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?