Sunday, October 22, 2017
Blogging

The Entire World Hates CAPTCHA. So Why’s It Still Here?

Chances are somewhere in the blogosphere, you’ve encountered “CAPTCHA.” Chances are you hate it…like everyone else. So why is it still everywhere?

I hope that the team of people who invented those squiggly little words designed to make sure someone who was trying to leave a comment or access a site was actually a someone versus a spambot is satisfied: they managed to create one the most annoying things on the web!

And these days, as many annoyances are waiting at every turn, that’s saying something.

If you’ve never heard the term CAPTCHA, the illustration in this post gives you a perfect picture of exactly what it is. The only thing the illustration doesn’t convey all that well is how difficult some CAPTCHA words can actually be.

From a more technical standpoint, it is a test in which letters and numbers are twisted and often placed on a gradient to make them difficult for computers to read. The notion, of course, is that if a human being is at the keyboard, he should be able to read the letters and type them in, thereby getting past the obstacle to whatever action or area of a website is behind the CAPTCHA. A computer executing some sort of spambot routine or other nefarious activity, theoretically, would have a difficult time reading the twisted text and would be unable to get through.

CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.” An appropriate explanation of its function.

But it’s still annoying as hell.

Funny thing is, there hasn’t been a single time that I’ve sent out a tweet during a blog-related Twitter chat suggesting that CAPTCHA should be avoided at all costs that the tweet hasn’t been retweeted numerous times. I’ve gotten responses ranging from “+1”, a note of agreement that carries over from Google+’s equivalent of a “like,” to “Amen!”

There’s not one person I’ve seen yet who’s ever admitted to liking CAPTCHA. I’ve yet to meet anyone who enjoys trying to read the squiggly letters and hope they’ve done so correctly.

Everyone hates CAPTCHA. So why do bloggers still insist on it?

Perhaps it’s because they’re afraid that there’s no other option. They’re wrong in that assumption, of course, except in probably only a handful of cases. The most common place I see CAPTCHA used is in comments. At this point, in 2014, there is no excuse whatsoever for using CAPTCHA as a spam test in comments.

It’s better to not pre-moderate at all than force a user to enter a CAPTCHA to leave a comment. We already know that, by some estimates, a mere 10% or so of readers actually leave a comment. Why risk alienating the few readers who generally are willing to comment by making it so difficult?

The better WordPress comment platforms, like Livefyre (which this blog uses) and Disqus, don’t require a CAPTCHA to leave a comment. Many offer either guest options, their own logins or logins through social media accounts. Using a blog platform’s base comment system may make CAPTCHA more of a likely option. But there are plugins that give you alternatives to those twisted letters.

Technically, any test that requires a response that an automated user wouldn’t be able to answer is correctly called a CAPTCHA. But all CAPTCHAs are not created equal. There are logic-based CAPTCHAs, which ask questions like, “What color is the sky?” and if you answer “blue,” you’re in. There are math-based CAPTCHAs, with simple math problems like, “What is 2+3?” If you’re smart enough to add to five, you have no problem.

Then there’s the “Play-through CAPTCHA.” The plugin “Are You Human?” offers the user a quick game: you drag a mouth and mustache placed among items like cars and a salt shaker onto a partial cartoon of a human face. When you complete the face by placing the missing elements where they belong, you’re in.

It’s cute, I’ll give it that.

But still annoying.

My favorite anti-spam test plugin is called Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin (or GASP). GASP requires one simple action that takes a single mouse-click: you simply click a checkbox to verify that you are not a spambot. No convoluted letters to interpret, no silly questions, no mini-video games designed for a kindergartener. One check box.

Not nearly as annoying.

Please, dear readers, do the blogosphere a favor: kick those twisted text CAPTCHAs to the curb! Please! There is a better way, and your readers will appreciate it. Isn’t improving their experience worth your time?

Are you less likely to comment on a blog is a text-based CAPTCHA is involved? Would you ever employ such a thing on your own site, and if so, why?

22 Comments

    1. you know, i had new tower built, the fastest that the man could and i have i speed fiber internet and every place i go on the net CAPTCHA slows me down. i hate the ba—–d that use it and usually just go somewhere else.

  1. Hi, Patrick.
    Excellent article.
    For a week now, google recaptcha is preventing users to get to their internet accounts on sites using this obnoxious feature… There are too many sites using it.
    Is easy for google to push their services and products onto their clients taking advantage of their dominant market position!
    I wonder if it is possible for a group of citizens to defy google by creating a competitive free system… I am in, if that’s the case.
    Greetings from Portugal
    Teresa Baptista

    1. I think it would be more than possible for someone to create something that would accomplish what Captcha sets out to accomplish but is an improvement. In fact, there are alternatives to traditional hard-to-read Captcha. One I’ve seen — and that I wish people would use instead — is something as simple as a checkbox that allows people to confirm, with one click, they’re not a bot.

