Dealing With MTurk Captchas


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Jan 12, 2016
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CAPTCHAs are those 'enter the weird random letters and numbers' things that you see all over the internet nowadays, when sites want you to prove there's a human accessing their webpage instead of a fully-automated bot.

On MTurk, since 2012, they look like this (and this screenshot from me also demonstrates that once you've done enough of the darn things, occasionally you'll get one you've had before):

(Before the current captcha system was implemented in summer 2012, they had a different system where you entered real words instead of 6 random characters, and it incidentally did not have some of the frustrating bugs that the current system has had unfixed since its introduction.)

Once you're lucky enough to receive the Masters qual, you won't have to do MTurk's captchas anymore.

For the unlucky people, you normally have to answer a captcha after every 35 HITs you've accepted (including HITs accepted by Turkmaster). This 35-countdown is cumulative even if you're working in two different browsers, and doesn't reset when you log out and log back in. Occasionally when MTurk's servers get laggy just right, you'll get to go more than 35 HITs between captchas.

If you mess up a captcha (whether due to the system's below-listed bugs or not) too many times in a row, your account will go into a 5-minute lockout. Any HITs you try to reopen from your queue during that time will be automatically returned.

You can type in the captcha with the letters in either all uppercase or all lowercase, but not mixed-case.

If you try to accept a HIT in a popular fast-moving batch, it often won't work because someone else accepted that particular HIT from the group before you could. If this happens too many times in a row, it's both frustrating and could get you put on the 5-minute timeout. So many turkers have a 'favorite' unpopular batch, such as one of Jon Brelig's, that they'll go to for captcha-clearing purposes when that happens.

If you enter a captcha too quickly, it won't work either (claims you typed it wrong even when you didn't). I find that mentally counting to 3 (maybe 5 or 10 if you count too fast :p ) after typing the code gives enough delay before pressing Enter or clicking the Accept button. Some people like to backspace and retype the last character to achieve a similar delay.

If you get a captcha on a HIT containing slow-loading iframe content, the captcha normally won't be visible for you to start typing it until after the whole HIT content preview finishes loading.

These userscripts can help make MTurk captchas a bit less annoying:

Turkdigo's Captcha Status script tells you when you've waited long enough for it to be safe to submit a captcha, instead of having to manually count.

To avoid the delay on slow-loading HITs: Magnilucent's (mTurk) Show captcha and accept button ASAP or mmmturkeybacon's mmmturkeybacon Butt-in Buttons

To let you know how close you're getting to another captcha, but only relevant if you're only accepting HITs in one browser and not using Turkmaster: Captcha Counter

To alert you when you've gotten a captcha: MTurk Captcha Alert, or a modified version MTurk Captcha Alert, or Text Captcha Alert

To open your preferred captcha-clearing HIT when you get a captcha: DCI @DCI's Open HIT on Captcha (Firefox) or Kadauchi @Kadauchi's Captcha Clear