Keep or kill the CAPTCHA?


Up until a month ago, spam comments on my blog were out of control.  A seemingly endless barrage of spam wormed its way through the BoardingArea spam filters and surfaced in the comments of my posts.

Most of the messages seemed nice enough.  Here’s a common example:

Hi you have a nice website over here! Thanks for posting this interesting stuff for us! If you keep up the great work I’ll visit your blog again. Thanks!

How did I know it was spam?  Well, the author in this case named themselves “geile sex date” and included a hyperlink that you couldn’t pay me to click.

I was spending anywhere from half an hour to an hour each day moving these irritating comments to the spam folder.  Worse than the total time was the constant context switching as I would often drop whatever I was in the middle of in order to eradicate these messages.  I know that I could have waited until the end of the day to hunt them all down at once, but in my mind they were like ants crawling up my leg – they had to be removed… immediately.

The CAPTCHA solution

A month ago, I turned to the BoardingArea tech team for help.  I wanted them to do something, anything, to help control spam.  They suggested CAPTCHAs and I said, sure, let’s try it.

CAPTCHAs are those annoying images accompanied by text boxes where you are required to enter in the words shown in order to proceed.  At first, there was a serious glitch and my readers were forced to watch a video ad to proceed.  I am so sorry about that!  That was never intended!  However, that was soon straightened out.  Now the CAPTCHAs look like this:


I’m still really irritated that the CAPTCHA shows an ad, but at least it is fairly easy to read.  The good news is that since implementing the CAPTCHA solution, not a single spam comment has made its way past the spam filters.  Some spam still somehow makes its way past the CAPTCHA, but all of it has been caught by the existing spam filters.

Other options

I like that CAPTCHAs have been effective, but I hate making readers jump through hoops to answer comments.  I asked the BoardingArea tech team if the CAPTCHA solution could store a cookie on users devices so that each person would only have to solve a CAPTCHA once (per device), but they told me that cookies weren’t an option.  There might be an option to let users log into the system to avoid CAPTCHAs, but I’m still waiting for follow-up information about that idea.

A big percentage of spam appears in old posts, so one simple alternative would be for me to simply turn off comments on old posts.  The downside is that every now and then a reader posts a really valuable follow-up comment to an old post.  I would just have to hope that those same readers would post the same comment somewhere else (maybe the Contact Frequent Miler page or the Laboratory page, for example).

If you have other good ideas for spam control, please let me know!

Reader input

What do you think of the CAPTCHA solution?  Is it a necessary evil, or a solution that is worse than the problem it solved?  Has the CAPTCHA ever deterred you from commenting?

Please comment below.  Yes, I get the irony.  Yes, you have to fill out the CAPTCHA in order to say things like “I will never comment if a CAPTCHA is involved.”  If that’s you, please just make this one time exception and make your voice heard.  If you really can’t stand it, Tweet me, Facebook me, email me, whatever.  I want to hear from you.

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