Need a whole army of short-term virtual assistants? Start outsourcing with the cheapest and fastest way using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
Sometimes you need to cooperate with a lot of people for your projects. Mechanical Turk is the perfect service for that. It is called a crowdsourcing service because you literally can hire whole crowds of people from all around the world to outsource your tasks too.
In general tasks – or HITs how they are called on Mechanical Turk – are
- very simple,
- very fast to finish
- and very cheap to pay for.
Just as fast as a job description can be set up in seven steps, your jobs can be completed.
Using the Turk outside of the USA
Normally, Amazon’s service is only usable for users who live in the US. But there is a workaround.
I will show you exactly how to proceed to be a happy Mechanical Turk user if you live outside of the US – within its terms of service.
What can you do with this service?
There are many uses for this crowdsourcing service. If you need many different results, for example for a survey or different feedback to your product, you have a great amount of workers ready to do it for you for a couple of cents each.
Mechanical Turk is undoubtedly the cheapest outsourcing service I know of. To ask for a couple of simple clicks or a very short answer can be done for less than 5 cents.
However you can also crowdsource bigger tasks to the Turk. I have had content written or edited by different workers on this service. Although you pay slightly more for that, you probably will be fine with funds of less than a $1 per job.
Pretty cheap, huh?
Why does it work so well?
The workers from this service come from all walks of life.
- Some of them only work on HITs out of boredom.
- Others use their free time throughout a day to easily and without any complications make some additional bucks.
Serious full time freelancers who you can hire as virtual assistants will be found on other services like oDesk. The results you will get by working with such a broad mass of people will naturally be very different.
For survey results, this is very useful. The larger the sample of people interviewed, the more unbiased the results will be. For larger tasks like content creation that I have crowdsourced to “the Turk”, results were very different too.
Be careful when crowdsourcing content writing
I tried using “the Turk” for content creation.
- If I asked for a personal story from a user about a specific topic, in some cases I got bad writing quality.
- On the other end of the spectrum, I got a multiple of the number of words I asked for – for the same price!
These on and off results unfortunately are not so easy to reproduce.
Read more about cheaply outsourcing article writing jobs – for less than one dollar per article!
Avoid the bad guys, profit from the good guys
When you get a bad worker, you can ban him so that he can never apply to your jobs again. Unfortunately there will always be other people in the crowd who might deliver bad quality.
On the positive side, you will always be surprised by the number of workers who will far over deliver on your results.
I have never successfully got a hold of some of these very good workers in order to hire them on a more regular basis. You shouldn’t get attached to any of the workers on amazon Mechanical Turk’s service because it simply not probable that you will see them again and work again with them on a regular note.
In my opinion using Mechanical Turk as an outsourcing service is best for tasks that have to be completed quickly:
Repetitive tasks that can be completed by a large crowd of different people like
- very simple and repetitive jobs like data entry jobs with Excel-sheets,
- picture recognition – which cannot be automated with machines
- or other similar or boring tasks.
Controversial discussion about outsourcing on Mechanical Turk
I have read an interesting post on salon.com. The discussion was mainly about if it is human and ethical to allow the service of amazon Mechanical Turk to employ people to do mind numbing tasks for menial pay.
As you know, I have used Mechanical-Turk and always thought that it was a good thing. People who want to, can play around in their free time and make a little bit of money on this site.
But when I read through the discussions which followed in the three pages long comments, some new thoughts and interesting arguments came up.
I wanted to discuss some of those points and my virtual assistant will jump into the discussion where he thinks I didn’t discuss enough. Here are the results:
Their terms of service insist on you having a valid address in the USA to participate in their program, but you don’t have to actually live there.
How to Get a Valid US Address for Registration
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- On the other hand, there are services out there which can give you a free and valid US address.
- If you have that virtual US address, from a parcel forwarding service for example, you can then simply login into amazon’s website using an existing amazon account.
Step by Step workaround to use the Mechanical Turk as a buyer outside of the USA
- If you are not yet shopping on amazon, get one account for free.
- When they ask for your address, use this US address you just received from a virtual parcel forwarding service.
- When they ask for your credit card information, use your real credit card information and real address where you actually live.
It will work out without any problem.
The billing address for payments of Mechanical Turk services needs to work of course, but it is only related to your credit card information.
