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a test to ensure that a response is not computer generated.

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But I swear I'm human!

  • Dec 8, 2009
I'll set the scene up for you:

You're eager to start posting on an awesome new website that sounds really interesting (...say,!  *) You get through all the registration steps- name, email, password, password verification, yada yada...and then you see this weird blurry smudge at the bottom of the page. It looks like this:

Orr, if you're really having a bad day, it could look as convoluted as this:

And you're supposed to...TYPE IT?! CORRECTLY?

These weird mishmashes of letters and numbers are called "Captcha", and they exist to prove your humanity to a computer. Computers can't "read" text like humans do (obviously), so Captcha tests your skills as a human by making you type the characters you see before moving on.

Initially, I thought this was an extremely annoying part of my day-to-day web-browsing, but I've since changed my mind. I know if Captcha didn't exist I'd probably have WAY more spam in my inbox than I already do now!

The coolest part about Captcha is that there is even an extension of software called RECaptcha that has two aims: 1. stop spam. 2. Digitize books. The team behind it is aiming to digitize EVERY BOOK EVER so they've been using the text in RECaptcha as they go along. I've found that the RECaptcha often gives pretty nutty and random pairings of words. The pairings NEVER cease to humor me - My friends and I actually made a blog called Captcha Fail where we post the funniest ones we get on a daily basis! We're nerds, what can I say?

Here's a list of  reasons why Captcha is amazing:

1. Preventing Comment Spam in Blogs - we've all been victims of comment spam! It's really depressing when you think you have a blog comment but it's actually spam.

2. Protecting Website Registration - who wants a spammer making 3,000 different accounts on their site in under 3 seconds with the aid of a bot? Not I.

3. Protecting Email Addresses From Scrapers - anyone with a blog knows that it's always a risk to list your email address on your site in plain text - before you know it, your spam inbox is exploding. You can install a captcha on your site or blog to force visitors to solve the text before viewing your address.

4. Online Polls - the last thing you want is for an important online poll to get invaded by bots and display inaccurate results. Not cool.

5. Preventing Dictionary Attacks - you know when you try to log into an account, and you get your password wrong so many times  that your account gets locked? Well, evidently, bots were finding a way to decode passwords and get into personal accounts (or just lock the whole thing altogether). Either way, this is a huge pain to the person who owns the account. Now many sites will force you to solve a captcha before you can keep trying to log in. This is way better than having your  account locked entirely.

It's good to be a human.

(*NOTE: Just kidding about the first part! Lunch doesn't use Captcha, duh.)

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January 01, 2012
Great tips !
November 07, 2011
Captchas used to annoy me also, but I have learned quickly they are necessary and prove to be helpful in the long run. I have a hotmail address and after answering a certain amount of emails I'm forced to decipher a captcha before sending out another mail; I get annoyed because it slows me down in sending out my mail, but hey, if it will keep my email address safe I'm willing to do it, especially after having so many problems with phishing on my Yahoo account (which I refuse to use any longer - I don't do anything Yahoo!) Nice write up!
September 08, 2011
Very informative and very funny too. I'm not particularly fond of captchas just because they slow down the whole internet process and as you point out can be difficult to decipher at times. However, that being said, I realize and understand their necessity at this point in time. What I find particularly amusing is when the captcha you receive when attempting to log in or edit account details is so blatantly obvious (like words spelled backwards "desrever" or two words with switched syllables such as "caxi tab"... both of which I have actually gotten before).
February 26, 2010
I agree 100%. First I hated captchas, but you soon realize they are the necessary evils of the internet. They prevent some of the most frustrating junk. Great review.
February 01, 2010
Looks like I made need better glasses after trying to read those letters.
January 04, 2010
I'd never have thought of writing a review on this topic! Way to go! Very funny. I agree, it's good to be human!!! :D
December 08, 2009
Great review! Thanks for sharing this information!
December 08, 2009
First review of CAPTCHA in history and I completely agree!

I wrote a little about the reCAPTCHA project on my blog ( plug-plug - the scary part is that these tests are not going to work for much longer as pattern recognition improves. In fact, we'll get them wrong more than 'they' do.

I, by the way, am a Python script running on Google Apps Engine that sends 1.5 billion cheap loan emails a day. :-D
December 08, 2009
That is totally scary! I doubt it'll be much longer before someone invents something to quickly scan and duplicate Captcha text. I wonder whats next!
December 08, 2009
Funny! Nice review and uh...brave of you to admit to that blog. :)
December 08, 2009
Haha, nice review, Melissa!  But how can I be sure that you're human if Lunch doesn't use CAPTCHA? :P  It's amazing and scary how there's technology out there that could read simple CAPTCHAs, so they have to make them all complicated looking now.  That second image is hurting my eyes!
More Captcha reviews
Quick Tip by . July 31, 2010
posted in Awesomeness
I am captcha illiterate. They never work for me, I can never understand them, and I SWEAR when I type it incorrectly it works.
About the reviewer
Melissa Aquino ()
Ranked #11
Born and raised in NJ, relocated to Boston, MA to study at Emerson College, transplanted to Hollywood, CA to get my career started on the fairer coast.      I love hiking, eating new … more
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Captcha is a type of challenge-response test used in computing to ensure that the response is not generated by a computer. The process usually involves one computer (a server) asking a user to complete a simple test which the computer is able to generate and grade. Because other computers are unable to solve the CAPTCHA, any user entering a correct solution is presumed to be human. Thus, it is sometimes described as a reverse Turing test, because it is administered by a machine and targeted to a human, in contrast to the standard Turing test that is typically administered by a human and targeted to a machine. A common type of CAPTCHA requires that the user type letters or digits from a distorted image that appears on the screen.

Moni Naor was the first person to theorize a list of ways to verify that a request comes from a human and not a bot. Primitive CAPTCHAs seem to have been developed in 1997 by Andrei Broder, Martin Abadi, Krishna Bharat, and Mark Lillibridge to prevent bots from adding URLs to their search engine. In order to make the images resistant to OCR (Optical Character Recognition), the team simulated situations that scanner manuals claimed resulted in bad OCR. In 2000, Luis von Ahn and Manuel Blum coined the term 'CAPTCHA', improved and publicized the notion, which included any program that can distinguish humans from computers. They invented multiple examples of CAPTCHAs, including the first CAPTCHAs to be widely used, which were those adopted by ...
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