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Monday, February 20, 2012

The Awesome Secret About Captcha

By now, most of you have had your chance to grumble about Google's new double-word Captcha verification process. It looks like this.

But it turns out this major annoyance provides a valuable service. The video below is a little long but the speaker, Luis von Ahn, is entertaining and enlightening. He is the creator of Captcha.

Before you start throwing your popcorn at him, listen to how he developed Captcha so that everyone who has to verify their humanness is actually doing a noble and worthwhile thing.

It's true.

What the new Captcha does is take one word from an old book that's been scanned, but can't be deciphered by the computer due to yellowed or faded lettering. Apparently, humans have a better capacity for recognizing these words than computers.

Luis von Ahn goes on to explain the enormous task to digitize old books and how we, in 10 second intervals help to translate one word at a time. If you don't want to watch the whole video, go to time stamp 1:55 to hear his explanation. It's brilliant. Using this process they are able to digitize 2.5 million books a year.  (Be sure to watch at least to time stamp 7:27.)



So the next time you grumble at having to type out Captchas, remember you're doing it for a good cause.

That said, I have to admit, I have a very hard time reading them, and I'm sure I'm not alone. For the time being, I have suspended word verification on this blog.

Within two hours of doing so, the spam started. Some was caught by the spam filter, but others got through. (I curse all spammers and their descendents.)

If too much spam gets through, I'm going to have to moderate all comments before they appear. So don't fret if you don't see your comment right away.

I won't ask how you feel about Captcha. It's a pain. But what do you think about how they're using it? Do you use word verification?


60 comments:

Angelina Rain said...

I'm not a fan of word verification and I don't use it on my blog. It's very rare that I get spam on mine. I can see the reason for the captcha, and it is a good idea, but it can be very hard to read which turns me off.

Maria Zannini said...

Angelina: Agreed. That's why I got rid of them. But at least some good results from it when I do have to type them out. Just wish they could come up with another way.

Dee said...

It's a pain in the butt, but I totally see the need for it. And I have trouble reading the words sometimes, too, but it always gives me another chance if I get them wrong. :)

L.G.Smith said...

I don't like the word verification. I really don't think there's a need for it on blogger. And this new version they added is really a pain, because it's difficult to decipher and slows down the commenting process. I've had maybe four or five instances of spam on my blog, but it's faster to hit "delete comment" than it is to decipher on of those captchas. :)

Cate Masters said...

He can't be a popular guy at parties!
Word verification does help cut down on spam. I get enough in my email! But I also fail about a third of the time when I'm inputting the code.

Dee said...

Wow, just watched the video. That's terrific technology! And makes me proud that my daughter is a Carnegie Mellon engineer!

Kim said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who has trouble reading some of the words (type what you think it is and keep your fingers crossed is how I do most of them) but I think it's cool about what's also being done.

I don't have word verification on my blog (at least, I don't think I do - I rarely get spam so it's not too aggravating to just delete the comment.

Madeleine Maddocks said...

Sorry Maria but I'm still gonna grumble.

I guess I'm NOT one of those humans who has a better capacity for recognizing these words than computers.

Nice idea but...

Hope you are feeling MUCH better yourself. Being ill is such a drain. x

Clarissa Draper said...

I still don't have time to waste on this still.

HOWEVER, here is my idea. Just make a game of it. I'm sure there are people out there that would download an app that would just solve captchas and perhaps kill a green pig at the same time!?

Maria Zannini said...

Dee: Until they come up with retinal or voice recognition software, I think we're stuck with Captchas for most big web site transactions.

Ref: your daughter
Your daughter is one of those braniacs!! Holy cow! I'll bet you are one proud mama.

Maria Zannini said...

LG: Spam has occurred frequently here since I lifted the Captcha. I'm still trying to decide how much trouble it is. If it's just one or two a week, that's okay. But every day gets to be a bit much.

Cate: Ref: He can't be a popular guy at parties!
That's exactly what I said! LOL. But you can't deny his brilliant use of Captcha.

Kim: Deciphering is a pain. I hope those big brains can come up with an alternative.

Madeleine: Oh, I still grumble. And even if blogs didn't use them, big sites that require sensitive information transactions still do, so we'll never get rid of it entirely.

Clarissa: I like the app idea. They probably won't get as many users as they do now though. The singular idea was brilliant. I really have to give credit to them on how they utilize Captchas--even if I don't like it.

