Make Extra Cash During Your Zen Time With Amazon Mechanical Turk

Ryan Dube 18-01-2010

theturkWhat exactly is the Amazon Mechanical Turk? The best explanation comes from the original Mechanical Turk. In 1779, Wolfgang von Kempelen created The Turk, an intricate and amazing chess machine – an “automaton” – complete with moving gears and cogs and a life-sized model of a man with a beard, dressed in Turkish robes and a turban. The automated “machine” could best some of the best chess players in the world. It wasn’t until many years later that the secret of the mechanical Turk – an expert chess player hidden inside the cabinets – was publicly revealed.


What does this have to do with Amazon? Amazon named its crowdsourcing solution the Amazon Mechanical Turk because, much like the original Turk, much of the inner workings of the overall system remains hidden from the user. The process is an illusion, but the result is nothing short of miraculous. Amazon calls the illusion, “artificial artificial intelligence.”

The process is fairly simple. Mechanical Turk requesters submit a Human Intelligence Task (a HIT), and Mechanical Turk Workers complete those HITs for either small sums of money or simply for the feeling of accomplishment. The end result is that requesters receive processing power for tasks that computers can’t handle – like analyzing videos and writing a short keyword-rich synopsis, or reviewing produce images and appropriately categorizing them. These are the tasks where human intelligence still trumps computer intelligence.

How You Can Become an Amazon Mechanical Turk Worker

You may wonder why anyone would want to work for free? Well, consider this. How many times have you decided to take a break and complete a crossword puzzle or play a challenging video game, just to give your mind a rest from the task that you were otherwise focused on? What if completing such brain-resetting tasks would also net you a little bit of money while you’re taking a “break” from your normal work? This is why crowdsourcing works. Recently, John showed you how to make money from crowdsourcing design contests 3 Sites to Make Money With Crowdsourcing Design Contests Read More . In this article I’m going to show you how you can use the Amazon Mechanical Turk system to extract a little bit of spending cash from your Zen time.


As you can see from the main page, you can either submit HITs for the crowd to work on, or you can sign in as a worker and start plugging away at completing hits. When I just checked it, there are over 34,000 HITs available in the marketplace, so there’s no shortage of cool stuff to do. The moment you sign up, you’ll see your profile page which shows your current balance your accepted and submitted HITs, and some HITs that are available to you.



Now, if you click on the HITs tab at the top of the page, you’ll see all of the tasks that are currently available for you to grab. If you’re here for the money and not just the fun, I highly suggest that you sort by the reward amount. As you can see, the requested tasks are extremely varied and run the whole gamut of weird and interesting things to do.


If you live in or near Venice, Italy, then by all means print out the poster and put it up at the specified location! Or, if you prefer, edit a transcript, take a survey or transcribe a voicemail. Sifting through the available HITs is a lot of fun, and you’re sure to find something cool to do that actually won’t really feel like work as you pass the time just plugging away – taking your mind off of whatever stress it was that brought you here in the first place.

amazon mechanical turk


As you can see, the reward you get for completing certain tasks are just as varied as the tasks themselves. For transcribing audio that’s about an hour and a half, you get over $40. For printing and putting up a poster, you get $15. For taking a survey, you get $4.20. Now, the question remains for those of you who’ve never done this before – is it legit and do you really get paid? Well, as you could see on my profile page above, I’ve never completed a single task and have $0 in my balance.

I noticed many of the high-paying jobs are surveys that want you to sign up for something, providing your contact information, so we’ll avoid those. Also, a few of the requests below that want a 200 to 300 word article for about $1.50 (say what??) – no dice. Finally, I found an easy 5 minute task for checking out a website and leaving a comment for an improvement to the site. Find the code, insert and submit. For doing that, I also toss $0.05 into my account. Easy! Let’s do it.

amazon mechanical turk review,

So, accepted the HIT, checked out the blog, left a comment with some advice on how it could be improved, got my code and submitted it into the form above – it took less than two minutes.



The payment process isn’t instant. Even when you’re done, the requester has to approve that you correctly completed the HIT.


If you click on the Account Settings page, this is where you can add your bank account information and instantly transfer your reward cash to your bank account (or to an Amazon gift certificate).


After reviewing the Amazon Mechanical Turk, my summary is that it is a great place to go just to see what sort of quirky projects people are working on throughout the web, and to earn a few pennies doing small tasks that you might enjoy. Some people are obsessed about proofreading – so edit away. Other people love critiquing websites – so critique away.

I would never suggest using Amazon Mechanical Turk to earn decent income, as the time required for some of these tasks make it impossible to earn enough to make up for that time. However, if you find joy in doing some of these things and it’s a way that you find relaxation as you pass the time, then the extra pennies that pile up are simply a small extra bonus that you wouldn’t get if you spent your Zen time filling out crossword puzzles.