Your residence address where you put the virtual US address you just obtained is the base of the trick to get a working account to use the Mechanical Turk outside of the US.
Getting a free Virtual Adress from IPSparcel – Step by Step
Here is a method I have used successfully. It doesn’t cost a penny.
I asked my Virtual Assistant to lay out each step in detail, making sure this workaround really works.
- Sign up with Ipsparcel.
This service really works. You just need to fill out a short registration form by using your personal details:
- You will have to fill in your own information here, of course.
After submitting your personal details you will get an email with a confirmation link:
- After clicking the confirmation link, you will be lead to their confirmation page where you will find your shipping address in the United States.
- Go back to Mechanical Turk and complete the registration form with the US address you just received from ipsparcel.com
After this you are able to login as an employer to Mechanical Turk even if you live outside the US.
Four Alternative Workaround Methods to get a virtual address in the US
If for any reason the method above does not work any more, you can use these alternatives if you need to use the Mechanical Turk outside of the US to outsource micro-tasks.
USA2me is another similar service where you can get a personal US residential address. However, the service is not free and has a lot of different packages and plans for every country independently.
Another service for getting a virtual adress is MyUS.com.
Under the standard subscription there is no subscription fee, but you will need to pay $10 (one time) as a signup fee.
Just fill in a short form and you will be provided with a physical residential address within the United States
The last alternative I know of and my VA looked into for me is Borderlinx.
At Borderlinx, you simultaneously get two physical addresses from the US and the UK.
These instructions should help you get into the mechanical turk, even if you live in the EU or anywhere else in the world. Have fun micro-crowdsourcing!
Getting extremely cheap articles written for you is possible, if you just post article writing jobs to Mechanical Turk.
As you know from my case studies I have gotten articles and personal stories written by many workers on Mechanical Turk. I could ask for very cheap prices, for example 80 to 50 cents for 300 words of content.
That’s not much money in the field of article writing.
But it worked!
Why did it work?
Post article writing jobs about topics people can freely write to
Each worker can write from the top of his head about stuff he is doing every day. That’s where strengths of Mechanical Turk article writing lies.
If you ask them about everyday stories that most of the workers could answer, then you can get articles out of Mechanical Turk that are
- very cheap,
- very passionate
- and very useful.
Of course, you always need to check for copyright.
Don’t ask them to write about topics they couldn’t know about – or you WILL get bad quality results
However, if you try to hire people to write a 400 word essay about, for example, “solar panels” or “solar energy” because you run a commercial website about this topic, then the results will be – and I am trying to be as diplomatic as I can – pretty crappy.
You will get results. But you won’t be happy with them!
Workers on Mechanical Turk will do almost anything to get the job done.
- They will paraphrase content from internet.
- Or they will simply try copy pasting content from elsewhere and hope you will not notice. This happens pretty often.
- They will tell you any story necessary to complete their HIT.
It might be easy money.
And since the work force is so big, there is probably always a worker willing to do your HIT.
But will you be able to use the results? I doubt so!
Take home message: It works, but only for some topics
If you want to outsource article writing cheaply on Mechanical Turk, limit yourself to topics that your everyday person could answer without looking anything up.
Do you want some ideas of topics you could get tons of articles written about?
Ask them to tell you
- stories about their favorite car
- stories about their childhood
- descriptions of the bad pranks they ever have been victim of
- ideas and stories about parties
- their worst hung-over experience
- about their favorite pass-time and so on.
Believe me, I have asked for these HITs just for out of pure curiosity and I got some interesting stories.
If you limit your questions to simple topics like those from the list above, I am pretty certain that nothing beats publishing article writing jobs to Mechanical Turk when it comes to getting high amounts of original articles for a very affordable price.
Personally, I have only used it for two different services:
- Content creation and editing – I wanted genuine stories as well as rewriting on some low quality content.
- Data entry jobs – but I prefer other services like oDesk for that.
You will need to go through these steps i.e.
- Publish and
to successfully set up and complete jobs (or “HITs”) on this service.
Step 1: Design Your Job Posting
- It really should attract high quality workers
- It should be as concise and descriptive as possible.
