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The Sense Or Nonsense Of Captcha

Posted by on Jan 15, 2009

Check out my Big RSS Subscriber Contest after reading this article.

I have written a lot of posts about commenting on other blogs, so many that, at times, it seems that’s all I talk about. Luckily, with as many posts as I write, it’s not true, but I still write about it often. My very first post about it was more of a rant, as I asked the question is it easy to comment on your blog? I’ve addressed a good many areas of commenting, but I’ve just noticed that there’s one thing I really haven’t talked about, and I’m surprised by it because it’s one of my big time rants, obviously to myself.

I hate dealing with most of the “captcha” that people have on their blogs. For the uninitiated, “captcha” is what it’s called when people set up these special conditions for being able to leave a comment on their blog. I don’t mean registering; I mean having to type in those goofy little characters, or do a math problem, or answer the question ‘what is your mother’s maiden name’ or ‘what are you wearing’. Okay, I’ve only seen that last one once, and I never went back to that blog (don’t ask which one it was, because I really don’t remember). Heck, for that matter, I’m going to include those few blogs where you leave a comment, then you receive email saying you have to click on a link before your comment will show up; are you kidding me?

I understand why people have captcha. We’re all irritated any time we get spam messages, and, supposedly, by setting up these captchas, it helps to eliminate almost all of these spam messages from getting through to our comment sections. And I’ll admit they’re pretty effective, but not perfect. Heck, I advocate Akismet all the time, and I find it to be the most effective spam blocker for WordPress blogs that there is, but it can’t get it all because, well, the spammers are always evolving, and it takes Akismet time to learn how to deal with some of it. Still, it’s super good, and I couldn’t, at this juncture, recommend anything better.

It’s strongest suit is that I don’t have to have any kind of captcha on my sites. I don’t have to set up the ones where you have to type in some goofy letters, but those letters are either hidden slightly with lines being drawn through them, or with a similar background color as the letters, only slightly lighter so you can supposedly see the darker letters. You know what? I have difficulty seeing these letters, and, at a certain point, I’m not going to comment on anymore blogs that have these things on them. There was a wonderful blog I read last night and went to leave a comment, and it was red lettering against a bright pink background. I had to try three times before I got it right. I mentioned it to the writer of the blog, who said he’d try something else, and the next colors were green against green; that wasn’t much better. I saw later that he tried blue against blue; ugh!

Then there’s the captcha that has the letters with swirly lines between them, and if you can’t see the letters it offers you the opportunity to listen to the letters. I’ve never been able to decipher a single one of those things, so I usually end up hitting the button that will recycle the letters at least once, sometimes multiple times, until I get a letter combination that I can actually interpret. Talk about being comment unfriendly.

I don’t mind the math captcha as much because I can at least see that. And there are some captchas that are easy enough to read that I don’t mind, but others I hate. For instance, I hate when you’ve written your comment, hit “send”, then you get another window with a captcha in it that you now have to fill out before you’re done. Why not have it already there so we all know it’s there beforehand? Yeah, it’s only another few seconds, but quite often I’ve hit “send” and moved on to the next thing, only to come back to that window later on and find that my comment hasn’t gone through because I hadn’t completed their captcha thing yet. Because folks, for as many posts as I write, and as long as some of them are, I also consume a high number of blogs and blog posts from other people, so usually when I leave a comment, I’m ready to move on, unless I’ve already whittled down my list of reading and can take some time to read some of the other comments (btw, most of the time I’ve perused the other comments before I write mine, unless there’s a lot of them, just to see if I’m going to be in agreement with many of them or taking a different avenue).

We all talk about having more visitors and subscribers; heck, that’s what my contest is about after all. But when you make it hard on your visitors in any way whatsoever to interact with you, well, you risk alienating a lot of people, almost as many as when you have those subscription popups (yeah, y’all know I find those things irritating also).

I do understand that some blogging platforms, like Blogger, don’t have access to something like Akismet to protect them. At least, for the most part, I can read the letters on the traditional Blogger captcha. For the rest of you, please, find an easier, more inviting way to protect yourselves, and encourage your visitors to participate in the process.
 

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32 Comments »

The usage of captcha is always a debatable topic 🙂 In fact, I hate it and I hate commenting on blogs where captcha is present. Some of them are too technical to understand and too difficult to decipher for aging eyes as well (though audio support is available).

Captcha can reduce spam at the same time reduce some genuine comments coming in as well. For the time being I am willing to spend 5-10 minutes to go through my spam folder and captcha is a big no-no for me!

Ajith Edassery´s last blog post..Search User: Shift in Paradigm and New SEO Requirements

January 15th, 2009 | 3:07 PM
Mitch:

I agree with you, Ajith, although I will still leave comments every once in awhile on a blog with this stuff in place. But it’s going to come down to how easy it is to decipher at some point; I’m not getting any younger either.

