Google Says Quality is Dirt Cheap, Don’t Hire Copywriters

by Christina Gleason on June 10, 2009

According to Matt Cutts of Google, Internet marketers should avoid the unethical practice of buying links by paying a few pennies to the folks who complete tasks via Amazon Mechanical Turk and scoring free links from their efforts. Let me rephrase that: Google says it’s wrong to pay for other people to link to your Web site, but it’s totally cool to score hundreds or thousands of links – not by paying a professional copywriter to create an awesome resource for you – but by spending about 20 bucks for a handful of people to perform cheap labor for you with Amazon Mechanical Turk. Don’t believe me? Watch this video.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Amazon Mechanical Turk, it’s a place where companies pay unwitting individuals a few cents to complete tasks that can’t be automated. Looking to work from home? As I write this blog post, you can earn a whole penny for taking 10 minutes to answer some questions about a news article. If you do six of these tasks in an hour, you’re making an hourly wage of 6 whole cents! I tried doing these tasks when I was unemployed last year, and even with my efficiency, I wasn’t even making minimum wage.

crap

But according to Google, this is a perfectly acceptable way to outsource crowdsource your linkbait. Matt Cutts talks about someone who paid a total of $25 to get a whole bunch of people to compile a list of adjectives about top Twitter users. This is quality content. And not just any quality content, it’s pure linkbait gold. This is what  Google wants to index. It’s completely within their guidelines for ethical SEO.

As a damn good copywriter, I take offense to this. This isn’t quality content. This is crap. This is pandering to the lowest common denominator for a quick chuckle, and paying slave wages to make it happen. Where is the quality in that? Tell me, Matt Cutts of Google’s Webspam team, why would you promote the proliferation of crap like this online instead of encouraging people to invest in something of value?

Dude, I was a Quality Rater. I know what your quality guidelines are – or at least what they were a year and a half ago. Have you really fallen so far? Do you really want to tell the world that what the Internet needs is another insipid fluff piece about Twitter? I’m sorry, sir, but you’ve just discredited everything you’ve ever said about quality content online.

And what is “white hat” about paying crap wages for something inane that could potentially make your business thousands of dollars? That may not break anything in your Webmaster guidelines, but it certainly doesn’t seem ethical to me. Just because you can get away with paying someone a nickel for 45 minutes of work doesn’t mean that you should. In fact, it would be against U.S. employment laws if there was an employee relationship involved. But that’s a whole different rant about the abuse of independent contractors.

All content is paid for in one form or another. I happen to make a living writing quality content because, during my stint as a Quality Rater, I actually wanted to try and make the Internet a better place. What’s the difference in paying writers (say, bloggers perhaps?) to review and link to your product than paying someone to produce content for you in order to attract links? On one hand, the money goes to the writer to manipulate people into linking, on the other hand, the money goes to the writer who was “manipulated” into publishing the link.

Oh wait, that’s right… bloggers should work for free and shouldn’t be paid for linking to companies in the first place. That’s essentially what it’s come down to when Google instituted this “no paid links” policy. The companies don’t suffer. They’re getting free freaking publicity by not paying bloggers to link to them. Yeah, I’m a blogger, too. It’s ridiculous how many moms I know are working for free so that they can have the “honor” of reviewing a $5 product and not get slammed for writing a paid review. It’s crap.

But Google doesn’t respect content creators. That much is clear. It just wasn’t obvious to me just how badly the search giant wanted to screw content producers until now. Google doesn’t really care about quality content. They just want everyone to jump through their hoops so they can keep making money hand over fist for other people’s hard work.

{ 13 trackbacks }

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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan June 10, 2009 at 10:19 am

I think you missed Matt’s point completely. He was saying create interesting content. The point of his post wasn’t to use mechanical turk, it was what resulted from it – a list of terms describing popular twitter users.

That, is link bait. It’s also a lot more interesting that SEO copy written by a copywriter.

