Saturday, December 28

Making money through crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers. This process is often used to subdivide tedious work or to fund-raise startup companies and charities, and can also occur offline. It combines the efforts of numerous self-identified volunteers or part-time workers, where each contributor of their own initiative adds a small portion to the greater result. Crowdsourcing is distinguished from outsourcing in that the work comes from an undefined public rather than being commissioned from a specific, named group. ~ Wikipedia
One of the largest crowdsourcing operations is's Mechanical Turk (MTurk) through which people can earn money for doing small jobs. Our son Kirk uses MTurk to contract with workers for his huge company and was telling me about it last Christmas (2012).

As he was explaining to me how crowdsourcing works I thought that MTurk might have possibilities for some of the unemployed immigrants or homeless guys in my ministry sphere. Many already spend a lot of time online at the library. Could they further redeem that time while earning some spare change?

So, last January I decided to try it out myself just to see how it all worked. I've been an MTurk worker ever since and have hooked at least a couple of guys into doing some of these jobs. Personally I've now done 600 MTurk jobs ("HITS") -- most of which involve academic or marketing surveys. I'm also doing more categorization and image tagging these days.

Since January 2012 I've earned $165! No, it's not much but I've been using the income to buy student ukuleles that kids can use when I take my "uke show" into their classrooms. I've been able to buy three wonderful instruments.

I do the online MTurk tasks during the evenings as I decompress from my day. And I've found that I actually enjoy most of what I do there. My favorite HIT involved helping a guy come up with potential names for his new dog. He posted pictures and a description of the puppy's personality. And he paid me $1 to come up with 10 possible names and reasons why I thought they fit his dog. That was fun!

During my tenure on Mechanical Turk I've learned a few things which might help other potential "Turkers" maximize their experience there.
  1. YOU CAN MAKE DECENT MONEY BUT YOU HAVE TO PAY YOUR DUES. Kirk told me that all of the workers who have access to HITS he posts have already done 10,000 HITS. And he requires that they each have the elusive and coveted "masters qualification." No one is quite sure how MTurk issues that qualification but it appears to come with having done a very large number of HITS, of many different types, with a very high approval rating. I have not heard of anyone with a masters qualification with fewer than 10,000 HITS.

    However, Kirk says that he can see how much the money the people working for him are earning. Some, he observes, are making between $20 and $30 an hour. That's almost a living wage! I'm thinking of some of my ministerial colleagues who need to be bivocational in order to continue in pastoral or missionary positions. In other words, the longer you do this the more earning potential there is in it.
  2. THERE ARE SOME BENCH MARKS. I found that I started qualifying for more jobs after I had successfully completed my first 100 HITS. I'm expecting that my qualifications will increase again once I complete 1,000 HITS.
  3. DEVELOP A PERSONAL STRATEGY. Up to this point I've focused on taking jobs based on what they pay. However, if you want to increase your earning potential you'll need to have more HITS under your belt. So, now I try to choose half my jobs based on pay and half based on how many I can rapidly complete. Thus, I take HITS that pay 2 cents each but which can be turned over rapidly -- mostly tagging or categorization jobs. This is a part of my long-term strategy to accumulate HITS and eventually qualify for the higher paying HITS.
  4. HIGH VOLUME CATEGORIZATION JOBS TEND TO SHOW UP EARLY IN THE MORNING -- US TIME ZONES. And many of them are gone by noon. So, if you're TURKING in the evening your possibilities will be more limited.
  6. HAVE FUN ALONG THE WAY. Choose at least some HITS because they look like they will be fun to do. That might keep your motivation level up. 
Many MTurk workers live in India, where the prevailing wages are a lot lower. So, you are really competing in a global market for these micro-jobs. But if you think strategically about this you can use it to your advantage -- regardless of where you live or your current employment situation. It may or may not be enough to get by on (depending on where you live) but it can become one of your income streams.

If I currently pull in a dollar or two for an hour's work in the evening I think of it as a dollar or two that I wouldn't have otherwise -- even if it is way below my earning potential. And I'm having fun doing it. I hope you do so as well.

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