“Captcha is the bane of the internet,” says Matt Mullenweg, who runs the massively popular blogging site WordPress.com. “I can’t figure them out myself half the time!” (from the Guardian technology page today)
This is from a Guardian piece discussiing how captchas are welll and truly broken – by algorithms and by cheap human labour -thus increasing the volume of blog comment spam. The writer suggests Akismet or the type of non-machine readable questions that you find on ApathySketchpad as viable alternatives.
I’m comment-impaired at the best of times. I’ll try and comment on a blog and find that my comment just disappears. Granted, this suggests the universe has an innate capacity for mercy. But, just occasionally, the words that disappear into the net’s black hole were comments that I really wanted to make. So, I’ll try and rewrite it, in a half-hearted fashion. It will disappear again. I’ll have a final stab at writing. And sending. But by this time, it’s incoherent garbage, sent only to show the comment-eating demon who’s boss.
And then the captcha is there mocking you. Matt Mullenweg is so right, except, on his own proud boast, at least he gets them right half of the time. Falling foul of captcha is a daily occurrence here at WhyDontYou Towers. And a score of 50% correct is just a fond dream.
The idea is that only humans can read the things. A reverse Turing test. This whole concept falls down on the point that any shapes that are too unlike characters to be read by a souped up OCR-style algorithm are much too unlike letters or numbers for human beings to interpret them.
Even when you can distinguish those shapes that are meant to be characters from the deliberately inserted wavy lines, you face something like:
There is no way to reliably distinguish between 9 and g, 0 and O, 1 and l and I.
So you type in zero zero nine one zero g, on the offchance. It rejects you. You don’t get another shot at the ambiguous letters.
Oh no. A fresh bleeding captcha. This time you find you have to choose between identifying a letter as either a very thin letter j or the letter i with a slight curve at the bottom. Failed again.
Next time it’s either an l with a slight curve at the top or an anorexic letter c. Ok, got the c right but then you thought that oddly shaped capital A was a 4, didn’t you? Robotic fool.
By this time, the human-detector software has often decided you are a bot cos you couldn’t even guess one out of 3. So your comment is bounced anyway.
If you’ve ever thought that you might as well go for the disabled option, don’t bother. That’s not worth it either. Captchas that claim to be for the disabled are actually even harder to use than their able-bodied comrades. Different experiences you can have with the accessibility captcha include:
- A long silence. So you think it’s not working and cancel a fraction of a second after it kicks in.
- so much feedback and background weird noises (to simulate the visual noise on the visual captcha) that you couldn’t even work out what it’s saying if you had a comic book aural discrimination superpower.
- Voices so bizarrely accented and echoey that you are stunned by the novelty that this is suposed to represent speech. So you don’t notice, let alone memorise, the content as it racespast you in a jumble of syllables.
- The disabled version sometimes matches the written one and sometimes doesn’t. Which one do you try? The wrong one, of course.
The whole concept of the disabled one seems stupid to me. You are assumed to be too blind to see the captcha image. So how do you see the captcha box and spot where the disabled button is? Are the blind fitted with memory enhancement chips that let them translate a string of meaningless letters and numbers from the native gibberese AND remember them long enough for their screen reader to kick in and tell them where to type?