Unless of course your rant is purposely missing the point in order to become link bait in itself. If that’s the case, bravo.

I was a quality rater too, and I don’t see any problems with his example and the guidelines. He gave an example of unique, useful content. If I’m searching for information about one of the people profiled there, I view a summary of adjectives about them as useful, not just relevant.

In my opinion there’s more value in wisdom of the crowd than one person can ever write – no matter how good they are. As a web searcher, I’m also more interested in the opinions of many (regardless of whether they were paid or how much) over the content of one.

Again, I think you missed his point.

Julie Wright June 10, 2009 at 10:21 am

It’s not just Google. While the fees cited in this post are completely exploitive, there are many other sites paying $10 to $15 a post and that includes research, writing, and uploading to various sites.

Sweat shop blogging… I also wish people would raise their standards — both the purchasers of these services and the providers.

rexolio June 10, 2009 at 10:21 am

Ummmmm…. WOW! Kind of feels like the earth below is crumbling a bit and all that we thought was right, quality and “white hat” as far as Google is concerned is no more. I hate content for the sake of content. Content should serve a real purpose – to educate or persuade, primarily. Then it should add SEO value to the site. I want quality content writers who can do both – not one without the other. Crap content for the sake of content just clutters up the web and is annoying, yet Google wants that?!?! Feels like it wants to destroy what it helped create – the SEO and web copywriting industry.

Juile Roads June 10, 2009 at 10:21 am

I don’t know if you missed the point or not, but I know – as a coypwriter – that we are undervalued on a regular basis. People pay through the nose for design (including flash that can’t even really be found!) and then scoff at copywriting prices…

So either way, what you’ve written here is important…Thanks.

jaamit June 10, 2009 at 10:25 am

Christina, I agree this was a pretty crappy example for Matt Cutts to give as ‘great content’. And that video makes me cringe.

But your point about google rewarding crappy content is a little misdirected, IMO. This kind of linkbait is not successful because Google deems it so, it’s because people who have the power to link (a fraction of the population) DO link to it – they lap it up and pass it on. You could make the same argument by asking why so many people buy and love to read shallow celebrity gossip and sensationalist stories in magazines and tabloids while well written, well researched journalism is just not as popular. It’s an indication of where our society is at and how the population is being discouraged from actually using our brains to think. Google isn’t judging the quality of the content, it’s judging the popularity of that content, which is why it delivers results people want.

Ryan June 10, 2009 at 10:25 am

Julie, you’re right that copy is under appreciated. Having written web content for mom and pop e-commerce sites, startups, and fortune 100 companies I can say that way more attention is paid to how pixels line up than to what the actual content is.

But i think this post is comparing apples to oranges. There’s HUGE differences between somebody paying a blogger $50 to write a review of their product, and a blogger who gets an idea on his own and then pays people to help him come up with the content. One is extremely biased, the other isn’t.

Russ A June 10, 2009 at 10:30 am

Agree with Ryan. Don’t be jealous that you didn’t think of this idea first. If you’re that good of a writer, you’ll get your links. (And if Lisa Barone and Jill Whalen are RTing your piece, then clearly you’ve got something of interest).

Michelle June 10, 2009 at 10:37 am

Whoa. I hadn’t even heard of Amazon Mechanical Turk before reading this post. As another damn good copywriter, I am appalled. At the same time they play up the fact that some tasks require “human intelligence,” they have removed the application of any intelligence by creating a system that turns humans into automatons. For pennies! It’s insulting, and very dismaying.

It seems that Google (and, apparently, Amazon) is determined to run the very enterprise that allowed its success right into the ground. Is this not similar to what happened in the financial sector? A few powerful entities manipulating the market for their own profit rather than the greater good, taking advantage of those who depend on their leadership, eventually leading the entire system to collapse? It’s irresponsible.

Thank you for sharing this information, Christina.

