The Faces of Mechanical Turk

When you experiment with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, it feels like magic. You toss 500 questions into the ether, and the answers instantly start rolling in from anonymous workers around the world. It was great for getting work done, but who are these people? I’ve seen the demographics, but that was too abstract for me.

Last week, I started a new Turk experiment to answer two questions: what do these people look like, and how much does it cost for someone to reveal their face?

Answer #1. This is what Mechanical Turk looks like (click for full-size):

Answer #2. About $0.50.


Here’s my original request:

Upload a photo of yourself holding a handwritten sign that says “I Turk for …”, filling out why you turk. For example, “I Turk for Cash,” “I Turk for My Kids,” “I Turk to Kill Time,” or whatever else you like. Be honest, be funny, be whatever you like.

As a good faith gesture, here’s my photo.

If you have a webcam, you can simply go to Cameroid to snap a photo from your web browser, download the JPG, and upload it below. (Don’t worry if the text is backwards, I can fix that myself.) DON’T provide any identifiable information, like your name or email, since that’s a violation of MTurk policy.

The result will be used in a collage that can be found on my personal weblog, By uploading your image and accepting payment for the image, you give permission to me, Andy Baio, to use your image in all forms and media for any lawful purposes. (That’s just cover-my-ass language. I’m almost certainly only going to restrict it to this one project.) The collage will show up there shortly after the HIT is complete. Thanks, everybody!

I started the task at $.05, but only two people responded in the first 24 hours. (And one of those was Joshua Schachter, who I’d told about the project.) Clearly, that was too low, so I increased it to $.25, receiving only eight submissions in 48 hours. (For reference, all 500 of my Girl Talk tasks were done in about an hour.) Increasing it to $.50 got me 20 more submissions in about 48 hours, after which it started to drop off quickly. I wasn’t about to give dollar bills to random people for their photos, so I ended the experiment there. People aren’t willing to give up their anonymity for cheap.

The final results: 30 people total — 10 women, 20 men. Almost all were white, mostly in their 20s and 30s. 21 said they turked for money, 9 for fun or boredom.

Thanks for pulling back the curtain, Turkers.