Do you ever wonder where all the inane information available on the internet comes from? Like who tags categories for random shopping databases ( a la shopstyle.com), answers questions on yahoo answers, submits the first reviews to up-and-coming review websites? I discovered a largely unknown Amazon.com-run website in beta called mturk.com -tagline “Artificial artificial intelligence” (haha, clever!)– that pays poor souls pennies (literally, pennies.) to collect and submit this kind of stuff. They range from getting paid $0.01 to determine whether or not 2 locations are the same, to the most lucrative $7.50 for writing 10 street-reviews on streetadvisor.com (a website that I sometimes use!).screen-capture

This is both mind boggling and intriguing to me. It was like discovering an underground-internet society! My first thought was–I can see where it makes sense for the “employers” to recruit below-minimum wage labor like this, but who would actually sign up to do this kind of stuff? A lot of people, apparently. Some of the jobs I tried to click on (paying an average of $0.03 each) were gone before I could even load the page. It does make sense–if you’re unemployed/injured and have no skills, just sitting at home all day browsing online to do hundreds of little tasks like this could laboriously add up to cover food or small incidental costs. In fact, I sit at home and browse online for hours, and don’t see a penny from it -_-.

It also made me acutely aware of why so much web content is flat-out terrible, and maybe how some of those WTF links on reddit originated. If the people contributing this information are seriously resorting to doing this to support themselves, what kind of quality can you expect to get out of it? The jobs listed generally have no requirements–anyone can sign up to “claim” them, so long as they are completed within the listed time limit. Employers can “rate” their satisfaction with you after you complete the task, but it doesn’t seem to affect your ability claim more tasks in the future. The site does allow for some “qualification” screening–you can add certain certifications (anything from “engineering background qualification” to “general knowledge quiz”) by taking quizzes? , but the vast majority of jobs listed hardly expect so much from their respondents.

It shouldn’t seem so weird that something like this should exist, actually. In nextlab as well as in international development at large, one of the most discussed end-goals is to develop mobile applications that will allow locals to increase their incomes by using their phones to complete ad-hoc tasks very similar to what’s currently listed on mturk. In fact, one of the  X-Prizes is offering $100,000 to someone who can successfully implement something like this in the developing world.  Is it snobbish to be surprised then that something like this would also exist catered to a US workforce?

It’s even weirder to think that amazon.com is undoubtedly making commissions off of these microtransactions. I wonder if this site will continue to gain in popularity and expand to  offer perhaps less menial, but better-paying tasks as the economy worsens, and more people find themselves unemployed. I guess I shouldn’t complain about being a research slave to MIT professors for $9.75 an hour anymore (jk. full discretion: i love my urop ) .

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