Angie Haggstrom June 10, 2009 at 10:44 am

As a copywriter, I completely agree with you Christina 100%. It’s frustrating to have search engine ‘authorities’ (and searchers) push for real quality content with the right hand only to have them promote cheap garbage with the left hand.

I fail to see the value in the concept, the example given, or in the entire video itself. I was really disappointed and irritated by that fact. He may as well have published yet another article on ‘how to use keywords in your copy’ for all of the value that added.

I mean, you’re supposed to watch out for ‘bad neighbors’ when linking and use ‘no follow’ to protect yourself, but garbage like that is acceptable?

If Matt couldn’t come up with a decent example of some unique linkbait, I’m sure either of us, or any decent writer for that matter, could have come up with something better than that.

I’m sorry, but in my opinion, he owes it to webmasters, SEOs, and copywriters to define exactly what Google considers crap content and what it considers quality in his next video because I’m confused and irritated.

Angie Haggstrom
Freedom Freelance

Christina June 10, 2009 at 10:47 am

Ryan,

How is what Matt used as an example USEFUL? Sure, it will attract links, but in the long run? Those links aren’t going to help most businesses – and the inevitable 301 to the main site is going to leave a lot of people scratching their heads about the seemingly irrelevant linkage. Did I write this inflammatory piece as a linkbait ploy of my own? No comment.

jaamit,

Sadly, you’re right about society. I wish you weren’t.

Christina June 10, 2009 at 10:52 am

Russ,

I’m hardly jealous. I’m getting work from people who appreciate quality. I think it’s ridiculous for Matt Cutts to be encouraging others to pay slave wages to get the work done for them. And for this ethical white hat tactic to focus on producing vapid crap. You can’t say you value quality when what you really want is just more crap online because it pays better.

Ryan June 10, 2009 at 10:54 am

I think the copywriters are focusing too much on the copy, and less on the interestability of the post (what? if Budweiser can make up words so can I)

Matt’s example is very interesting to the 100 people who it talked about. It’s also very interesting to the thousands of sheep that follow them on twitter.

It’s a great example of linkbait – and people find it interesting.

It’s all about generating interest and conversation. It has nothing to do with how well written something is or how much work went into it. I sense much jealousy and “oh my god they got better results than me but they only spent $25.. crap crap crap I need to justify my job” type reactions.

Both styles have their proper place and need – but I’ll wager that more people find Matt’s style example more interesting. I know.. let’s have the copywriters write something good, and we’ll pay people on Mechanical Turk to evaluate which content they find more interesting……..

Angie Haggstrom June 10, 2009 at 10:57 am

And just for the record, just because someone is ‘paid to review a product’, whether it’s money or the product itself, it doesn’t mean it’s biased. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but not always.

It wouldn’t be the first time I refused to write a review because the product was crap, and I know I’m not the only one. (You can catch that discussion here: http://dannybrown.me/2009/04/09/tipping-the-scales/)

IMO, whether or not a review is reliable depends solely on who you’re dealing with and how trustworthy they are. Yes, paying for someone to create a jaded review is wrong, but how is slave labour any better? If you’re going to go that route, you may as well take your chances and just forget the content and buy the stupid link.

Angie Haggstrom
Freedom Freelance

Christina June 10, 2009 at 10:58 am

To all my fellow writers who commented,

I know you all understand. I used to work for crap wages. As mentioned, I did some of the mechanical turks while I was job hunting last year. (Made a whopping 55 cents before I stopped and looked at how much time I’d wasted – and couldn’t even afford something off the dollar menu at McDonald’s.)

Too many writers and bloggers are working for far less than they should. Julie Wright said it best…. “sweat shop blogging.” As long as other bloggers and writers undervalue their own work, and continue to accept these wages, content buyers will continue to undervalue the work as well. And some people won’t even want to pay the sweat shop bloggers… they’ll pay mere pennies to the drudges doing mechanical turks and call it their competitive edge.

