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When Mechanical Turkers Organize

When Mechanical Turkers Organize

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk marketplace is one of the easiest places on the web to make a few bucks. The site, which offers workers extremely small payments to perform extremely small tasks, was designed for part-time work… but many workers depend on Mechanical Turk for a living. Now, some Mechanical Turk users (called Turkers) are pooling resources and building communities to gain leverage.

Paul Hampton, a writer for Yes! magazine, found that Turkers are finding ways to collaborate to get better treatment and better pay from their marketplace. Mechanical Turk workers are independent contractors who receive a 1099, which technically makes them self-employed.

Finding Platforms For Turkers

In their quest to master their platform, Mechanical Turk workers are turning to sites like MTurk Crowd, Turkopticon (A Chrome plugin whose creators say it helps users report and avoid “shady employers”), and Dynamo to collaborate.

Hampton writes that “The gig economy is often seen as the dystopian future of work. But there’s not much new about the underlying economics. What is new is that the global network enabling the current wave of dispossession also allows workers unprecedented connectivity and reach. While connectedness alone won’t bring revolutionary change, movements can now coordinate and build at unprecedented scale while remaining inclusive and democratic.”

One of the major problems for many Mechanical Turk users is that they’re depending on a marketplace designed for casual, part-time labor to provide the bulk of their income. For many of Mechanical Turk’s workers, especially stay-at-home parents or users in rural areas, it’s among the only jobs that fit their circumstances.

Dynamo even counts some successes: An initiative they spearheaded to create guidelines for academic requesters on the service have been adopted by several universities.

Connecting Gig Workers With Each Other

The Turkopticon plugin for Chrome is a good example of how gig workers spread over a huge geographic area can collaborate for better treatment and better wages. Built by Lilly Irani, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego, and researcher Six Silberman, the plug-in lets Mechanical Turk workers collectively track project requesters.

When in use, the plugin lets users see if other Mechanical Turk users have previously reported requesters for rejecting valid work. This lets the Turk users see if there is a high risk of a service requester doing the same to them. Most importantly, Turkopticon was created independently and without Amazon’s approval; it was a project by workers who use the service for workers who use the service.

There are a lot of benefits to the gig economy and to labor marketplaces: They extend jobs to workers in geographic locations who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them, and drive down costs for small businesses, non-profits and large corporations alike. But workers, of course, need to watch out for their own self-interest as well.

Are there any other examples of workers at other gig marketplaces working together you’d like to share?