Guide to Making Money Online with Amazon mTurk

What is mTurk?

Amazon Mechanical Turk (mTurk) is a website for completing tasks for pay. The tasks vary greatly and you will find all kinds of tasks to complete, including transcription, writing, tagging, editing, content moderation, and much more. It’s a cloud based data platform designed to connect people who need work done (Requesters) with people who are willing to do it (Workers).

A person with a task (a Requester) posts their task (which is called HIT – Human Intelligence Task) with a set reward and time limit to complete it. The worker (Turker) accepts the task, completes the task, and submits their work for approval. Once the work is approved, Amazon releases the money from the Requester’s account into the Worker’s account.

You can browse around the Mechanical Turk help pages for more information.

 

Who can sign up for mTurk?

Currently the service is only available to U.S. Citizens who are older than 18. People have also reported issues with signing up if they have never before filed taxes, but this seems to vary by individual.

 

What kind of earnings can I expect from mTurk?

The amount you earn from Mechanical Turk depends on a few factors, primarily the amount of time you put in and the qualifications you acquire. For a wider scope of what people are earning through the service, a report of your weekly earnings is sent out via email every Sunday to workers and a lot of workers post these emails in the community forums.

You may see reference to an old suggestion from Amazon that workers should be paid at least $0.10 per minute in 2005. Unfortunately here we are 10 years later and they still haven’t changed that.” Keep this in mind when considering what pay you’re willing to work for. In addition, remember that your earnings are considered taxable income so you will have to pay taxes on them as well.

 

What about filing taxes for money made through mTurk?

As a Turker, you’re considered an independent contractor, and according to the IRS, you are required to report all self-made income when you file taxes. Please don’t take advice from strangers on the internet about this issue. Seek out the advice of a tax professional instead.

 

Getting started with mTurk

The first step is signing up for a Worker account at www.mturk.com. This typically takes a couple days to process during which time you should do some research and set up your browser with scripts and add-ons to improve your workflow. You may want to a folder on your bookmarks bar to save some of the links presented here and elsewhere for easy access later. If you’re having trouble understanding the abbreviations and jargon used on this subreddit and other Turk communities, the mTurk Glossary should come in handy. After your account is approved, you’ll be in a 10-day probationary period.

You’ll also need to create an account on Amazon Payments in order to get paid and access your money. Linking a bank account or compatible debit card during your 10-day period will make it easy to start transferring money after the probationary period ends. Be sure to provide accurate information otherwise you can get your account temporarily suspended. There is a $500 monthly withdrawal limit if you do not have a credit/debit card attached to the account. Once a card is attached, this limit is removed.

A lot of tasks on Mechanical Turk require finding information online and being able to follow instructions, so now is a good time to start practicing. There are some basic computer skills that can improve your efficiency with tasks on Mechanical Turk such as learning and using hotkeys, knowing how to utilize search engines, using a mouse instead of trackpad, and working with dual monitors.

You may also want to consider your daily schedule and when you plan to work. A lot of Requesters post HITs on behalf of businesses or universities so they generally post work during typical “business hours”. By evening, it gets harder to find good HITs. Weekends and holidays are also usually slow.

After your account is approved by Amazon, you are in “probation mode” for at least 10 days. During this period, you are unable to transfer any earnings you make. You’re also only able to accept a maximum of 100 HITs per day during this time. All HITs that you accept are counted toward that limit, regardless of whether you submit them, return them, or abandon them (let them expire). To get out of probation, complete a minimum of 3 HITs per day for at least 10 days. The days do not have to be consecutive. After your probation period ends, you are free to transfer your earnings and your maximum number of accepted HITs per day increases to 3,800. Mechanical Turk considers the day to start at 12:00AM Pacific Time.

 

mTurk Account suspensions and other account problems

Amazon is very strict about verifying your identity for Mechanical Turk, so the best way to prevent a possible account suspension is to provide accurate data when signing up. Amazon compares the information you provide with whatever information you used to file taxes with the IRS, so if you’ve moved, changed names, or anything of that sort, either use the information you put on your tax return or update your information with the IRS before giving it to Amazon.

If you do get suspended, don’t lose hope. Usually all it takes to get your account back in good standing is getting in contact with Amazon support and providing the information they request from you. Workers usually report that phone calls (often a few phone calls) are more effective than sending an email or using the customer service contact form.

 

How do I get paid for my work on mTurk and how long does it take?