Alan Bleiweiss June 10, 2009 at 11:07 am

The fact that Matt Cutts referred to the tactic as a link bait strategy is now going to cause more companies to do this stuff purely for link bait, regardless of the quality. Its really sad that he’s essentially recommending this be done for link bait because Google emphasizes links as a means of establishing authority. Authority! Not “as a marketing tactic to generate buzz about a brand.”

So Matt Cutts has now officially come out saying that all authority is to Google is millions of links from people who find crap content worth linking to.

Your article and your point are dead on.

Christina June 10, 2009 at 11:09 am

Ryan,

I am certainly not trying to justify my job, as my clients are quite appreciative of my work and its “interestability.” You’re still missing MY point about the exploitation of the people who create content. That $25 was not paid to a single person or even 5 people. Pennies for work that has real value. Would you work for less than a dollar an hour? No? So why is it okay to pay someone else that rate? Just because they don’t have a nice little employee contract doesn’t mean that their time isn’t valuable.

There were really two separate points of my post:

1. Google preaches about quality but really wants crap because it’s more marketable.
2. As long as you don’t break Google’s rules, it’s perfectly fine with them if you exploit workers for your own profit. Not just fine, it’s encouraged because it was “innovative.”

Sure, these workers have better working conditions than the field hands in California who are being denied drinking water and bathroom breaks, but they’re getting paid less than those field hands.

Christina June 10, 2009 at 11:12 am

Alan,

Yes! Thank you!

Ryan June 10, 2009 at 11:24 am

I guess I have a hard time viewing mechanical turk as worker exploitation. These are people (who are obviously well off enough to afford a computer and internet access) that are volunteering their time and agreeing to the wage up front.

I don’t think there’s many people who rely completely on TURK for employment. I’ve always viewed it as more of a hobby that happens to pay.

By the logic above, does that mean wikipedia and yahoo answers are exploiting people too?

Christina June 10, 2009 at 11:36 am

Ryan,

Wikipedia and Yahoo Answers are not the same sort of beast as Amazon Mechanical Turk. From the AMT Web site:

As a Mechanical Turk Worker you:

* Can work from home
* Choose your own work hours
* Get paid for doing good work

Doesn’t sound like they’re trying to recruit volunteers to me.

ecommerce copywriter June 10, 2009 at 11:57 am

Here’s another copywriter who totally understands! As someone said up above, we’re undervalued by countless people in all different kinds of ways. Anyone who can type thinks he/she can write, so, hey, why pay a competent professional copywriter…right?

Designers and Flash developers get respect because (a) they use fancy tools other people don’t know how to use; and (b) they do all that cool flashy stuff that, like, moves and stuff. (Gahhhhh.) Meanwhile, copy closes the sale…but nobody seems to care. It’s so demoralizing.

– Mild-mannered ecommerce copywriter for a great metropolitan apparel company

Michelle June 10, 2009 at 12:10 pm

It’s a huge assumption to make that because someone is using Turk, they are “well off enough to afford a computer and internet access.” Maybe their computer is old and they have dialup. (Yes, there are still people out there with dialup.) Maybe they just lost their job and they bought a computer when they could afford it. Maybe they’re at the library using their allotted hour to make some extra money. Maybe they’re borrowing a friend’s computer for the same reason.

I think the more logical assumption is, if someone is actually using Turk as a means of income, it’s not the only thing they’re doing, and they’re trying everything they can to make money because they have found themselves in an undesirable situation. And the people paying those pennies are taking advantage of that.

And I agree with Christina, Yahoo Answers and Wikipedia are the oranges compared to the apple that is Turk. And it’s a rotten apple, at that.

