Saturday, 25 February 2012

Word Verification (cont'd)

Joking aside, this reCaptcha thing is a seriously flawed concept, even as presented by Luis von Ahn in his TED talk.

Von Ahn starts from the premise that the ten seconds taken to enter a ‘traditional’ word verification is ‘time wasted’.  Well, of course, it isn’t: it’s time spent productively protecting oneself from spammers.  He then goes from there to claim that reCaptcha harnesses this ‘wasted’ time to a productive end, i.e. to interpret words from scanned documents that can’t be deciphered by character recognition but can be by humans.

He doesn’t dwell on the fact that, by making us type two words rather than one, he has doubled (at least) the time consumed.  And with no direct benefit to us, the users – the benefits, often commercial, accrue entirely to the organisations who are, effectively, using us as unpaid, unwitting slave labour.

And that’s without mentioning Google’s implementation, on Blogger, of their own product, which must rank high in ineptitude even by their standards.  Because, as far as I’ve seen, a lot of the time it doesn’t even use real words!   At least with the old wv, though the character strings weren’t ‘real’ words, they behaved as if they were.  Now we get a random string of letters, so heavily disguised that you need a lot more than the presumed twenty seconds before getting them wrong.

And of course, that introduces the most farcical flaw.  Many people have reported that they’ve switched off wv on Blogger, out of sympathy for other people’s frustration with the advanced Mensa test it’s become.  So as a result, we don’t get the spam protection, and reCaptcha doesn’t get its translation.  Just how lose-lose can you get?


  1. I concur. I have spent minutes, nay days (it seems) trying to decipher those idiot winds, or words or whatever they are. To what avail? Other than almost making me give up commenting. (Is that the idea perchance?)
    I ask yer. They need to do sumfink bout it. Government petition - they usually work innit?

  2. Did you notice how, under the old system, the w vs echoed the language of the country into which you were winging your comments?

  3. Oh, I'm disappointed now you've put it this way. It's all gone a bit 'Matrix' now hasn't it?

  4. Soaring, leave it orf, they're not wurf it.

    Christopher - erm, no, actually. I often thought they were tailored to the subject matter though.

    BB - no no, it's a brilliant idea, just a shame they chose to implement it the way they have. I'd gladly have played the game in any other context, would have enjoyed it.

  5. Until a year or two back, wv was very difficult to read, with the result that I turned it off once Blogger made the change that you didn't have to use wv when commenting on your own blog. My reasoning was that if I didn't have to do it, it wasn't fair to make other people do so. As a result, I got some spam, mostly in older posts.

    More recently, the wv has become easier to read, sometimes making real words - presumably, this became so clear that computers were able to enter the characters accurately and is the reason that it's been changed to something harder than it ever was before. However, automatic spam detection is now so good that I doubt that anyone who's turned off wv will find spam getting as far as the comment page.

  6. I agree, I hate this new system. It's off-putting and if I get it wrong once, I just give up. Life's too short.

  7. Not a mensa test so much as an eye test! I'm very grateful to those who have turned it off.