When a HIT is approved and changes to “Paid” status, the money becomes available as “Earnings Available for Transfer”. On your Dashboard, you can then transfer this money to Amazon Payments. From there, you have the option of linking a bank account to your Amazon Payments account to receive your money. You can also transfer using debit cards that provide a routing number. Typically if you transfer before 5:00PM PST Sunday-Thursday, the money will be available in your account the next morning (this will vary, depending on the bank you use.) You can also use the money in your Amazons Payment account to make purchases on Amazon.

HITs you complete can be either Pending, Approved (Payment Pending), or Paid. The time it takes to go from Pending to Approved depends on the task. Requesters have the option of manually approving tasks as well as setting an Auto-Approval Time of up to 30 days. All HITs automatically approve after 30 days if the requester hasn’t manually approved them. There are scripts to view the Auto-Approval Time in HIT previews as well as add a timer until approval in your dashboard. Once a HIT has been approved, it usually takes a few hours for the money to become available in Earnings Available for Transfer.

 

How do I find good HITs on mTurk?

The best way to find good HITs is to use the mTurk search. A good rule of thumb is to sort by “creation date (newest first)” and checking “for which I qualify.” Selecting a threshold like “that pay at least 0.50” will further narrow the results. Searching for specific terms like “survey”, “transcription”, or “tag” can also be handy if you’re looking for a particular type of task to do.

Try to attain some good qualifications which will open up more work. There are standard qualifications based on your account statistics, such as the number of HITs completed and your approval rating. These are the most commonly used qualifications on HITs. Reaching >500, >1000, >2500, and >5000 approved HITs each opens up new HIT types to you. The majority of HITs have a minimum threshold of 95-98% approval rating, so stick to HITs from trusted requesters with minimal risk of rejection when you’re first starting out. A lower approval rating can severely limit your access to work.

Other qualifications are Requester or HIT specific and can be requested, administered through a qualification test, or granted based on past HIT results. Keep an eye out for “qual HITs” and try searching for HITs that say “qualification” or “qual”.

You will see a tab in your dashboard called Qualifications. There are thousands of qualifications in this list. A ton of those are outdated or private qualifications. Instead of searching through these and likely wasting your time on useless qualifications, go to the main HITs page and click on “All HITs” in the blue bar at the top. Make sure the box to the right that says “for which you are qualified” is unchecked. Browse the HITs that you can see.

 

What is the Master qualification?


From the Mechanical Turk help page:

Masters are elite groups of Workers who have demonstrated accuracy on specific types of HITs on the Mechanical Turk marketplace. Workers achieve a Masters distinction by consistently completing HITs of a certain type with a high degree of accuracy across a variety of Requesters. Masters must continue to pass our statistical monitoring to remain Mechanical Turk Masters.

Masters receive special perks including:

Exclusive access to work that requires a Master Qualification Access to a private forum available only to Masters Please note that Workers cannot apply for this status – it is a performance based distinction. The best thing a Worker can do to become a Master is to submit Assignments with accurate results across a wide variety of Requesters on the Mechanical Turk marketplace.

That’s pretty much the only answer about it you’ll get from Amazon. There are plenty of rumors and theories floating around the web but no one really knows. People with as low as a few thousand completed HITs get it while others with over 250k (or more) haven’t, so it’s hard to draw any conclusions based off account statistics alone. It’s best to just focus on the HITs available to you and make sure you’re doing quality work.

 

Which Requesters on mTurk should I watch for?


That depends on what type of HITs you’re good at. It’s also hard to say because of the high amount of turnover for Requesters. Some requesters quit mTurk after their first set of HITs. For some of the more stable Requesters, you can use a page monitoring extension that will alert you when they post.

Searching for the newest created HITs and trying things out is a better indicator of which Requesters you should be watching out for. If you have the mTurk HIT Database script, check your Requester overview every few weeks and pay attention to who you’ve been making the most money from. Start monitoring those Requesters daily and eventually you should be able to find enough decent HITs to keep you busy all day during the week (less likely during the weekends).

 

What mTurk scripts and/or extensions should I use?


Search “mturk” or “mechanical turk” on greasyfork.org to see a lot of the user scripts available.

Some Workers use lots of scripts and others don’t use many (or any). What you use is completely up to you and what you find helpful. Try some out and see what works for you. The only script you shouldn’t skip is Turkopticon. This script shows you reviews for Requesters so you can get an idea of who is trustworthy to work for and who isn’t. You can also leave you own reviews for Requesters you’ve worked for to help other Workers. If you’re unable or unwilling to install this script, you can also search for Requester reviews on the Turkopticon webpage.

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