January 15th, 2009 | 4:13 PM

Mitch, did you know that captcha is being used to help improve OCR? It is a way of getting humans to look at odd text and to interpret it. Likely not all captcha that you see is doing this, but some is and it is helping to improve OCR that is done on older texts with odd fonts (or bad printers). See http://recaptcha.net/learnmore.html

January 15th, 2009 | 3:31 PM
Mitch:

Good reading, Jill, and I didn’t know that. However, add as it is, in the captcha example they’re showing, I can’t interpret what the letters of the first word are supposed to be, so I’d have to reset to see the next word; I can read the second word just fine. Now, I don’t know if this page is changing the words each time someone is looking at it right now, as my last word is “discharge”, so it might not be the same for the next person who visits. That sounds like an interesting project; but I agree, I don’t think it’s part of the blogs captcha at all.

January 15th, 2009 | 4:16 PM
Taris Janitens:

Definitely agree with you Mitch – screw having to enter stupid characters etc. Akismet is MORE than enough to take care of this kinda thing

I havent even seen this on the big blogs that I’m on – why do the little ones need it?? DOesn’t make sense!! Maybe they just don’t know about akisment??

Taris Janitens´s last blog post..Second Chances and The Big Picture

January 16th, 2009 | 10:23 AM
Mitch:

That’s a good point, Taris, I don’t recall seeing it on any big blogs either. But I have noticed that SEO sites that have blogs set up the double mail thing, which is also irritating; I don’t think I’m going to do the second respond anymore either.

January 16th, 2009 | 2:27 PM
Dalirin:

Oh yeah, I didn’t really captcha before. But when I got into blogging, I knew that was a pain. I think it is only large sites or site with a lot of visitors that need captcha.

January 16th, 2009 | 10:54 AM
Mitch:

And yet, Dalirin, as Taris said, none of the big sites are using it. I think there’s a lesson there.

January 16th, 2009 | 2:29 PM
Asher:

Hi Mitch,

You know… I had considered using captcha’s before (I still don’t know how to pronounce the darn word!) until I came across a blog post somewhere about making it easy for people to leave comments.

Though having captcha’s good for cutting out the bot posts… it’s just one of those things that scare away some potential comments. That’s why I didn’t use it in the end – after reading this, I’m strengthened in my beliefs 🙂

Asher

Asher´s last blog post..How To Be A Professional Blogger

January 16th, 2009 | 11:07 AM
Mitch:

Thanks Asher. I had it for a short while on my business blog, but that was way before I’d learned about Askimet, a couple of years ago. I pretty much don’t need anything else now, though I do also use Bad Behavior on my business blog.

January 16th, 2009 | 2:45 PM

Hey Mitch,
So what’s your opinion on captchas? 🙂
Maybe this post should have a label at the beginning, WARNING: RANT TO FOLLOW. 🙂 No worries, I rant too. 😉
Seriously though, most of the stuff you described above would bug me too, especially the multiple step, after the fact, or impossible to read stuff. I didn’t even know some of it existed.
But if it is a simple-to-read 4 to 6 letter word, I really don’t mind. I follow one humor blog that somehow has the words be related to the blog and it’s fun to see what the word will be.
And because I like to read the both post and the comments, if captcha cuts down on the drive-by meaningless comments that I have to scan through, that ain’t so bad.
~ Steve, the keep-it-simple-and-its-ok trade show guru

Trade Show Guru´s last blog post..Balance

January 16th, 2009 | 11:24 AM
Mitch:

Hi Steve. I might not like captcha, but if it’s easy to read I’d rant a lot less. Those really difficult ones are just getting on my nerve, and I keep asking myself “do you really need to comment here?” I’m thinking that bots aren’t reading anyway, so make it easier.

January 16th, 2009 | 2:36 PM

Hi Mitch,
Actually I do remember one case where I got furious and the blogger lost my comment and any further visits. I tend to write comments that are more that three words, and I put a little thought into them. Anyway, on this blog (which will remain nameless since I can’t recall the name anyway) I wrote an extra long comment, and then clicked submit. The next page gave me the warning “you forgot to do such and such”, please go back. I clicked back and everything I had written was gone! I will never, ever visit that blog again. ~ Steve, the I-can-rant-too trade show guru 😉

Trade Show Guru´s last blog post..Balance

January 16th, 2009 | 3:34 PM
John Dilbeck:

Good morning, Mitch.

This is one case where WordPress has the advantage, and it’s because of Askimet, as you already said.

I get lots of spam comments, but Askimet catches almost all of them. Only a few get through each week, and it takes only a few minutes to handle them.

I’m not a fan of captcha, but it is the method of choice for some sites. An example is when adding comments to the guestbook module on a Squidoo lens.

As you said, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to decipher captchas as I get older, too.

If I really want to leave a comment, I’ll go through the captcha process, but if it’s marginal, I probably won’t.

Act on your dream!

JD

January 16th, 2009 | 11:26 AM
Mitch:

Good stuff, John, and thanks for the comment. Askimet is the best stuff, and it learns fast also. It’s taken care of all that Russian spam I used to get, and it figures out patterns really well. We just want to be able to see it, right?