I prefer instead we put a bounty on spammers. It might not do away with Captchas, but it gives me a chance to get even. :)

Sarah Ahiers said...

holy cow. That is so awesome! I will never grumble again!

Maria Zannini said...

Sarah: The simplicity of what it does astounds me. All in under 10 seconds, digitizing millions of books without paying a dime.

Melissa McClone said...

I use it on my blog. I get a lot more traffic than I do comments but I doubt the captcha has anything to do with that which is why I plan to keep it even when I ususally mess up one of the words myself. LOL!

I don't always check my blog if I'm on deadline or out with the family and I really don't want to waste time having to delete a lot of comments so captcha saves me time in that regard.

Kaye Manro said...

I agree that it is really a pain and sometimes hard to decipher. But I have seen a few spammers got through on my blog even with it turned on. My friend said that sometimes a real person spammer who gets paid to spam will even enter the Captcha. It happened to me and there was no link to find this person/spammer.

I love the cool geeky guy who came up with the new idea.

Raelyn Barclay said...

Okay...there is some awesomeness to that. I actually prefer the two word system to the random jumble. Still hate having to deal with it on blogs :)

It's been forever since I checked the Blogger options but with Wordpress I have moderation on for first time comments and any comments with more than one link. And so far, that has caught every last bit of spam on my blog. (I average 2-3 spams per day.)

Nicole Zoltack said...

I don't use word verification on my blog. The spam filter only missed one spam comment.

Maria Zannini said...

Melissa: I try to check comments regularly, but with a squirrelly internet connection, I worry some spammer will get through and I won't have the ability to block him.

Kaye: I understand completely. People who say Blogger blocks spam has never had to deal with it when it doesn't. Just because one person doesn't get spam doesn't mean it's foolproof. It means they're lucky.

Dru said...

I didn't mind when they have just one word to verify but I can never get the second word right on the first try.

However, it does save me from getting loads of SPAM.

Maria Zannini said...

Raelyn: Wordpress's solution is ideal. I would rather approve all first time commenters than have to constantly be on guard for spammers. I wish I could switch to Wordpress, but this blog is too well known with its present url address.

Nicole: You are lucky, my friend. I wish I could say the same for myself.

Dru: I'm the same way. I didn't mind doing one word. But two takes too long, especially when it's garbled.

Angela Brown said...

So, let me see.
#1. I remembered I am a nerd-lover (and a nerd myself) as I listened to that little sharing and declaring of the good coming from Captcha.
#2. I still don't like Captcha but at least I get to know my 10 to 20 seconds of staring at the screen, squinting my eyes, turning my head sideways, crossing my fingers and sometimes playing eeny-meeny-miney-moe to choose a random letter is not in vain.

Mike Keyton said...

Great, Maria. Now I'm going to feel churlish everytime I go 'shit!"

Shelley Munro said...

Well, that sort of makes sense now that you've explained their reasoning. I couldn't work out why one word was so blurred. But it doesn't make me like it anymore!

I use Askmet spam blaster and that seems to work well. Not much gets through.

dawtheminstrel said...

Hi, Maria! I'm commenting while I can, though I don't have anything clever to say. But even Blogger's old captcha always defeated me.

daw

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: From now on I am going to tell people I got the crow's feet around my eyes from trying to decipher Captchas.

Mike: There you see. Now don't you feel bad for grousing? LOL.

Shelley: It does make me feel a little better that at least they're putting my misery to some use. I still wish they could come up with something else though.

Daw! How are you?! It's so good to hear from you again. Any reason to see you come by is welcomed. :) I hope you're doing well.

KarenG said...

Hmmm, interesting but I still don't get how Captcha digitalizes books and I still don't like it.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I feel your pain. I have to moderate all new commenters. Wordpress catches most of them, but a few try to trickle through, so I have to look at anyone who's never commented on my blog before. Sigh.

James Garcia Jr. said...

Hmmm? That is interesting, and it does make me feel better about it. I have trouble reading it just like many others, which drives me crazy; however, if it will keep the spammers out, than I suppose it is very worth it.

-Jimmy

Maria Zannini said...

KarenG: The computer takes a word it can't decipher and instead of the usual random word, it inputs the one it can't read. Ahn explained in the video that if they get ten people who say the same thing, the probability that it's correct is high and that allows them to put it in the book. It's a tiny effort compounded 750,000,000 times.

