AWS Official Blog

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk: The First Three Weeks

by Jeff Barr | on | in Announcements |

Things have been even busier than usual here at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle.

On the evening of Wednesday, November 2nd, we announced that Amazon’s Mechanical Turk was ready for beta testing.

Momentum for most beta tests builds quietly at first. A few users and developers put a toe or two into the water, give it a try, and then start to spread the word via blog posts, newsletters, and private emails.

After a while some sort of critical mass is achieved, and information about the new product is seemingly to be found everywhere that you look. The servers are humming along, the bloggers are talking, and there’s a real sense of action and excitement. For some products, getting to this point can take weeks or even months of concerted effort.

With  Mechanical Turk, we went from standing still to 100 miles per hour in less than 48 hours! By Thursday morning a Technorati search for the phrase “mechanical turk” returned a handful of hits. The hit count grew hour by hour, as did the traffic to the mturk.com servers. By Friday morning, Mechanical Turk was the subject of a Slashdot posting, and we were off to the races!

With the Worker side of Mechanical Turk doing so well, we are now working with a number of organizations to increase the number of different types of HITs in the system. If you are a developer and you would like to start adding your own HITs, we’ve got everything that you should need to get started including complete developer documentation, a WSDL file, and a Requester Tool Kit (RTK). The Requester Tool Kit is written in Java, and provides a high-level interface between your program and the Mechanical Turk APIs.

Now that the (figurative) smoke has cleared from our servers, we’ve had time to take a look around and to see what’s happening out in the rest of the world.

We’ve got blog posts of all sorts:

  • Phillip Lenssen was one of the first to post. He says “This service opens up great new possibilites if you’re writing web software. The Mechanical Turk is still in Beta and I’m sure there are many issues to settle once it runs full-speed, but the potential is immense.”
  • Greg Yardley was one of the first to see Phil’s post; he said “The message is entertainingly bizarre but the concept is terrific.”
  • Alexander Muse asks “Am I the only one that thinks this is going to change everything?”.
  • Mark Liberman says “this sort of thing could turn into a new kind of labor exchange, in which a large pool of workers can connect with a large number of (small or large) tasks.”

This is just a small sampling of what we’ve seen. We’ve also been watching some blogs created specifically to discuss the Mechanical Turk concept, including Turk Toiling, The Knight’s Tour, The Turk Lurker, and the Mechanical Turk Monitor.

There are also a Mechanical Turk Photoblog, devoted to collecting interesting pictures found in the A9 Block View HITs, and some more cool picture here. There’s also a Screenshots forum (and lots of other interesting discussion) on the Turker Nation site, and a long thread of interesting pictures here. After seeing these pictures It is clear that we will have to wrap some rules around what can and can’t be done with the content found inside of a Mechanical Turk HIT. This is one of those things that you learn as part of a beta test.

Not last, and certainly not least, Turking.com describes itself as “a vast resource dedicated to helping earn you money through the Mechanical Turk service.”  This site also includes a busy set of discussion forums.

The word “turking” has already been coined to describe the act of working on a set of HITs. Let’s see how long it takes to  get this new verb in to the Oxford English Dictionary!