There are some tasks that computers and software programs just can't perform. Sometimes, these tasks are tedious or the 'resources' required to complete them require more man-power than you have.

The concept of 'crowdsourcing' has been borne out of this.

The crowdsourcing proposition is simple - harness a 'crowd' to complete difficult or otherwise time-consuming tasks. Although the concept of crowdsourcing has been applied with mixed results online, the concept itself makes a lot of sense.

So if you have a fairly simple task but that requires lots and lots of manpower, where can you find a crowd?

Amazon's Mechanical Turk may be the solution you've been looking for.

Mechanical Turk allows you to write applications that pose tasks (called Human Intelligence Tasks, or HITs) that are fulfilled by real humans (called providers). Need providers to meet certain qualifications before taking on your HITs? No problem - requesters can ask providers to complete tests before the HITs are presented.

What type of tasks have been completed using Mechanical Turk? Amazon originally created Mechanical Turk to help it located duplicates on its own website. Since then, Mechanical Turk has been used to transcribe podcasts, tag images and rewrite articles. More recently, it has even been used to search for missing persons using satellite photos.

In short, there's a lot that can be accomplished with Mechanical Turk. But is it right for you?

Obviously, Mechanical Turk costs money. Most of the time, providers are only paid a few cents for each completed task so cost-wise, Mechanical Turk isn't likely to break the bank.

At the same time, because of the lack of real money in the marketplace, it's clear that many of the providers on Mechanical Turk are participating for fun, not because there's real money there incentivizing them to. I believe that you usually get what you pay for so if you have a mission-critical task that needs to be done quickly, needs to be done right and is a bit more complicated, putting all your eggs in the Mechanical Turk basket is probably not the best move.

There are also savvy individuals who have written 'bots' to complete tasks, so there's no guarantee that your tasks will be attempted by real humans. That's why posing qualification tests is such a good idea.

Of course, if a bot does not complete your task, you are not required to pay and technically, bots are not permitted under the Mechanical Turk terms of service so any provider using them is likely to get banned.

I used Mechanical Turk recently to compile some information from a list of websites and was pleased with the results. For simple tasks like this, I think Mechanical Turk is a crowdsourcing option well worth looking at.


Published 5 December, 2008 by Patrick Oak

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Comments (2)


Aame Lee

It's really a nice Article.. I enjoyed read this. Before somedays I used to search mechanical truk but today i find it and i think it'll help me a lot.........

about 9 years ago


Peter D Sykes

Definately the way of the future.

The key is to find a way to:

protect customer data

Check the work completed


about 9 years ago

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