Research & Insights

By John Horton, September 17, 2010

Mechanical Proust: An automated crowd-written blog


Marcel Proust

A few months ago, I started a blog written by Mechanical Turk workers. Eight times a day, on the hour, a script posts a personal question on MTurk. The questions are randomly selected from a subset of the Proust Questionnaire. Example questions include:

  1. What is your favorite food and drink?
  2. What is your idea of misery?
  3. Which natural talent would you most like to be gifted with?

The first worker to submit his or her answer automatically has their response anonymously posted on the blog, which I call “Mechanical Proust.” Workers are told that their responses will made public, but remain anonymous. I make no attempt to check responses before they are posted, nor do I check whether a worker has submitted in the past. (I enabled Google Ads to see if I could make the blog financially self-sustaining. No luck here so far.)

What have I learned? Most of the responses are unsurprising but they are occasionally poignant or insightful. People are proud of their children. They regret dropping out of school. They want to live in Paris. They fear dying and being alone. They like chicken dishes, etc. Lots of workers are funny (see screenshot at left).

Technical Notes:

A Python script posts the questions (using boto), and cron schedules them. The questions are presented as external HITs, with the “submit” button launching another Python script that posts the text response to the blog, using Google’s API. If you want the code or want help making something similar, let me know.

Next steps (taken by someone else):

I’d like to see someone make a new version of this blog where blog readers could submit questions, which would go into a queue, with newer questions going at the bottom. Each new question would have up/down Reddit-type buttons, which could move questions up and down the stack. Questions could then be posted on MTurk LIFO-style.