Outsourcing gets easier with new features on Amazon's Mechanical Turk

Mechanical Turk, Amazon‘s service that allows companies to outsource menial tasks that still require some human intelligence (like writing product descriptions or categorizing images), just got more accessible. Today it released features that allow businesses to manage these tasks through a new graphical interface.

Previously, Amazon says companies had to manually manage and retrieve each task, which is incredibly time-consuming if you’re using Mechanical Turk on any real scale. To work more efficiently, businesses needed software developers to write code that would use the service’s application programming interfaces (APIs). But the new interface allows you to create and monitor hundreds of thousands of tasks without having to write a single line of code. It also offers templates that businesses can customize to create the needed tasks, including image tagging, search relevance and data collection. So if you’re running  a photosharing site, for example, and you don’t have the resources to go through each photo to make sure it’s not going to get you into legal trouble, you can set up a task on Mechanical Turk in just a few minutes and pay others to do it.

Larry Dignan of ZDNet poked around the new Mechanical Turk interface and says it “didn’t appear all that intimidating to the average bear.” But he couldn’t offer much in the way of comparisons, since he hasn’t used the old version. Now, I haven’t done any real outsourcing either, so I asked my friend Lukas Biewald of Dolores Labs for his thoughts. Biewald’s startup helps companies manage their tasks through Mechanical Turk — for example, O’Reilly Media hired Dolores Labs to help classify thousands of comments as either “pro” or “con.”

Biewald says the news sounds like a step in the right direction. However, businesses with a really large amount of tasks will still need some programming experience to manage all that data. The significance of the new interface, he says, is that it lowers the “barrier to entry,” so that less tech-savvy companies can at least try the service out. (Keep in mind that Biewald’s not exactly an objective observer, since his business model relies on companies needing help to use Mechanical Turk.)

This announcement follows yesterday’s news that Amazon has launched two payment services for online merchants, Checkout by Amazon and Amazon Simple Pay.

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