Take the Amazon Turk for a test drive and let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Related topics: Business Technology, Job Searching, Make Money Online.

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  1. abbakd
    January 29, 2010 at 12:27 am

    I'd never heard of MTurk before so thought I'd give it an honest go. Now in ten days I've already deposited $25.00 into my bank account once and have $20.87 towards my second $25 which I should get tomorrow or day after. BTW, $10 is the min withdrawal, I just set $25 as what I wanted to make before taking a pay out.

    So you probably wonder just how much time has this taken. That's a fair question and the honest answer is 1 to 2 hours each day. Ok, it's not great wages but at the same time I'm sitting relaxed watching TV in the evening, time that normally I wouldn't be making any money at all.

    Here's some things you'll need if you should decide to give MTurk a try. It can certainly take one down the spammy side of the internet if you're not careful.
    1. A good dose of common sense
    2. Latest Firefox browser - you'll hit some bad sites, FF helps get you out of there
    3. McAfee SiteAdvisor - It's free and will give you an idea about the sites you land on.
    4. A top rated Antivirus - I use ESET NOD32, not free but the best (IMO) available.

    Some things to watch out for:
    Jobs that pay you to go to a site and click on a Google ad...bad bad bad! I've seen three of these already.
    Jobs that don't have very clear instructions, if you don't know what the requestor wants, you can't finish the job. You'll end up with a 'Rejected' and too many of these and you're out.
    Jobs that can't be completed, ie. the text box for the answer won't become active or the submit button won't work. I've learned to trial run the job first, if I like it then I'll accept it.

    There's over 100k jobs available at any given time, plenty to choose from and most are legit. Even if it is to go to a site and fill out a form for something you are not interested in, that's what my fake ID is for in RoboForm.

    I fumbled several the first day or two but soon learned to make the test run first. Which actually on many of them you can just click the link in the job, do the task and if all goes well and you see that the job completes then switch back to the MTurk page and accept the job, input the answer or code asked for, click submit and you're done.

    On one job yesterday the task was to find a broken link on a site. Before I accepted the job, I copied the URL, pasted it into Xenu Link Checker (free program), let it run. It found 4 broken links. I reported one like the job asked for and included a note that I'd found three others. Short while later I get an email through MTurk from the job poster telling me that he'd pay me a dollar each for the other three as well. I guess he thought I'd actually gone through his site and manually checked all 483 URLs. Easy four dollars...

    I do stay away from article writing as it just doesn't pay enough to be worth my time. I've also figured out that the person posting the $4 jobs is either scamming or just doesn't know how to make the text box active for the answers. Besides that, I don't want to go back to school anyhow!

  2. pinocchio
    January 19, 2010 at 12:57 am

    But once you get enough money for a book/dvd/cd etc, can you use them on Amazon? I mean, would it work for non US residents?

  3. Jeff
    January 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Browsing through a bunch of spam and scams to earn fifty cents? This post has led me to re-evaluate whether MakeUseOf is actually useful.

    • Ryan Dube
      January 18, 2010 at 9:36 pm

      Hi Jeff,

      It isn't so much earning as "wasting time" with a few small rewards. It doesn't appear that you actually read the article before posting, so I'll repost the part of the introduction where I outlined the whole point of Amazon Mechanical Turk:

      "You may wonder why anyone would want to work for free? Well, consider this. How many times have you decided to take a break and complete a crossword puzzle or play a challenging video game, just to give your mind a rest from the task that you were otherwise focused on? What if completing such brain-resetting tasks would also net you a little bit of money while you’re taking a “break” from your normal work? This is why crowdsourcing works."

  4. Chris Hunter
    January 18, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    This is a great post. I've heard of this service before, but never tried it out. It could be great for some extra movie money or, for me, comic book money!

    Another site that is very similar that seems to pay more is It's another very similar crowd sourcing type site like Amazon Turk.

    Thanks for the info!

    • Ryan Dube
      January 18, 2010 at 9:37 pm

      Thanks Chris! I always love it when a MUO article introduces something completely new to a reader...thanks for your feedback!

  5. Branden
    January 18, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Yeah great idea if you want solicitors calling your house, or be charged outrageously for cell phone wallpapers and ringtones.

    • Benjamin Barnett
      January 18, 2010 at 1:41 pm

      Branden, are you replying to my comment? If you are, I don't follow...

    • Ryan Dube
      January 18, 2010 at 9:39 pm

      Branden - you definitely have to be very selective. A lot of the requesters ask for you to fill out a form with your contact info, I just skip those. There's also a very large majority of legitimate requests that are insanely easy to complete just to pass the time. Hey - you can waste time and also generate coffee-money! :)

  6. Benjamin Barnett
    January 18, 2010 at 11:36 am

    And don't forget the other side of the coin...those who have sites or blogs can use this for light tasks.