Amazon Opens Mechanical Turk Crowdsourcing for Noncoders

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-07-30 Print this article Print

Amazon Web Services offers a Web-based editing tool for its Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing marketplace that makes it easier for nonprogrammers to create tasks for others to work on together. Even as Turk is fading, businesses are leveraging Amazon's EC2, S3 and other cloud computing tools to give developers platforms to launch Web-based apps. This has spawned a nation of startups, including Bungee Labs, Etelos and Coghead.

Amazon Web Services, the unit that popularized Internet-based computing with its Elastic Compute Cloud and Simple Storage Service offerings, is making its application development marketplace available to nonprogrammers.

Today, business users with no coding skills can use a new Web-based editor in Mechanical Turk, the popular site that lets users create a task online and turn it over to someone else to complete.

Before today, businesses with no programmers (or at least none to spare on things like Mechanical Turk) had to manually enter and retrieve each HIT (Human Intelligence Task), if they even could use Mechanical Turk at all.

HITs include such chores as identifying objects in a photo, transcribing audio recordings, or just researching some data. AWS views HITs as examples of artificial, artificial intelligence, because they let humans do work that computers can't. Now users can leverage HITs and monitor them without writing a single line of code.  

AWS is offering sample templates to help Mechanical Turk users, also known as "requesters," who want to get work done (and get paid for doing it).

The templates help determine how the HIT will look, as well as payment terms and requirements for "workers," or those who are looking to get paid by working on the HIT. Some templates include image tagging, search relevance, data collection and extraction, content filtering, and product definitions.

Here's how it works: Once requesters have designed their HIT template, they can enter each task manually or leverage new bulk-uploading utilities in Mechanical Turk.

These tools let requesters use spreadsheets to manage the new data they are loading into and accessing from Mechanical Turk. Once HITs are published on Mechanical Turk, requesters just as before can monitor the workflow and approve or disapprove completed HITs.  

AWS is offering the new Web-based tools along with the APIs software developers have been using to integrate Mechanical Turk into their apps.  

There are currently around 12,000 HITs. AWS hopes to expand that number by making it easier for non-geeks to load HITs onto the site for others to work on.  

This could be a big deal, assuming Mechanical Turk hasn't nuked the fridge, jumped the shark or flat-out gotten tired. Do users care about Mechanical Turk anymore?

That's the real question. 12,000 chores doesn't seem like a whole lot to me in the broad context of the Internet.

Regardless, give Turk its credit. Like its Web 2.0 brother and sister applications, including blogs, wikis and RSS feeds, Turk has fostered a wave of collaborative crowdsourcing apps that leverage the interminable reach of the Internet.

And even as Turk is fading, businesses are leveraging AWS's EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), S3 (Simple Storage Service) and other cloud computing tools to give developers platforms to launch Web-based apps. This has spawned a nation of startups, including Bungee Labs, Etelos and Coghead.


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