No Task Too Small for Mechanical Turk

Ann All

Rarely a day goes by that we don't hear about some new business area being outsourced. Some companies are even entrusting such sophisticated processes as product development to outsourcing partners.


Indeed, some large Indian firms no longer take on call center work unless it is part of a larger and more lucrative contract because they find that the staffing hassles and low margins just aren't worth it.


Which poses an interesting question: Who will perform the menial tasks that outsourcing providers do not want to bother with because they do not represent enough profit? While automation seems like an obvious answer, some tasks simply cannot be automated.


In theory, that's where Amazon's Mechanical Turk comes in. It represents a fascinating effort to give companies access to multitudes of workers who will perform mundane tasks in exchange for very little money -- 2 cents to $3, according to this recent Australian IT article. The money is typically deposited into workers' Amazon accounts, where they use it to purchase merch from the site. (Clever Amazon.)


Translating text, compiling information from reports, and locating objects in photos are the kinds of tasks featured on Mechanical Turk thus far. Amazon itself is an early user of the service.


Analysts and other experts seem intrigued by the possibilities. So are we. Forget Google and Yahoo. Amazon is the company to watch when it comes to capitalizing on Web 2.0 cred.

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