.com worker they manage to convince to sign up with RewardPort.
In the end, I don’t know if this is good or bad for RewardPort. Are registrations from people who are being paid 20 cents to register through mturk.com worth it? Or, are they sophisticated mturk.com users who’ve figured out how to use throwaway email addresses for services like this, which allows them to cash in without having to deal with RewardPort’s offers?
I really don’t know. I just know that this type of use of Mturk.com is a lot different from the types of assignments I roll through the service on a regular basis. Mturk’s policies do suggest that the service shouldn’t be used for direct marketing. Getting people to sign up for marketing lists seems pretty direct to me.
Regardless, I think it’s an interesting new form of commerce where the rules are still being shaped into something that’s fair for everyone involved.