January 16th, 2009 | 2:37 PM

I’m definitely not a fan of captcha – yes, use it on email sign-up forms to avoid people spamming others. But for blog comments, there are far superior options available that beat captcha hands down (Akismet, as you mention).

And you can always block the IP’s in your blog settings as well.

I know why people use it, but I’m not a fan of it.

Danny Brown´s last blog post..Clouding The Issue

January 16th, 2009 | 11:37 AM
Mitch:

Thanks for your comment, Danny. You don’t have captcha, but you use that Intense Debate thing that I don’t quite understand; could you explain that better, possibly write a post on it? Oh yeah; your head coming out of the side freaked me out also! lol

January 16th, 2009 | 2:39 PM
Mitch:

Isn’t it just amazing that many of us write about how much we hate it, and yet it’s still in vogue on so many blogs?

January 17th, 2009 | 1:16 AM
Boyz II Men:

Especially when Akismet is so readily available Mitch. I would understand people using Captchas if there were no other common options but there are!

January 20th, 2009 | 9:14 AM
Mitch:

Well Boyz, we do understand that not everyone has access to Askimet, but making those stupid captcha’s so hard to read isn’t good for anyone.

January 20th, 2009 | 4:48 PM
Mitch:

Same here, but I do break out from time to time because, well, just gotta share!

January 21st, 2009 | 4:04 PM
MIrjam:

Hey Mitch 🙂
I haven´t got it on my blog because I really don´t the captcha´s. In the end, even between captcha´s and akismet, there are still comments that I´d consider spam so I have to check the comments anyways to delete the few odd ones.

So I really see no need to bother my regulars and people with sincere comments by putting them through the sometimes “torturous” steps.

I thought a little about this after reading your post, in particular if I would have a blog with thousands of readers and zillions of comments to go through, would I still feel the same?

Maybe I´ll tell you the answer to that in a few years LOL

ps… why do you have two check boxes to be notified of followup comments via email??

MIrjam´s last blog post..Ever Thought of Monetizing Your Exit Traffic?

January 17th, 2009 | 4:39 AM
Mitch:

Hi Mirjam, thanks for stopping by. Actually, Asher picked up on the fact that the big time bloggers don’t have captcha of any type. Visit them and you’ll see what he means. So, they’re probably using something like Askimet in the background also. Then again, one also wonders if they actually read or care about all the comments they get, since they rarely respond to anyone.

On the second, I don’t know why there’s two check boxes, except to speculate that one of my other plugins added one. Asher asked me the same thing, then I pointed out to him that his blog has two boxes also. 🙂

January 17th, 2009 | 9:39 AM

Anything we do that makes commenting more difficult or time-consuming is bound to reduce the number of comments we receive and likely to get us crossed off of any blogger’s favorite blogs to visit list.

Internet Strategist´s last blog post..DoFollow Lists of Blogs, Social Networking Sites and Forums; DoFollow Search Tool; Understanding Do Follow, No Follow

January 18th, 2009 | 2:32 PM
Mitch:

Totally agree with you, Internet; funny name that, Internet. lol

January 18th, 2009 | 2:51 PM
Boyz II Men:

Hah Mitch, you hit the nail on the head with this one. So many blogs I go to, I spend more time trying to decipher which letters I’m supposed to type from the captcha and which ones I’m supposed to ignore. Then trying to figure out if it’s a U or a V that I see, or a 5 or an S.

Akismet does a great job and I wish people would just stick with that.

January 20th, 2009 | 9:12 AM
Boyz II Men:

Hey Mitch,
I just thought this was kind of ironica and wanted to point it out to you. When I went to subscribe to your blog via email, I put my email address and had to do a captcha that I got wrong 2 or 3 times!

It’s all cool and probably outside of your realm of control, but I just thought it was humorous given the post contents. Still, I’m subscribed now 🙂

January 20th, 2009 | 10:43 PM
Mitch:

Are you kidding me? I don’t have control over that, but I can’t believe Google would do that (since they own Feedburner). Sorry about that; I did go and look, but there’s no option for changing any of that stuff. That’s why I subscribe with a reader, though. Weasels!

January 20th, 2009 | 10:52 PM

I have considered the captchas. I got a bit lazy with deleting the spam comments, and now I have found myself with 12,000+ unapproved comments waiting to be deleted. I still like knowing that people can comment without any hassle though.

~ Kristi

Kikolani | Poetry, Photography´s last blog post..My Flickr Meme – Creating A Mosaic

January 21st, 2009 | 5:01 PM
Mitch:

But Kristi, you’re using a WordPress theme, so if you add Askimet, it will take care of almost all of that spam without bothering a single person. I mean, I’ve been using Askimet on this blog since I started it, and on my other blog for at least 4 years, and if I’d never mentioned it no one would know. It’s an absolute must.

January 21st, 2009 | 6:11 PM

I hate the Captcha that keeps telling you it’s wrong when it’s not.

September 15th, 2009 | 10:48 AM
Mitch:

Same here, Courtnee. That math protection thing some people have doesn’t work all that well either; that’s pretty irritating also.

September 16th, 2009 | 2:49 AM