  2. Agree most are terrible. But FunCaptcha seems okay so far for me anyway. They let me brand it, and it actually stops bots so far unlike reCaptcha with it’s food pics that bot services auto-solve by using Google images!

  3. Fortunately there are now computer programs that can defeat Captcha. Now humans can prove that they’re human by using a computer program to defeat the Turing test… #Irony

  4. I can work any idiot Captcha around, so I must be a real human. Trouble is, one of the nasties is pegging captchas with some sort of advert. Your screen nearly always gets messed up. Also, even without ads, you need to re-do the blankety test ad infinitum. And I do mean AD because most sites hang 2 or 3 wonky ads to make your day a true hell. Lord deliver us!

  5. And now in 2015 there are even more annoying ones where you have to tell food or other items apart that look ambiguous enough to require to resubmit 5-6 times and then you aren’t even in yet. You get a code you got to copy/paste in another box and the paste option doesn’t even appear on ios. Ughhhh
    The worst part is that I wanted to contact them over another ios glitch and wasn’t able to. Oh the irony.

  6. BillyRubin The only real way to combat captcha on someone else’s website is to not use the portion of the site (comments, etc.) that use it. You can follow up by sending the website owner a quick email about why you aren’t participating. There’s always the chance that feedback like that will prompt a website user to change their mind about it.

  7. BillyRubin “…solving the unreadable word was to help decipher ancient texts…” – It used to be, but not any more.
    Once, there were a couple of words, only one of them being a CAPTCHA, the others- pieces of some ancient book to dechifer. And the majority of users didn’t realize it wasn’t even necessary to solve those, just a solved CAPTCHA was enough to pass the test, leaving old books beautifully undeciphered. Now it’s even worse: ReCaptcha is there just to decipher Google Maps, and all this stuff has no noble objective any more.
    And as for CAPTCHA’s economic impact on the website – it’s negative. Numerous surveys show, at least one of the four users abandon the website after failing to solve a CAPTCHA. And just think about the disabled users, what are they supposed to do??
    Obviously, losing conversions is not the only bad CAPTCHA brings along. Its main goal – protection from spam – is hardly reached with ever evolving robots and so called “human farms”.

  8. Is the only purpose to Captcha to stop bots?  Is there no financial incentive for the web site? How can we the pubic combat captcha?

  9. As a librarian, captcha is incredibly frustrating for the people we try to help in the library., particularly for patrons who are not internet savvy or who have problems with their eyesight.  The most common problem I have to help people with is when they’ve been locked out of email or other accounts and have to enter a captcha. They get frustrated, they think they’ve done something wrong, or they refresh and try so many times that they end up locked out completely.  I know that many sights offer the “visually impaired” option, but chances are if they are visually impaired then they have failed to view that option to begin with.  I wish they would simply do away with this type of verification system, it is not user friendly and it ends up alienating vulnerable adults on the internet.  I’ve suffered with it myself and had to try more than once and I’m only in my 20s!

  10. Frankly, there have been times when I’ve written a comment, then realized I’d have to play the Captcha lottery and given up entirely. Most Captcha implementations reload the entire page if you fail, which means that some text fields are empties, and text boxes occasionally too, which means you may lose everything you typed in. It’s not worth the headache. My most hated kind is the squiggly letters one where two v’s look like a w, etc. Letters woven together.
    The way I see it is, spam control has gotten much more efficient and reliable over the years, while Captcha has not increased its user-friendliness one iota. I recently developed several websites for my brother’s businesses, and we opted not to implement any Captcha on the feedback and “get a quote” web forms. We’d rather deal with occasional spam or strengthen other aspects of spam control rather than miss a single contact from a previous or prospective customer.
    As a blogger, I think you can either choose to encourage comments or you can build a thick sheltering wall of Captcha around your site to protect it. One promotes participation, the other does not.

  11. Patrick, thanks for the review! Totally agree – CAPTCHA is evil. No matter if they’re cute, smart or a simple mouse click. Why the burden of verification should be put on the user’s shoulders? We created Keypic to give blogs and forums a better protection without any tests for users. No more frustration with Keypic.

  12. CoreyFreeman I appreciate Captcha’s practical uses. Unfortunately, most blogs don’t use that kind. patricksplace #BlogChat

  13. patricksplace which is why I use “conditional captcha.” Also, recaptcha is translating books for digital. #blogchat

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Patrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.