Enter the Captcha

I couldn't even read this if I WASN'T blind!The dark underbelly of the Internet is increasingly becoming more and more intelligent with every day. The smarter spammers get, the bigger challenge they pose to developers such as me. Spammers are moving forward to conquer more billboard space every time you turn around. The latest craze of these scoundrels is one of turning your web sites comment forms and message boards into their own personal ad space. I, like many people, love to hear what my site visitors think and it’s not always conceivable to make them create an account just to give me their opinions. It’s much easier to simply put a form with the necessities such as name, email and comments. Not easier for me mind you; I have no problem writing a registration form but the majority of surfers aren’t going to take the time to sign up just to give you their opinions or just to say, “Hello”. A simple form with no registration or verification emails is the best solution for feedback because it’s easy for the user to fill out and hit “Submit”. That same form, however, is like free candy to a seemingly adolescent spammer and his pet ‘bot’. They too find it easy to submit the form, only they don’t submit their suggestions or opinions on how to better your web site or simply what they thought of its content. Instead, they submit it with a barrage of useless links to online pharmaceuticals, male ‘member’ enlargement supplies or online casinos. Now, they aren’t doing this because they think the majority of your visitors will click those links, they’re doing it to better the status of the sites they link in search engines. For a while, there appeared to be no other solution than to ask our visitors to sign up for accounts which needed to be validated via an emailed activation link.

Enter the “captcha”. I’m sure you’ve seen captchas in action at some point or another. They normally take the form of an image with a distorted string of text sprawled across them or a picture of a common noun such as cow or bird. Next to the picture will be a form field for the user to type what they see in the image. When you submit the form, your entered text is compared to what is in the image. If they match, the form is submitted successfully. If they do not match, however, the form is not submitted. Captchas were developed so that applications can differentiate between a human user and a bot attempting to use the form for its own evil purposes. For the most part, captchas protect web forms rather well and as the bots get smarter, so does the protection but it’s all at the cost of usability.

I remember, not too long ago, a time when developers were most worried about rather or not their applications were up to par with the W3C standards and completely accessible by the hearing and visually impaired. The days of accessibility seem to be fading in the wake of bot protection. I too am guilty of putting more effort into blocking spammers from using my forms for their own personal ads than making sure my applications are completely accessible to the handicap. I even wrote a free CF capcha solution myself but if you use them, then you are just as guilty. I am not saying don’t use them, by any means (we don’t really have much choice right now). I think they are a great response to the bombardment of form submitted ads but I also think that many people suffer from our efforts; efforts that, as I said, not too long ago, were primarily focused on those same people.

The Internet is becoming more and more of an infomercial based billboard for products no one wants. If we don’t do something soon, we will start losing more and more visitors and as a result, we’ll all be out of a job. Personally, I flipped burgers when I was 16 and I don’t plan to go back to that.

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