Insert Keywords Here June 10, 2009 at 1:10 pm

I thought mechanical turk was only for buying diggs and drawing pictures of private parts?

https://www.mturk.com/mturk/preview?groupId=7TFZX2Y43Y8PSEYTRZXZ

Bruce Thomasq June 10, 2009 at 2:45 pm

What has been described in this article is the model used by television networks regarding content. The value/veracity/creativity of TV content has been dumbed down so much that people actually watch this junk and think it is free. On the contrary, TV content is not free – we watch commericials endlessly repeated for stuff that has little value or relevance to a happy life. We are manipulated by news programs that don’t investigate their reported items and then repeated over and over. The Internet had a chance to overcome much of the cultural degradation wrought by TV, but all it has become is instant information provided by people who can’t write and then repeated through the herd. Like the message that is repeated from ear to ear in a line of school kids the final result is much different thann the original and more often than not, far from the truth. Stop! Turn off the TV and the Internet and read a good book – hopefully not a book in a pdf file.

Christina June 10, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Bruce,

I read books every day. I’m a voracious reader. I do, however, make my living writing content online. People aren’t going to buy books about subjects they need only Google information about, so I help write that stuff. We’re not talking about the same thing here.

Suthnautr June 11, 2009 at 2:56 am

Hi Christina,

Well, it’s finally upon us – the internet has over 216 million users now and is projected to have 288 million by 2012 according to Forester Research. What we’re finally seeing is the result of the market responding to the desires of the masses – and that market has to pander to the lowest common denominator. Finding out the statistics of who thinks little Billy will finally wind up eating the booger he just dug out of his nose is tremendously appealing to a huge mass of semi-functional illiterates out there now joining us on the web – and, sorry, but your copywriting only confuses them. Fifth grade reading levels are required to read what you write, and these people don’t want to strain their poor little brains with anything harder than a multiple choice paid test where they can link the hell out of something for (wow!) a whole penny! (Waste not want not)

So now I suppose that with all the cheap white hat linkbaiting approved by Google and their over-ranking “brands” and giving them special preference on page one I suppose the new cool page to look for REAL content and upcoming good company SERPs will be back on page 12. As long as Google provides a “next” link we can all hope that the rest of the literate thinking world catches on and skips the crap that will start linkbaiting its way to the top.

Nice call on this one.

Suthnautr June 11, 2009 at 3:32 am

Bruce Thomasq (“we watch commericials endlessly repeated for stuff that has little value or relevance to a happy life. We are manipulated by news programs that don’t investigate their reported items and then repeated over and over. The Internet had a chance to overcome much of the cultural degradation wrought by TV…”) just made me think, and so did Michelle (“A few powerful entities manipulating the market for their own profit rather than the greater good, taking advantage of those who depend on their leadership, eventually leading the entire system to collapse? It’s irresponsible.”)

I don’t believe that the internet is dumbing down completely by accident. There are some authority web sites out there exposing things that the various news media, the vast majority of which are now owned now by hand fulls of very powerful men. When large groups of intelligent people accredit these sites with authority status it upsets the official spin doctors out there who want to direct our attention to the official line – the approved curriculum – of controlled thought.

The internet is free, and it is “the people’s press”. So to interrupt that in any other way than to jam it up with as much stupidity as possible and make it as senseless as possible may not be totally by accident.

History is full of governmental and corporate announcements of good things with motives spun up to please the masses – when in reality the true motives often only reveal themselves many years later after the forests have been denuded and the mountains destroyed through strip mining. Who’s to say powerful forces, corporate boardrooms, FCC regulators, Search Engine companies etc. are not involved in doing the same thing with the web, and step one is to make the efforts of independent intellectuals as totally meaningless and ineffective as possible? Isn’t that what they always do in wars and invasions – kill off the intellectual leaders first?

jon burg June 11, 2009 at 9:01 am

With all due respect, Google is wrong.

Good copywriters should be creating remarkable copy in search. If anything, Twitter has taught us that 140 characters is enough to convey powerful messages.

This is an both an algorithm and an art. I don’t know that this can be quantified, but any business looking to sell anything other than “discounts” will need copywriters.

Christina June 11, 2009 at 9:08 am

Some dark thoughts there, Suthnautr.

Well said, jon!

