Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Task Site Overview

When many people think of working online, they still think of freelancing sites like Elance and Freelancer (formerly GetAFreeLancer). Sites like those still offer terrific opportunities for talented people to make money online, but they are not too friendly to rank amateurs. People without specific skills (such as ability in a programming language) have very few jobs they can bid on and a great deal of competition. Indeed, the whole bidding process turns off some -- every job has to be fought over. It's not unlike the rough and tumble job world which many people look online to try to escape away from.

You can think of task sites as a step down from freelancing sites, though I don't mean that in a derogatory way. What I mean is that task sites tend to have jobs that literally anyone can do -- most tasks don't require special skills. The element of competition is considerably reduced. Rather than competing with other workers on a bid basis, you instead just have to accept and complete a task in the time allotted and before all task slots are used up. I find task sites much more pleasant to use than freelancing ones, but if you have marketable skills freelancing sites can offer you considerably more income. With that said, let's discuss some of the task sites currently available.

Amazon's Mechanical Turk may well have originated the task site concept. What are simply called "tasks" on other sites MTurk calls HITs -- this stands for Human Intelligence Tasks. Whether it was the first of its kind or not, MTurk remains the biggest site in this sector by far. You can routinely find thousands of small jobs available on the site, and there is an enormous range of tasks. Transcription, surveys, and image tagging are just a few of the different job types. Unfortunately, the site doesn't categorize tasks so you have to either navigate through the entire list or use the search engine (which is pretty decent) to find particular tasks you're interested in. Different HITs pay dramatically different amounts of money -- simple ones may only pay a penny while some highly involved ones will pay you several dollars. If you are at all interested in tasks, you pretty much have to give MTurk a's got the most activity of all the sites by far. However, it does have a few downsides. Only Americans and Indians can withdraw cash from the site; people from all other countries can only receive shopping credit for their work. MTurk pays Americans by electronic transfer and Indians by check (everyone also can redeem their earnings for Amazon credit) PayPal payments are available. Another unfortunate aspect of MTurk is that Amazon is fairly hands off about it. Scammers and spammers often post HITs that they have no intention of ever paying for. It is up to the users to be vigilant about what tasks they accept so they don't get cheated. You should definitely visit forums like Turker Nation and the smaller but friendlier mTurk Forum regularly so you can learn from other turkers' experiences and avoid the bad employers. Finally, it's very possible to lose your Mechanical Turk account. If too many requesters choose to ban you from working on their HITs, your whole MTurk account could be suspended, causing you to lose all prior earnings. It's possible but quite difficult to get a suspended account restored. For this reason, you should probably withdraw your money as soon as possible rather than let it accumulate indefinitely.

Microworkers is MTurk's most promising competitor. It pays by PayPal, Moneybookers, and Alertpay (minimum payment is $9) and welcomes users from all over the world, giving it one considerable advantage over MTurk. It is also more accepting of some task types that MTurk frowns on, like paid signups and social bookmarking. In fact, most tasks on MW are of the signup variety, including many CPA type offers that are US only. However, it's also one of the best sites to find high paying signup offers for PTCs and other GPT sites. MW also has true technical support...a wronged worker can even get an incorrectly rejected task reversed here. Unlike MTurk, Microworkers doesn't permit penny tasks -- each task is worth at least $0.10 which workers love. However, the number of tasks available here is also considerably smaller than MTurk; I usually see over a hundred available at a given time vs the thousands on Mechanical Turk. MW has a referral program, but it's tough to make money with it: you receive a bonus of $1 for each referral but only after they've earned $25. That may take some serious waiting unless you refer some very active users! All in all, I think Microworkers is a very good site; I especially appreciate how fairly they treat their workers.

Minuteworkers is one of the newer task sites that have cropped up recently. It is quite similar to Microworkers in many respects, but has a $10 minimum payout limit by PayPal. There are a fair number of tasks (mainly signups again) on offer here, but what really sets Minuteworkers apart is its referral system. They pay $0.05 per referral and give out a $0.10 bonus once your referral completes his or her first task. If you can deliver a steady stream of referrals to the site, those nickel and dime payments will really start to add up!

MyMicroJob is another Microworkers-like task site that is worth keeping an eye on. It has the fewest tasks available of the sites I've listed so far, but it seems to have a responsive and determined staff who are serious about making the site a success. Once again, the standout feature of this site is its referral program: here you get $0.10 per referral and a big $1.50 bonus if your referral reaches $10 or more. This is probably the best referral system currently offered by any task site. The downside is that for now the site is small, with a couple dozen tasks usually available...and, yes, they are mainly signups once again. Payout is $10 by PayPal, Alertpay, and Obopay, and the withdraw page features a handy chart that shows you the payment processor fees that'll be deducted from your payment. I wish all sites warned you ahead of time about those!