Barbara: Wordpress really has the right idea. It's much easier to approve commenters once and never have to worry about them again. You know me--and you know I'm not your "troll". :)

Jimmy: I'm a little surprised at the vitriolic response to Captchas. Some people have called for people to boycott blogs that use them. I think that kind of defeats the purpose of social networking.

I fully intend to support my favorite bloggers whether they use Captcha or not. It's their blog. I'm not about to penalize them just because they want to maintain their security.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like they are trying to develop a hive mind or Borg???

Maria Zannini said...

Greg: Ref: hive mind
That's EXACTLY what's happening. It's a simple act multiplied by a million people.

Alone, the task is inconsequential, but multiplied, the 'Borg queen' can get anything done.

You're awfully smart. :)

Stacy McKitrick said...

We're slaves and don't know it.

I don't use word verification. I guess I'm not popular enough and the spam I do get, gets caught. I try to make commenting easy for the commentor. When I become famous (ha ha), then I may rethink the whole captcha thing.

The Happy Whisk said...

I cannot view the video from here. That said, I don't care the reason, they do not have to make the new word verification that bloody hard to read.

Maria Zannini said...

Stacy: That might be partially true. I think the reason I draw so many spammers is due to the keywords in each post. A lot of traffic Googles me through keywords. I guess, the spammers do too, knowing it'll increase their chances of getting eyes on their crap.

The Happy Whisk: Captchas were invented as security for big web sites that handle money and sensitive information. Blog security was probably a secondary or tertiary thought. It works even if we don't like it. The alternative is spam and potential viruses.

It's a little like having surgery. You don't have to have antibiotics after surgery, but it might keep you from getting an infection.

J.L. Campbell said...

I came over from Clarissa's blog. It's awesome what they're using the Captcha function to do. At the same time, I sometimes can't see what the words are and have to make a second attempt. In view of what Captcha is helping to do, I'll have to try and be a little more patient when I can figure out what word I'm supposed to be typing in. Thanks for this info.

Maria Zannini said...

JL: Hi JL and welcome! I was the same way as you. Now that I know that my time isn't wasted, I won't gripe so loudly.

It seems a lot of bloggers have given up Captchas but I don't blame those who keep it. It provide a valuable service if you happen to be the 'lucky' one constantly harassed by spammers.

Nadja Notariani said...

I've been fortunate with the lack of spam on my blog - knocks on wood :}
My problem is the same as yours, Maria; I cannot read the darned things! It's embarrasing...(laughs), but true. I do understand why they are needed, though. If I begin to have a problem, I will moderate comments before they are posted. I hope it doesn't come to that.

Maria Zannini said...

Nadja: Captchas were meant for people with young eyes and a curious mind. If I get too squinty, I lose interest. LOL.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Just cannot read the damn things and when my time is limited and I have spent time composing a comment the last thing I need is to keep on repeating what I thinkn it says!! I tend to move on and not leave the comment...

Maria Zannini said...

Pat: I agree. Going to the double word code will doom commenting when I don't have a lot of time. The one-word verification was pretty easy. But the new one takes significantly more time. Since I read so many blogs, that can has a cumulative effect.

The Happy Whisk said...

Yeah ... but it still doesn't need to be THAT hard to read.

Thankfully, I find Blogger does a good job at catching spam, with the spam folder.

As for typing in both words, I only type in the wigglyword and it comments. I have not needed to do them both, thank goodness.

Cheers and boogie boogie.

Danny said...

The Captcha verification code is only used to verify people or machines,I think!

broken biro said...

LOVE this! It seems impossibly ambitious - something you'd think: 'Wouldn't it be good if...?' and they're actually doing it!! I'm going to be doing some Captcha ART I can tell you!

Misha Gericke said...

I don't use word verification. And yes, I get a lot of spam, but blogger actually has a pretty good spam filter.

So I don't even use word verification. I do, however, get all my comments by e-mail, so if I see something that looks like it might go through, I go check.

So far, I think there's only about three comments in a whole year that I had to manually mark as spam.

Talli Roland said...

I must admit to having a very hard time with Captcha. It's to the point now that I often bail on the comment if I just can't figure it out (I know - I'm that impatient!).

Maria Zannini said...

Happy Whisk: If you can come up with something better, I'll be the first on board. :) For now, I'll accept these braniacs' solutions to keep my money and information safe on bigger sites.

