Sorry about the CAPTCHA

Sorry about the CAPTCHA

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A quick metablogging note. Those of you who comment on this blog (6700+ comments and counting, thank you all) have probably noticed that it now has a CAPTCHA, that little "please prove you're a human" test before the comment is posted.

I understand why. The MSDN and TechNet blog sites are high-value targets for unwanted commercial advertisers, for attackers who wish to attempt to influence search engines to drive traffic to their sites, and for vandals. The people who run security for this site have their hands full; we've experienced some pretty serious denials of service based on ham-fisted spammer attacks. Adding a CAPTCHA to regulate comments massively slows down the rate of successful comment spam.

That said, I'm not thrilled about this. I find CAPTCHA-style solutions distasteful for several reasons:

  • The benign commenter -- precisely the kind of person we want to encourage -- is forced to do additional work. This is a small but nonzero disincentive to writing comments.
  • Sometimes mistakes will be made; providing new ways that computers can tell us on a daily basis that we are failures seems irksome.
  • The assumption of innocence is changed to an assumption of guilt; the benign commenter must prove their innocence. Every time I have to fill out a CAPTCHA I feel a small but real insult; I'm a trustworthy person, so trust me already. As Joel Spolsky once pointed out, it's like walking into a train station and the first thing you see is the NO SKATEBOARDING NO PANHANDLING NO THIS NO THAT NO THE OTHER THING sign. Its unwelcoming. It makes you feel attacked and guilty and reminds you that there is evil in the world.
  • There are accessibility concerns. Not everyone who uses computers has decent vision but that doesn't make them evil robots. They deserve as much as a chance as everyone else to contribute and have to overcome plenty of obstacles already; let's not throw more in their way.
  • And so on

So, sorry about that, commenters. I don't like it any more than you do, but there's not much I can do about it; I don't run the blog servers. The only thing I can control is how purple the text is.

  • I once had a similar thought when I visited London and used the trains. Train stations there do not check your ticket before you get on a train, there is a presumption of innocence and it really speeds up the process when the train arrives. Periodically an attendant walks down the aisle of the train and punches tickets. However there are times when you get to your stop before you ever see an attendant. This means *some* could get a free ride, however I loved this system because it is unlike what we have in the U.S. where you have to stand in line and pass through a turnstyle before you can get into the station.

    Anyways, the moral I always got was, better to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and punish the violators than to presume everyone is guilty and ammortize the punishment so it affects everyone.

  • @David - That is noit specific to London. It works the same way at many locations in the USA [specifically: Long Island (New York) Railroad, and New Jersy Transit).

  • @David - you'll no longer find that to be the case. The majority of stations now have ticket barriers, so there's that suggestion of guilt again.

    As for the Captcha here, it's woeful. I'm sure it could be broken easily with current tech. A more mature offering like ReCaptcha would have been far better, but I guess that couldn't happen because Google just bought them out ;) You'll also find that many Captchas have assistive tech for people who are, for example, partially sighted. It's pretty shameful that Microsoft don't in this case.

  • I realize this is an old topic, but I prefer entering a CAPTCHA over being required to "register" at every random site I would like to post a comment on.  Registering is more onerous than entering a CAPTCHA.  (Granted, TechNet and MSDN are not the run-of-the-mill sites.  At many other sites, I'll abandon my comment rather than registering.)

  • "The only thing I can control is how purple the text is." Lol! That right there just made my night :D I'm adding it to my facebook quotes.

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