The Sheep Market Thesis

sheeppic.jpg
Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is a system for getting people to do small tasks via an API for small amounts of money. The Sheep Market is perhaps the most interesting application based on MTurk. Whereas most Human Intelligence Tasks (or HITs) are about data verification, this task involved drawing a sheep. 10,000 sheep in total were accepted, arranged on his site and then offered for sale. Aaron Koblin, the creator of the Sheep Market, has written his thesis (Word doc)about the experience.

In the document he reveals some interesting bits of knowledge about the project. Such as the anger that Turkers paid 2 cents per sheep had towards him for attempting to sell their work at a great profit (I did not see any sell figures in the document; I would be very curious to know how much he made).

Upon completion of the website the first to be notified were the workers themselves. The response was relatively hostile, but successful in that there seemed to be some dialog about the ramifications of the system. The first responses in a ‘Turker’ discussion thread titled “They’re selling our sheep!!!” included, “Does anyone remember signing over the rights to the drawings?” and “Someone should contact them and see how much they’d charge you to buy back the rights to one of your own sheep.”

He also shared some statistics about the process:

  • Approximate collection rate – 11 sheep/hour
  • Collection period – 40 days
  • Rejected sheep – 662
  • Average Wage – $.69/hour
  • Time spent drawing (average/sheep) – 105 seconds
  • Unique IP addresses – 7599

Workers were allowed to draw up to 5 sheep to be submitted into the system. The majority drew one sheep and received $.02. There were a surprisingly low number of rebels who drew alternatives to sheep (about 30 depending on interpretation), and a similar number of workers who seemed to investigate the system and then abandon their task.

[via Amazon Webservices Blog]

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  • Thomas

    The Mechanical Turk user agreement does say, in case anyone wondered, that work done through the site is the property of the Requester, in this case Koblin. “Turkers” retain no rights at all over what they are paid to produce.

    Also, why did workers get upset that their silly drawings might be sold for a high profit, but that information they give as answers to other “HITs” aren’t also worth way more than they’re paid for it? The whole point is to let requesters get valuable work done very cheaply.

  • http://www.gamboling.co.uk Alex Andronov

    I don’t see any sales figures either but he’s selling the sheep at $20 a pop.

    The 10,000 sheep cost him $0.02 so I guess he only has to sell 10 to make back his investment.

  • http://sbrumfield.blogspot.com Sara Brumfield

    He’s actually selling a block of 20 sheep for $20 — he still has to sell 10 blocks to make back his initial investment (although surely Amazon takes a cut somewhere?).

    I clicked around, looking for a block that wasn’t available (in other words, bought), but couldn’t find one. Of course, my sample set of 5 out of the 5000 possible blocks isn’t exactly statistically significant.

  • http://www.LifeOfRam.com Ram

    I checked on how the flash checks the plate status and discover that http://www.thesheepmarket.com/checkSold.php?blockNum=# is used to check if a plate has been sold. (Where # is the plate #). Anyhow, I downloaded all the result using the Linux command ‘curl’ and did a grep for ‘blockStat=pwned’. (result if plate is sold.)

    => Found exactly 30 plates sold, i.e. $600 made from selling sheeps.