Some meta posts refer, in disparaging terms, to users of SE sites (especially SO) who treat the site as a Mechanical Turk. What do they mean by that?


The Mechanical Turk refers to a famous fake chess-playing machine constructed in the late 18th century. Although it seemed to be a complicated mechanical computer, in fact it was an illusion. The machine concealed a human player to provide the required intelligence.

Amazon allude to the original in the name of a service, Amazon Mechanical Turk, they provide to use human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are currently unable to do. People with tasks requiring human intelligence can pay to have them done by humans across the Internet, who are in turn paid for their work.

When a Meta SE user disparaging suggests a class of question askers are treating a SE like a Mechanical Turk, they usually mean those askers are trying to farm out work they could do themselves to the volunteer experts on the site, having the volunteers do intelligent work they should do themselves. They mean that the askers are being lazy and selfish. Selfish because the question is not of a form that is likely to be useful to others (what used to be closed using the Too Localised close reason). The disparaging carries with it, I think, some resentment.

Pëkka seems to have been the first to use the term in this way, but I now see that others use it.

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