Saturday, March 29, 2008

mTurk + Greasemonkey = Better, Faster Turking!

If you Turk regularly, and if you read the forums over at Turker Nation, you'll be familar with the thought "mTurk is great - but it would be even better if.....". Whether it's showing your current balance on the Dashboard, or changing the layout of a HIT so that you can complete it with less scrolling and fewer mouse clicks (more money, faster!) there's an long list of improvements that we'd all like to see.

Here at Turk Berserk, we're big fans of Greasemonkey - an extension for the Firefox web browser which lets you change the way websites look and function to your own liking. In the early days of mTurk there used to be lots of Greasemonkey scripts. However, those scripts have either never been maintained or they are for obsolete HITs. The old scripts just don't function any more. It's time to resurrect the joy of Turking with Greasemonkey! We've been using Greasemonkey for some time to improve our own mTurk experience and we want to share the joy with you! So read on, and we'll explain what this Greasemonkey thing is all about.....

What is Greasemonkey?

Greasemonkey is an Add On for the Firefox web browser. On its own, it does nothing - its power comes from small "scripts" (Javascript for the geeks; a bunch of computer instructions that you don't have to worry about for the non-geeks). It works in the background every time you load a web page and allows those scripts to change the appearance and function of that page. All those changes are made after the web page is loaded, on your own computer.

A Greasemonkey script could do something as simple as changing the colors of the web page (to remove that shade of purple that you just can't stand to look at), or something as complicated as reorganizing information in the page, adding buttons and grabbing information from other pages and displaying it. Scripts only work on the pages they're told to - you don't want it trying to put your mTurk balance on right....

This is really useful for mTurk! For example, lots of people want the Current Balance (i.e. the amount of money that you actually have available to spend) shown on the Dashbord, which currently just shows your total earnings. There are two ways to get this:

1. E-mail Amazon and beg them to add Current Balance to the Dashboard......

2. Write a short Greasemonkey script that does it automatically every time you view your Dashboard.

Even better, you can install a Greasemonkey script from right here at Turk Berserk that will do exactly this! Interested? At the end of this post we'll explain how to get this Greasemonkey script installed (it will only take a few minutes...). But first, a word about our philosophy.

Our Script Philosophy

We want to make it very clear that the scripts that we make available on Turk Berserk will never allow you to cheat at mTurk. We don't create "bots" that try to complete HITs automatically.

Instead, our scripts are designed to either improve your Turking experience (for example, by giving you the extra information you need to keep track of your work) or to allow you to complete HITs more easily (maybe by reorganizing the layout of a HIT so that it takes fewer mouse clicks to complete). You still have to do the real work of the HIT though!

Amazon is quite explicit about allowing disallowing scripts that complete a HIT for you. In their Conditions of Use they state:

3.b. "(i) you will not use robots, scripts or other automated methods to complete the Services."

The important word here is "complete" - the script must not do the work of the HIT for you, but a script which merely allows you to do the work of the HIT more efficiently is OK.

And, from the horse's mouth: In December, 2005, Jeff Barr (a developer on the AWS side) posted on the official Amazon Web Services Blog

A few Workers are trying to run "bots", which you can think of as mindless HIT robots. While we do recognize that some high performance Workers use a variety of scripts to simplify and increase the efficiency of the Mechanical Turk workflow, we do need to point out that the use of fully automated bots runs counter to the Mechanical Turk Participation Agreement.

We (and apparently Amazon too) don't consider using scripts of this type to be "cheating" - although there has been debate about this in the past and a clearer position on this issue from Amazon would be very welcome. We will gradually be making all of our scripts publicly available - so the playing field remains level (if one of our scripts allows you to complete HITs faster, then it allows everyone to complete them faster). The only thing we ask is that you don't publish our scripts on other websites -- please direct folks here to Turk Berserk.

The bottom line: We want to improve your Turking experience and make mTurk faster and more efficient. That can only help to get more requesters using mTurk and help us all make more money!

OK, Sounds Good. So How Do I Get Your Scripts?

Now that we've convinced you that using Greasemonkey is the way to Turking Zen you'll want to head on over to our Greasemonkey How-To to learn how to get Greasemonkey running. You should also check out our post, How Safe Is Greasemonkey Anyway? (If you already know all about Greasemonkey and have it installed, you can skip the How-To and surf right on over to our Scripts page.)

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