Finally, there's myLot. I've written previously about how it is one of my favorite online earning sites, but it's still very green when it comes to tasks. myLot is, without a doubt, the best paid to post forum on the Web. I had great hopes it would become one of the best task sites as well, but so far it hasn't really taken off as quickly as I expected. For this, I partially blame the notoriously opinionated myLot community. There were so many complaints about all the PTC signup offers that were filling up the task section in the early days that such offers were banned. Unlike most of the other sites I've talked about, myLot does not now allow paid signups. That wouldn't be so bad if there were other tasks to complete, but I rarely see more than a handful available at any given time. It's still a relatively new addition to the site so I plan to give it some more time. At least one feature is so sorely needed that I'm sure it will be added before long: if an employer posts a task and does not verify it has been completed after a certain amount of time, payment should be automatically awarded to the employee so you don't have a situation where there are a lot of "orphaned" tasks in limboland as currently is the case. Additionally, myLot might want to develop some sort of referral system for tasks in the future...currently it only gives referral earnings for posts. You should definitely join myLot for its other features -- the task section, for now, is a bit lacking!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the opportunities on the other side of the task spectrum: you can of course make money by posting tasks as well as completing them. So, for instance, if you need referrals you might post a paid to signup offer on Microworkers. If you need content for a web site, you might post an article writing job on myLot. If you have some information on old paper forms you need transcribed to digital form, you might recruit the thousands of workers on MTurk to help you out. Don't settle for "just" being a worker if you have a great idea for a task of your own! You can even use your worker earnings to pay for your own tasks.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Importance of Site Building

Sometimes I feel like a struggling musician, perpetually toiling away in obscurity but ever waiting for that big hit which always seems to be just around the corner. Part of the process of making money online via blogging seems to be to start a lot of blogs with the foreknowledge that they won't all be money makers. I don't know of too many people who achieved success with their very first blog -- in part, that's probably because people tend to pick a topic close to their heart or what they're most interested in without reflecting on keywords or potential popularity. Most bloggers seem to become more analytical and research-oriented as they go on, but I have to admit that just writing what you want is more fun especially since "research" doesn't guarantee success!

The more I think about it, though, the more I realize I haven't had an absolute failure yet. There are two blogs I created early on in my blogging career that I have tended to think of as failures. One I couldn't find a good monetization strategy for and pretty much ended up relying on random affiliate banners and text referral links. The second blog was a mistake simply because the keyword situation was bad. Not only did I have a lot of competition, but most people searching for those keywords were using them in a different context than I was. (Ugh, I thought this post would be more relatable if I spoke in general terms, but after reading that last sentence I wonder if specificity would've been clearer!) The odd thing, though, is that both those blogs did benefit me in the long run. I got referrals and made a little money from both. If you calculate the amount of time I spent working on those blogs and compare that to the results I actually reaped from my efforts, then building those sites probably was not a good use of my time. Nonetheless, I got something from it all, and it was not just experience though that was probably the most valuable gain.

Ultimately, what my past endeavors have shown me is that the most important thing a blogger or writer or webmaster can do is to keep trying. Keep building those blogs. Even if you're building blindly, without doing any keyword or niche or market research, that's better than doing nothing at all. Building gives you the chance for success at least -- to paraphrase (and murder) Tennyson, "Tis better to have blogged and gotten few clicks than to have never blogged and gotten no clicks at all." Stay in the game and keep fighting!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

myLot, the Paid to Post Powerhouse

There are countless forums online where you can post until you're blue in the face/fingers, but very few of them will help you pay the ensuing doctor bills. That's what's so beautiful about myLot: it's one of the biggest and best forums sites I know of, but it pays its participants for every post they make. It's not like the typical forum site which has a definite theme -- myLot is a place where people can discuss most anything. Users even have the freedom to create their own forums (called "interests" in myLot parlance). I love the money I can make there, but I love the freedom the site offers just as much.

myLot is more than just a massive forum. It also has news and blogs sections which enable you to comment on the news and on blog posts and get paid for those, too. More recently, the site opened up a tasks section so it's a competitor of sorts to MTurk and Microworkers. Currently, the site is also experimenting with a "search and earn" program. The site also rewards you well for referrals: you'll earn 25% of what your referrals make by posting.

How much can you make with myLot? You'll only earn pennies per quality post here, but since the payout by PayPal is just $10 it's really not too hard to reach if you like to talk. I usually can reach payout monthly. There are a couple of peculiarities about myLot payments you should take note of. First, your earnings credit to your account the day after you make your posts. In other words, you'll see how much money you made by posting on Tuesday on Wednesday. Secondly, you're automatically paid (if you've reached the minimum payout which you can set to a larger amount than $10 if you prefer) once a need to request payment.