Andy Beard June 11, 2009 at 9:09 am

The problem with linkbait is it is so unreliable for links these days.

I personally transcribed one of Matt’s recent videos on PageRank sculpting, as part of a longer piece and it effectively achieved about 3 decent links and one syndication.

Whilst I have been quite negative over Google’s paid links policy, I have never been a supporter of junk content on the web. Many of the paid reviews I wrote received more editorial mentions than transcribing Matt Cutts and writing 2000+ words.

The best link bait is just do a Google search, or a niche specific search, and then make a list, and to be honest that is something that can be outsourced, then add an additional twist and edit out the low quality items once you already have a formatted list.

Christina June 11, 2009 at 9:26 am

Andy,

Agreed. That is something that could certainly be outsourced, and I hope it would be to someone being paid a fair wage to do it. (I’m available, LOL!)

John Sullivan June 11, 2009 at 9:31 am

I like you. Wow like a breath of fresh air. To hear some original strong ideas no doubt you must be Irish :) Anyway Google, what Matt Cutts says and does,paid links all that is played out. I think you see things very clearly. The world is unfair you will always have the scammers and big companies trying to control people. I like that you spoke your peace.

Christina June 11, 2009 at 9:47 am

Thanks, John. There may be some Irish in me, but I’m not entirely sure. I do know that, a few hundred years ago, one of my ancestors was sentenced to the Tower of London (don’t know why) and took the alternative – to be an indentured servant in the Americas. He jumped ship off the coast and swam to freedom. ;-)

Craig Edmonds June 11, 2009 at 10:16 am

Is there something wrong paying $25 for someone to write quality 500 word article/content?

I agree about sweat shop blog postings yes, but paying someone 5 cents per word for a 500 word article, seems pretty fair to me, especially if that’s the price they are asking.

Its not like a gun is being put to their head is it?

Here is a situation….

Me: “Can you write me a quality 500 word article?”
Them: “Yes we can”
Me: “Okay great. How much will you charge?”
Them “$25″
Me “Great! I will send payment right away”

And another scenario…

Them: “We can write you quality 500 word articles for $25″
Me: “Great! Here is $25″
Them: “Thanks for your business”

I wish I was paid 5 cents for every word I write!

I would have just earnt myself $7.30 for a 3 minute blog post!

Thats $146 dollars an hour!

Christina June 11, 2009 at 10:24 am

Craig,

No no no, $25 to write an article is not something I take issue with. The $25 in question was spread out to multiple people on AMT. How many? Since I believe they looked at the Top 100 Twitter users, I would guess more than 100 tasks were created so that multiple workers would provide adjectives for each Twitter user. I can’t know for sure, but my bet is on paying each person a nickel for each task. Even if each worker could read the instructions, open Twitter, read through the Tweetstream, and submit adjectives all in the space of one minute, that’s 5 cents a minute or $3 an hour. And that’s a generous estimate, considering Web browsers can take time to load and submit things, never mind the human interaction part of it. I’m guessing most workers netted a far lower wage per hour.

Tony Lawrence June 11, 2009 at 2:19 pm

You are right. Amazon Turk is disgusting and it’s astonishing that Matt Cutts would consider that an example of “quality” content.

On the other hand, it’s not spam. It might be junk – the old saying of one man’s junk being another’s treasure certainly applies.

I can protest against exploitation (however “willing”), quality is a tough thing to nail down.

enzo June 11, 2009 at 3:00 pm

The cream rises. Even though Mr. Cutts is promoting “Blog Sweatshops” I think as time goes on, sites like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk will become less sought out for content. Remember when “desktop publishing” meant anyone with a Mac or PC was suddenly a designer. You suddenly saw a proliferation of drop-shadows, flaming logos and hard-to-read type. I think we are in the same situation with content. As the public becomes more aware that lame content is just that, we will be forced to see companies like Mechanical Turk competing in the marketplace.