Danny: Even then I think some "hoomans" get by.

Misha: I block them when I see them, but what a pain. It's been more work for me than before.

Talli: I don't blame you. Unless it's a friend or something I really want to say, I sometimes don't bother with blogs with Captchas.

Maria Zannini said...

broken biro has left a new comment on your post "The Awesome Secret About Captcha":

LOVE this! It seems impossibly ambitious - something you'd think: 'Wouldn't it be good if...?' and they're actually doing it!! I'm going to be doing some Captcha ART I can tell you!

***
Okay, since removing Captcha, this is the SECOND time someone (I know) has commented, yet the comment doesn't appear in the comment stream.

Maybe it's the spam filter that needs fixing.

**
Broken Biro: Yes! I thought the Captcha Art was very cool. The whole video was fascinating. I'm in awe of the brilliance of these young people to come up with what they did. Their accomplishments are remarkable.

Marian Perera said...

I think I turned off word verification on my blog (with the result that I get a lot more spam, but it all goes into the spam folder and gets deleted).

Those captchas just annoy me. I have to stare at them to figure out what the random-looking combination of letters is - I swear, some of those look more like Rorschach inkblots - and if it ever gets to the point of eye strain, the comment's not worth it.

The Happy Whisk said...

I never minded when I could read the words, but those wiggly ones really play with my eyes.

Silly wiggly words.

And ... I don't know if this is true, but I read that Blogger is going to adjust the new word verification and try to make them easier to read.

Again, I don't know if that's for sure, but it would be super duper great if it was.

Cheers and boogie boogie.

Jinksy said...

No one needs Comment Moderation! Just set up your blog so that notification of comments goes STRAIGHT TO YOUR EMAIL INBOX. That way you can pounce on miscreants just as fast, and commentators can see they are saying something which has NOT been said umpty nine times before by invisible, earlier visitors...

Maria Zannini said...

Marian: My eyes have never been the best, so I can't tolerate too many blogs with the new Captchas.

Happy Whisk: Agreed. I'd settle for one-word Captchas. But two tests my limits.

Jinksy: Big sites that handle sensitive information and money need word verification. With blogs, it depends. I get too many comments to constantly monitor them.

I worry too that anyone else subscribed to the comment stream who will also end up with that bogus comment. It's too easy to click those spam links accidentally. It's happened to me just from typing too fast and hitting the wrong screen on my monitor.

Carol Kilgore said...

I hate them more when I hit several in a row and have to decipher three or more at each place - and yes, that has happened.

I notice you still allow anonymous comments. If you disallow those, you will probably have less spam. And if you do still receive it, you can report them.

Maria Zannini said...

Carol: I'd hate to deny anonymous comments because I have several good friends who aren't hooked up to any social network, and sometimes they stop by here.

Right now I increased moderation to the second day. We'll see if that helps. Thanks!

Tracy Jo said...

I just turned mine off a couple days ago. I do see the need and glad they have created such a tool...I am also glad we have control whether to use it or not. I giggled about you cursing all spammers...I agree!

Claudia Del Balso said...

Although I hate word verification, I'm glad it's there. I don't want to deal with spammers :(
Thank you for sharing this great piece of information and the video.
BTW, you've been tagged. :D
I highlighted your blog. Please visit my blog for details (and no, this is not spam, LOL! I am one of your followers). I think this is a great way to get blog exposure and know your fellow bloggers.
Have fun!

Maria Zannini said...

Claudia: I am rotten at these memes, but thank you for thinking of me.

The spam has been coming steadily since I turned off Captchas,but so far it's controllable.

The Happy Whisk said...

Hi again Maria - Have you tried just typing the word to the right of you?

I only do that one and it works. My husband was doing both as well and now he just does the one.

And I LOVE that they removed the ink blob thing in the back. Now at least I can read them.

Woohoo.

Off to read your new post.

Boogie boogie.

Maria Zannini said...

Happy Whisk: I had heard that trick on another blog, but it hasn't worked for me so far. Maybe I'm choosing the wrong word to decode? Either that or the safeties on my browser keeps it locked to both.

broken biro said...

Maria, hope you don't mind but I blogged about this too - but I did name-check you and I'm sending people here to look at your page & video. x

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Wow!!! I had no idea that word captchas were actually useful. Thank you for posting this. :)