Because myLot welcomes everyone who has a PayPal account, I think it's a site that everyone trying to make money online should join. There's a lot of good discussions happening throughout the site so you'll probably enjoy your time there independent of the money you make. One piece of advice, though: do read myLot's guidelines before you start posting; if you post referral links in your messages (posting them on your profile is fine) or break the other rules, your posts will just get deleted and you won't make any money. I would also advise you to write thoughtful, on-topic messages -- it might seem like you could make more money by posting lots of short, meaningless replies, but n practice it simply doesn't work that way.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Another ICS Update

A little over a month ago I wrote a review of Instant Cash Sweepstakes which was generally praiseworthy except for the fact that I couldn't help but point out one little detail: the PayPal fee charged when you cash out was quite noticeable. The fee makes small cashouts (the minimum payout is $2) much less attractive so for this reason some people hold off on cashing out until they've earned a larger amount which is no fun at all. Luckily, there's some light on the horizon.

One consequence of ICS' PRO program is that it seems like it will be much easier to make bigger sums of money on this site in the future. By answering the short multiple choice surveys on the "main" site, you will receive regular small cash prizes generally worth a few cents. I believe the most I ever earned from ICS in one day from survey prizes was about thirteen cents. Since you can answer surveys every three hours, you have about eight opportunities to win money -- I usually win once per session, but my schedule doesn't let me hit every session. By enrolling in the PRO program, however, survey takers will have opportunities to earn 50 cents or more per each survey. As I mentioned previously, the program is currently open only to those willing to take part in video surveys, but it will be expanded over time.

Although I don't have an inside source at ICS or anything, I do think it's also possible the site will expand internationally at some point. Many of ICS' clientele seem to be startups and software companies, and technology is perhaps the most global industry there is. Additionally, ICS uses PayPal, a payment system well suited for international use. For now, however, the site remains limited to users in the United States.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Two New Ways to Make Money with ICS

Instant Cash Sweepstakes, a popular mini-survey site with a phenomenal referral program, has recently started offering two new ways for its member to make money. First, it has now introduced an Ask Your Target Market referral program. Ask Your Target Market is the client end of ICS' business -- it's where people who want to conduct market research go. Thus, you make money with the AYTM referral program by referring survey makers rather than survey takers. The next new feature is the PRO membership program. PRO members will be able to take surveys which carry guaranteed cash awards; membership is free, but it is selective. Currently, those invited to become PRO members must record an introduction video explaining why you want to join. A certain comfort level with making videos is thus a prerequisite for membership -- indeed, one interesting aspect of PRO membership is that it includes video surveys in which respondents are asked to respond by video. I'm glad to see ICS continuing to innovate and explore new areas. Still, I suspect most users will earn more from taking the regular surveys on the site and referring other users than from either of the new methods.

Referring new companies and individuals to Ask Your Target Market has the potential to be quite lucrative. If a referrer purchases at least $29.95 worth of market research from the site, you will receive $10. I like the sound of that in theory, but there's just one little problem...where exactly do you run into people interested in conducting market research? I think just a small number of people will be able to really take advantage of this simply because survey takers and survey makers are such different folks. People with contacts at businesses or startups might be able to interest their friends in the offer. People who maintain blogs or web sites related to market research and business in general might draw in audiences quite interested in AYTM's services. I rather doubt sticking up a link or graphic on a general interest blog would do the trick, however. (Of course, it doesn't hurt to try!)

PRO membership is a long-awaited feature and has more general appeal. What people tend not to like about ICS at first is that they don't get cash for every survey they take. Instead, you receive periodic cash prizes and chances to win the daily and weekly drawings. PRO membership allows people to get paid for every survey they take (well, for every PRO survey they take at least). In the future, I would guess that PRO membership is going to be something that draws people in to join ICS as it will not always require a willingness to record video responses to surveys. For now, the video thing is going to hold some people back. It cuts off people who don't have webcams or don't feel comfortable using them. It also peels away the veil of privacy that survey takers tend to expect to a degree -- you're now very close to interacting with the company doing the market research directly. I think people are more likely to be honest, especially when it comes to criticism, if they can retain their privacy as much as possible, but on the other hand the YouTube generation is very accustomed to sharing their views on camera for the world to see. They might very well actually prefer taking surveys by video. Surveys by webcam is a concept that some will embrace and some will flee from, but I certainly think it's a logical and innovative step for the market research industry to take.

Luckily, ICS remains a fine site for people to use even if they can't refer companies that want to conduct market research and don't even know how to turn on their webcams. The basic multiple choice mini-surveys, instant cash prizes, prize drawings, and matching referral earnings will continue to be features of the site.