Captcha forms are ugly. Do you even need them?

Captchas have the unfortunate side effect of detecting if a human can be bothered to fill the form out at all!

Should you use them? What are the alternatives?

Example re-captcha

Everybody hates comment-spam. Computerised robots, which automatically post comments into blog articles. Typically these posts contain links to illegal or offensive products. You don’t want these to appear on your site.

Here are your options.

  1. Use a paid service to detect these spam comments and have them automatically removed.
  2. Use a captcha system – designed to detect if the user is a human.
  3. Have all comments held for moderation – for a human (that’s you) to review them, and only approve the appropriate ones.
  4. Don’t allow any comments.

Let us assume option 4 is not for you, and you would like to have the ability for people to comment on your posts.

Option 1: If you have a very popular blog with so many comments per-post that would make #3 impractical; then option 1 is an absolute must. These systems never guarantee to remove all comment spam, and remember: people could post non-spam, offensive comments.  Intervention/moderation will still be required.

Option 2 and 3: Whilst the majority of spam comments are automated; humans post spam too, so you will need to use these options together. We will focus on this method in this article.

A captcha is designed to detect if a user is a human. Captchas also have the side effect of detecting if a human can be bothered to fill out the form at all! And many won’t contribute to your blog, especially if it is hard or near impossible to get past the captcha.

Captchas like the re-captcha system (see image) have their place. They are designed to prevent robots from submitting forms in situations where people are aggressively trying to ‘crack’ the system. High value targets. I.e. very high volume and popular forums, the creation of accounts for Google/Ebay etc. On the plus side: the re-captcha system will put your visitor’s hard work to use. They are using that brain-power to digitise books. The problem is that they are hard to complete for humans too, and they often look out of place, ugly and off-putting.

With a low volume blog; is there any need for a complex captcha form? Whilst there is some value in a robot submitting a post to your site; it is a low value. You don’t need a super sophisticated uncrackable captcha form. You simply need to ‘put off’ robots and casual spammer-humans in much the same way as a complex captcha will ‘put off’ a genuine contributor. You can do this with a simple question that only a human could answer, and more specifically, a question which is easy to a genuine visitor interested in your website.

We have written a WordPress plugin which inserts an easy to customise question (or set of questions) to be answered by a human visitor without being as annoying. Check out our captcha for comments on this post.

What is the catch? Well, if someone is willing to write a robot specifically for this website, and its set of simple questions, then they can post comments automatically into my moderation list. Do you think they will bother?

Published on: 10th August 2013
Categorised in: website
Tagged with: captcha, wordpress

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