Gill Wagner June 11, 2009 at 3:00 pm

You said “As a damn good copywriter, I take offense to this. This isn’t quality content. This is crap.”

Cutts never once said the Twitter list was “content” at all, much less “quality content.” He said it was good linkbait. Never used the word content once that I heard. And never once said a derogatory thing about copywriting.

All this article really seems to be is your own, manipulative linkbait. You wrote a totally invalid piece about a popular guy so everyone would link to you.

Nicely done. You’re right up there with the Mechanical Turk folks — doing something totally unethical to pad your own pockets.

Alain Saffel June 11, 2009 at 3:08 pm

I hadn’t heard of Mechanical Turk before, but one look at it and I know I won’t be using it!

I started out my writing career as a journalist. In fact, I volunteered at the local paper for a week while I was in j-school and landed a summer job there. To build up a portfolio, sometimes people work for peanuts. I think you have to make a calculated judgment about the value of doing something like that.

I certainly understand both sides of the issue. I haven’t done any volunteer writing work since! Quality writing has value and it’s time companies recognize it. Unfortunately there are many people out there who have a romantic idea about being a writer and are willing to write for nothing in an attempt to get their foot in the door too.

I don’t know how you solve the problem.

Excellent post!

Christina June 11, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Gill,

I’m sorry, but linkbait is content. Text, video, music, graphics… all various forms of content. The people who create that content? They’re content producers. As a writer, I produce content. And when someone like Matt Cutts applauds the use of slave wage services like AMT as a cost-saving measure, that hurts legitimate content producers who are trying to earn a living. That includes the people who completed the turks for mere pennies.

And I’m still trying to wrap my head around how advocating for people to be paid a fair wage is unethical.

James June 11, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Did the people who did the tasks have a gun to their head?….

no!

If they knew what they was being paid and agreed to the terms then thats their own fault..

Codesucker June 11, 2009 at 9:43 pm

I really enjoyed this post, especially the shot at Cutts who has a stunning ability to look people in the eyes and lie in the name of Lord Google and the anti-spam movement. Keep it up, QualityGal!

Bim June 12, 2009 at 1:22 am

Amazon Mechanical Turk surely is not trying to recruit volunteers. But everybody who takes up a task there is doing so on a voluntarily basis. So the whole talk about slave labour, etc. is a bit silly, nobody is being forced to do anything. It’s simply demand and supply.

Jenn Mattern June 12, 2009 at 8:02 am

For those saying there’s nothing wrong with paying these ridiculous wages because writers “don’t have a gun to their head” are full of crap, and quite obviously don’t know that much about entry-level Web writing work.

As a professional writer and someone’s who’s coached numerous new writers in building their careers on the Web, I can tell you they’re not doing it because it’s okay with them. MANY of them take low rates of $5 per hour or less not because they want to, but because they honestly believe that’s the norm. What’s worse is that they also honestly believe those garbage gigs are going to lead to a thriving career writing online–they rarely do. They more often lead to burnout and, ultimately, failure.

The fact is that most of the great Web writing gigs are not advertised online. Therefore, when new writers are looking for advertised writing jobs, they see the slave labor gigs dominating the field (or so it appears at the time). As long as people act like writers, or other content producers, are there to be taken advantage of, they’ll continue manipulating the newbies with lies about “standard” rates and the like.

New writers need a kick in the pants–they need someone to wake them up to the fact that those rates are not okay, and that many better gigs do exist despite what those potential “clients” often tell them. So Christina, excellent post in doing just that. We need far more of it in this virtual cesspool, and if your post reached even a single writer with a wake up call, then this post was a success regardless of what anyone else has to say about it.

Christina June 12, 2009 at 10:34 am

Thank you, Jenn.

As far as the “gun to the head” thing goes, ALL work is voluntary – and workers are still being woefully exploited across the country. Sometimes it’s field workers picking tomatoes. Sometimes it’s cashiers at Wal-Mart. Sometimes it’s freelance writers or Cha Cha guides. Some exploitation is obviously far worse than others, but NONE of it is acceptable.

