Although random samples of a population are the gold standard in social science research, convenience samples—or groups of people who are chosen because they are easy to reach—can be a valuable tool for researchers in the initial phases of a research program. The Internet has opened up new avenues for easily accessing large groups of potential study participants through social networking sites like Facebook, discussion forums like Reddit, or commercial market research panels. One increasingly popular source of convenience samples is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk).

MTurk is an online labor market that lets people and companies crowdsource tasks to workers who select the ones they want to complete. It is named after the Mechanical Turk, an eighteenth-century chess-playing machine that “defeated” opponents including Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte, but was secretly controlled by a human chess master hidden inside the machine. Similarly, MTurk was designed to provide workers who can “hide” inside technology companies, providing the “artificial artificial intelligence” necessary to do tasks that cannot yet be done by machine. For example, MTurk workers help identify duplicate products on, convert scanned business cards to professional connections on LinkedIn, and categorize Twitter posts—deciding, for example, whether a post like “Ryan plays his Trump card” is about politics or last night’s card game.