Take a look of this title:
I tried to make it alluring to the workers and I put the most important info right at the beginning of the title: What are they in for? They need to write 300 words. People who are not looking for this job will click away immediately. Only interested workers will look at your job. Don’t worry! The work force behind Amazon Mechanical Turk is huge. You can afford to set the standards as high as possible. This will make it easier later to screen through the results.
Step 2: Write out a short but informative instruction summary
In the description field, be more specific than in the title field. Look at the beginning of my description; it can be a little longer than one line, but don’t make it a whole essay. You will have some place to write a very exact description later when you design the layout. In the “Keywords” field put some keywords which describe the skills you are looking for. Take a look at what I wrote. I specified that the HIT is about writing and that I only need workers from the US.
Why? In my personal experience, I got the best results when I limited the jobs to workers from US only. I have had some excellent cooperation with workers from all around the world with other outsourcing services. But on Amazon Mechanical Turk, personally I got the best content written by people from the US.
Step 3: Planning the Deadlines
Give your workers some time to work on your HIT. Depending on how fast you want the results and how long the task is. For a small writing job, three days are fine. I never have given any worker on Amazon Mechanical Turk less than one day to work on a task and I only check my results once a day. Give yourself enough time to review the results after the HIT is complete. Make it 10 days.
There is an option to pre-screen the workers for their skills before you let them work for you.
I always left this option as it was without any problem.
Step 4: Carefully screen for the best workers
In the field “Additional Qualifications,” it is where it gets interesting. Take a look at the standard options. Now take a look at how I changed the qualifications to get
- high quality workers
- which are not newbies
- and are native English speakers
Let’s go through the options one by one.
- In the first field, put the numbers of approved HITs to “higher than zero”. This means that this person has at least successfully completed one HIT before he can even apply to yours. This will keep out most of the newest newbies.
- Limit the location to “United States” . Visitors from all other countries will not be able to view to complete your HIT.
- Also, make sure that your approval rate for the requesters is greater than at least 90%. This HIT approval rate is the feedback score from the workers. The better the feedback score, the more trustworthy the workers.
If you feel that your results are too poor, feel free to increase the number of approved HITs (1) while keeping the HIT approval rate high (3). This really will only give you the most qualified workers. The only risk: Perhaps you will not find enough prospects to do your work. And the last and most important action, click here (4) on “Yes” to require a worker to fulfill all qualifications before he can do your work (or “HIT”). To change the additional qualifications, you can simply add more options by clicking on the little “+”.
Or remove any of the options by clicking to the remove link until you have the profile of the worker that you want for your job. It’s your money. Don’t just let everyone do the work for your business.
Step 5: How much money do you want to spend on Amazon Mechanical Turk?
Finally, it’s time to think about the money. Of course the Amazon Mechanical Turk service is not completely free. You will pay
- the money that you promised the worker
- plus a 10% fee which goes to Amazon Mechanical Turk.
Take some time to think about how much you will pay for a specific task. Calculate the time it normally takes to do the task. What hourly wage would come out? And then think about if this is appropriate. In my personal experience, putting high qualification expectations and promising $0.80 for a well written article about a personal experience from a worker worked out really well. When I asked for 300 words, I get results from 250 to in some cases up to 800 words. Some workers really try their best! In the field below, put the number of people who need to work on your assignment. If you only want one result keep “1”.
Think about that the final cost will be the product from those two parameters. Make the 3rd option a high number, perhaps 14 days. You will have 14 days to review your results. If you forget about it they will automatically be approved in two weeks. You shouldn’t do that. You risk paying for bad results.
Step 6: Write out unmistakable, clear and precise work instructions
Use this design layout formatting tools to write a good description.
Of course you need to fill in your own descriptions here. Only you know what work you will want to have done. When you are ready to have a final check, click “Preview and Finish.” Your template will be saved and you can reuse it later when you need another similar job to be done. You just have to make the edits needed and then you will be good to go. This is how it looks like. Below you can see where the worker can write his answer.
Sometimes a worker on Amazon Mechanical Turk can be a little bit confused. Make it easy for them. Write clearly something like: “Please use the box below to submit your answer to this HIT” Here is another helpful technique: You can let them know that you will check content for plagiarism. Here is an example description of a HIT I use myself. Note how specific I was.
Step 7: Enjoy and review your outsourced results!
In the “Manage” field you review each entry one by one, paying it by clicking approve or denying it for example if there is some plagiarism going on. It is that easy.