Using MTurk

Pacific Northwest

Joey Stanley


May 18, 2017


June 20, 2017

A few weeks ago, I wroteabout a grant I was awarded where I’ll use Amazon Mechanical Turk (“MTurk”) to collect data from people all across the West. Today, I did a soft launch of the request and already got recordings from five people!

After weeks of carefully wrangling my MTurk request, my Qualtrics survey, and my IRB forms, I finally got it all set up. I’ve had a handful of projects get approved by the IRB, but this one was a little different since it was through MTurk, so I was a little unsure how to go about some things. Luckily, our IRB office was having open houses all through the semester, which were very helpful.

I decided to do a soft release first. $2500 is a lot of money to just throw into a task all at once and I wanted to make sure things were working out right. So I put in enough for five people do to the task. Within the hour I was getting data sent to me! It was crazy!

I got all five in one day with no problem. I’m glad I did the soft release though because there were a couple small snafus that I had to fix. For example, I underestimated how much time it would take people to finish the task, so I’ll raise the amount they’re compensated: I can afford fewer workers that way, but at least I pay them an honest amount.

I’ll spend the next few days making absolutely certain that the task I want them to do is what’s right for this project. But at some point, I’ll pull the trigger and let’er rip. From that point on, all I need to do is approve people’s work (to make sure they get paid) and then just enjoy the hours and hours of recordings showing up in my inbox. What a way to collect data!

May 22

So this happened:

June 9

Okay, so several weeks have passed, and the data collection phase is drawing to a close. In just a couple of weeks, I was able to get data from almost 200 people. I had some major time constraints on how I could use my money, so I had to find ways to use it quicker. I ended up creating an entirely new task, similar to the first one, with a whole new batch of sentences and words for people to read. A large portion of my participants returned to do the second part, meaning I have around 30 minutes of audio from almost 100 people.

This is an incredible dataset I’ve collected. I don’t know how much audio I have total yet, but it’s well over 50 hours. That’s pretty good for just three weeks.

However, I will be the first to say that it was a rough three weeks. It seems like every hour I was getting data emailed to me, and several times a day I had to sit and catalogue the recordings and speaker metadata, while managing the MTurk tasks. Most of the time, it was relatively straightforward, but some participants needed a little extra attention because of technical difficulties, glitches in the system, or complaints here and there. Luckily, I did this when I wasn’t in classes, because otherwise it would have been impossible.

June 20

At last, my data collection has drawn to a close. I ended up with about 212 speakers and 84 hours of data. Not bad. Now comes the daunting task of processing all of this. For every person, if I just want to do a small task that only takes a minute, it’ll take over 3 hours to do it for all speakers! This will take a very long time for me to get through, but from the 2% that I’ve looked at so far, it’s going to be very fruitful corpus.