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Mechanical Turk: Paying for a customer centric brand?

Ben just alerted me to this new service from Amazon [but now I see it’s gone meme mental..].

When we think of interfaces between human beings and computers, we usually assume that the human being is the one requesting that a task be completed, and the computer is completing the task and providing the results. What if this process were reversed and a computer program could ask a human being to perform a task and return the results? What if it could coordinate many human beings to perform a task?

What if? indeed…

The latest Amazon initiative is very ambitious, not in its ‘technicalness’ but in its sociality.  This is a big deal.  It’s applying the dynamics of adwords which pushes ‘appropriate’ content to websites, to ‘pull’ in appropriate information and convert that into usable computer readable data.

… the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service solves the problem of building
applications that until now have not worked well because they lack
human intelligence. Humans are much more effective than computers at
solving some types of problems, like finding specific objects in
pictures, evaluating beauty, or translating text. The idea of the
Amazon Mechanical Turk web service is to give developers a programmable
interface to a network of humans to solve these kinds of problems and
incorporate this human intelligence into their applications.

The "Mechanical Turk" is e ssentially a labour exchange for micro-tasks, or Human Intelligence Tasks [vis a vis Artificial Intellugence]- the kind of things that computer-based intelligence just can’t do as effectively as you or me – such as finding objects in pictures. 

What kind of micro tasks?  Well if these were personal tasks they’d be of the scratching your arse variety.  They’re *that* micro.   But these tasks being predominantly around product and editorial opinion the micro-tasks range from your "image adjustment" [i.e. finding objects or views on appropriate images] to "produce desciption content" [i.e. does this describe your understanding of a product well.] One of the main uses at the moment is from Amazon’s search A9 – which is trying to find best fit pictures of businesses in street level photography – which will improve their search ‘effectiveness’.

But let’s be straight here – your views don’t matter on their own.  You’re one of a crowd. And in one case a 16367 big crowd where your views can be  quantified and statistical significance can be achieved and the data munged so scripts can use it. 

So, Amazon and their clients are paying for consumer research?  Kind of.  Some of it is sub-editing, proofing work but all of it is by your customers, by ‘real’ people – and that constitutes research.  It’s the ideal business scenario – getting your customers to describe the things that they would buy, findging out what matters to them.  But instead of analysing the information there are scripts used to transfer it straight to use.

The Mechanical Turk is a great concept for exchange.  But my final point is that I believe MT is also an extension of the loyalty card scheme, an extension of customer-centric marketing, for two reasons:

1. Amazon is too big to do effective "marketing as conversation" type customer engagement – it just can’t. But Amazon is as Chris Anderson states a "Long Tail" business, perhaps the best example of all, and it needs to deal with its customers personally – have a high level of interaction.  So how can Amazon ‘reward’ people for their contribution to their effort if it can’t thank you in person?  Financially, of course.  These payments are nothing more than the financial equivalent of saying "thank you".   The payments are *tiny*.  To make it worthwhile you’d have to be doing a lot of HITS.  And to actually understand the task and then undertake it takes a minimum of a few minutes.  $.03 for a few minutes work? Perhaps if you were so on the margins of the economy – but who, with a computer and a bank account ‘is’?  You’re likely to do this work, this HIT, as a loyal customer.

2. As your HITS payments literally hit your Amazon account you are able to use them to buy good or "Transfer your earnings to your bank account or to your Amazon.com gift certificate balance.".   Would you really exchange that $1.20 into cash? Or would you use it to ‘subsidise’ that "special offer" that Amazon is thrusting at you?  Is it worth transfering such low amounts?  I’m sure Amazon expect most customers to retain their balance in Bank Amazon and redeem tham as you would Nectar points.