Copywriter June 12, 2009 at 2:50 pm

So true. Thank you for this article.

Sheri June 15, 2009 at 11:17 am

I can’t believe I’m late to THIS discussion *slaps self*. Man…do I have plenty to say (but I’ll keep it short). The web is overflowing with garbage: sweat-shop rehashed content, pushed by ubiquitous self-celebs….people who become famous by giving the appearance of being famous. Sheer visibility, coupled with overwhelming ego, delivered with suffocating pomposity.

Fresh perspective takes time, thought, research and editing. Paying someone pennies to produce content is a great deal like ordering fertilizer and receiving elephant crap. It’s just a big stinky pile of poo unless it’s properly composted.

If Google favors crap found by people who don’t have the brains and ability to get paid a living wage, that explains a great deal about the preponderance of utter cowflop dominating the web.

It is unfortunate that some businesses are unwilling to pay a decent wage for the single most important sales tool they can employ. Excellent writing is rare. And worth every penny.

Peggy Karp June 30, 2009 at 8:01 pm

I’m probably at least 30 years older than you and everyone who’s commented. I’m not internet savvy, don’t twitter, for that matter don’t own a television set. But I do know exploitation when I see it. After listening to a favorable review of mechanical turk on NPR’s Marketplace (the only caveat was “SOME jobs on MT may pay below minimum wage”) I went to the MT site and couldn’t believe what I saw. 1984 flashed before my eyes: As in George Orwell. As in creating a race of slaves.

Volunteer labor? Hardly. Economic necessity is a “gun to the head” of billions on the planet. What’s scariest to me is that aside from your article and maybe a few others I haven’t found yet there’s virtually no outcry against MT, no understanding of what it represents. Thank you for sounding the alarm.

Leila July 4, 2009 at 3:59 pm

I am a professional writer too. Let’s face it. People don’t value what we do because everyone can string some words together. We just do it better. The solution is to have our own blogs that earn ad revenue instead of letting others decide what they should pay us. A writer’s blog is going to be better than a non-writer’s blog every time. That’s how we can compete.

Steve November 25, 2009 at 5:57 pm

There’s a lot of strong feelings about Mechanical Turk here. I want to play devil’s advocate for a moment:

-Mechanical Turk isn’t limited to the US.
-If you live in a part of the world where (1) jobs are scarce, (2) the standard of living is low and (3) you can get internet access, Mechanical Turk is a boon. Because the jobs are so great? No. Because it’s work? Yes.
-Think back to earlier in the decade when offshoring became a volatile topic. For everyone American saying “They took our jobs!” there was someone in a developing country who’s standard of living has just gotten a boost.

If you have some compassion for the world outside of the US, now’s the time to remember about it. Mechanical Turk tasks generally aren’t a good supply of jobs for US workers where (1) the cost of living is really, really high and (2) our minimum wage is high enough to, on some level, accomadate that. (I have to qualify that, because I’m not any more interested in working for minimum wage than the rest of your are. And that’s largely because wouldn’t want to have to move from my small, crappy appartment to a small, crappy, cockrach-infested one.)

I wouldn’t expect a US worker to embrace working through Mechanical Turk jobs any sooner than the average American would embrace the idea of relocating to an underdeveloped country to find work. But don’t forget that work that seems unacceptable to a wealthy country may be much more desirable to others. And how will we create global equality? By forcing the wealthly to embrace a lower standard of living? (Just try to find way to make that happen that doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights. And before you say “yeah but…the rich infringe upon the rights of the poor all the time,” remember that two wrongs don’t make a right.) No, it’s by raising the standard of living for the least wealthy until equalization occurs naturally.

Curt January 10, 2010 at 8:29 am

Now I’m really starting to like you.

I couldn’t agree more. Google has changed into a dark force on the Internet in which their intentions are not in your favor.

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