CAPTCHA – Work of the Devil

Every one knows that allowing bots to post things on people’s behalf is a bad thing. I mean it contributes to spam comments on blogs – which no one likes. Obviously anything which works against this evil is a GoodThing®?

Well, no. I don’t agree. First off, there are better ways to prevent things like automated signups, automated submissions and spam bots. More importantly, they are such an annoying thing I can’t for one second think they do not drive visitors/subscribers and commenters away. Now, I would love to see the business model of a website (especially a “Web 2.0” one) which is happy to drive a percentage (however small) of it’s customers away.

Now, I am healthy, have good eyesight and fully functional manual control – and I have a hard enough time getting round some of the CAPTCHAs out there. I dread to think what it is like for people who have even slight visual impairments or motor co-ordination issues. Over the last few weeks, I have suffered numerous, infuriating, problems with CAPTCHAs on sites which really should know better.

Some sites seem convinced that using a mix of letters and numbers is a good thing, then they throw in some barely readable font and you get a phrase like Li0lIO to type in (example chosen to highlight the main issues). As you can see, using the fairly standard font here, with no lines, funny backgrounds etc, it is still easy to see where a mistake or two could crop up – lower case L and upper case I may be confused, 0 and O are easy to mix up (etc). With the mashed background, letters rotated at angles etc., is is (sometimes) impossible to even come close to guessing what the letters are.

I suppose that, at a push, it could be argued that a CAPTCHA is a reasonable anti-machine option for a website, but surely not if that site is looking for customers or, the worst offenders, social networking sites?

I have mentioned in the past, the issues I had getting round Sky’s CAPTCHA – and this was because I was pretty determined I wanted the particular sky package. If I had been even slightly more ambivalent, I would have given up first time and gone with Virgin. Do Sky’s sales team know they make it hard for real humans to sign up? Apart from anything else, I am confused why Sky need a CAPTCHA on their service subscription pages? Surely a bot wont have a bank account from which to take direct debits…

More recently, I tried to join Reddit (social bookmarking) as it seems like a good way to come across new and interesting sites. I signed up very easily and it does take the few seconds they promise. All was going well until I found an interesting page which wasn’t on Reddit so I tried to add it. The submit page is fairly basic, but it has a dreaded CAPTCHA. At least this site uses a letter only one, so you would think it would be ok.

Full of confidence, I entered the letters and pressed submit – only to discover I had actually got one of them wrong, I suspect a simple typo on my behalf was to blame. It presented a new CAPTCHA so I was a bit more careful this time and pressed submit again. Now I was shown a red warning saying I was submitting too fast and needed to wait. Madness. I waited a bit and tried again, only the CAPTCHA failed again. Sensing a groundhog like situation developing, I quit out of the browser and re-opened it, surfed to the page of interest and tried to submit it. This time, the page had a blank space where the CAPTCHA should be. Now how on Earth was I supposed to read those letters?

I refreshed (twice in the end) and the CAPTCHA appeared. This time, I entered the letters perfectly and pressed submit. Once more, I was told I was submitting too fast and had to wait.

At this point, I gave up and (sadly for me) it is unlikely I will use Reddit again. It doesn’t offer enough that is different from Stumble or Digg or Del.icio.us to make working through this worthwhile. It is a shame. I don’t for one second think that Reddit will fail because I was unable to use it, but I do wonder why they have a system which makes it hard for someone to use it. What benefit does it offer? If they are that concerned about robot submissions, why can’t they determine a more accessible, usable, system to defeat it?

Neither Reddit nor Sky have a monopoly (although Sky is close), so the apparently cavalier attitude towards new customers / users is strange to me. Even stranger, they are not alone. The web is full with articles explaining how to sell, how to keep customers, how to get your users to engage with you and the importance of accessibility to all walks of life. Why, then, do so many sites ignore the advice?

[tags]Reddit.com, Sky, CAPTCHA, Technology, Rants, Accessibility, Web Design, Madness, Web 2.0, Software[/tags]

One thought on “CAPTCHA – Work of the Devil

  1. Well said.
    You can add CAPTCHAs to the long list of things that never work for me at all.
    Those reddit captchas are in a class of their own. the picture doesn’t appear for 5 minutes then it says i’ve got it wrong and if not it says I am making too many posts at once…..

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