Sunday, November 4, 2007

When you absolutley positively need four cents overnight

Do you know the story of the mechanical turk? Way back in 1769 a man claimed he had invented a chess playing machine. It consisted of a mannequin dressed in Turkish style, connected to a large cabinet, filled with gears. Deep blue it was not, but it wasn't playing Kasparov, so it did pretty well. Eventually someone discovered that behind all the gears was a human chess master, and the whole thing seemed less impressive.

If your reaction to that story is "I'd like to be that chess master hidden in a clock, only instead of something interesting and challenging like chess, I'd like to do the same boring task over and over" I have a money making opportunity for you. Amazon's Mechanical Turks is designed to match humans (you) with small jobs that humans do well and machines do poorly, like identifying whether two products are the same or a picture is offensive. The money is not great, but it is there, and you can earn it while watching TV or waiting for something. Unfortunately, the selection of turks is inconsistent- there's a couple of types that offer reasonably good returns, and a lot that imply deep lack of respect for my time ($2 for transcribing a fifteen minute interview? Sure). The good ones go quickly, so at any given time the site may be devoid of them. This makes it hard to fit it into the five minutes a day it might be a really good return on your time.

I like mturks because I'm a sucker for an immediate payout, even if, in theory, I could increase my lifetime earnings by a larger amount by using that time to brush up my database skills (this leads me to suspect that contracting is a good fit for me). It also helps with that feeling of "I'm not doing anything but sitting here burning money" that unemployment sometimes brings.

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