Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Writing Blogs and the CAPTCHA Dilemma

Last week I helped co-host the Insecure Writers Support Group bloghop. I met lots of new people and reconnected with others, but I was surprised at the number of blogs that required me to pass a CAPTCHA test (or something similar) before I could leave a comment. For those of you who don’t know, CAPTCHA is that irritating little test you need to pass to prove you’re a human – usually by having you stare at a blurry picture until you figure out the hidden word. They’re usually not too difficult to solve, especially since it often seems as though CAPTCHA accepts anything I type. Sometimes, though, it takes three or four tries to get it right. Go figure.

But if you’re a blogger, do you really want to make your readers jump through hoops to respond to your posts?

I know the purpose of these filters is to keep spam from filling up the comments section, but I have to say I’ve never had a problem with spam on this website. Perhaps I don’t attract enough readers to make my site worthy of spammers’ attention. Or maybe I’m just not attracting a high enough class of spammers. Either way, the anti-spam filters built into Blogger do a great job of removing spammy comments before anyone sees them. I haven’t used Wordpress, but I assume their filters are just as reliable.

The whole point of blogging is to engage with your readers, and the comments section is where that engagement occurs. So anything you do to hinder that engagement is not a good thing. Using CAPTCHA is like putting up a sign that says “I really don’t care if you comment or not.” To be honest, every time I hit a CAPTCHA window, I pause for a moment to decide if I should continue or just click “Cancel.” Many times, the only thing keeping me from clicking “Cancel” is the time I spent composing the message. But next time I come to your site, I’ll know better.

Case in point. When I stopped by MPax's blog last week, I couldn’t get past her CAPTCHA filter, even when I was positive my answer was correct. I must have tried ten different pictures before I gave up and emailed her directly. (Turns out her website must have glitched somehow. She didn’t have CAPTCHA turned on.) But I only jumped through these hurdles because she has an interesting blog. I’m not going to do that for everyone.

Ultimately, it’s your decision. Is the small amount of time you spend deleting the few bits of spam that make it past the default spam filters really worth the loss in comments? If you have a successful website with huge comment sections that draw spammers like flies, then by all means, use CAPTCHA. But if not, I’d suggest turning off your CAPTCHA filter (or making sure yours isn’t turned on by default). You may find a lot more comments waiting for you the next time you check in.

Edit: If you're not sure if you have word verification enabled on your blog and you use Blogger, go on down to Melissa's comment for a link to instructions on how to deactivate it.

BTW, I tried commenting on MPax's blog this morning and hit the unsolvable CAPTCHA roadblock again.  I'll have to wait until tonight to see if I have the same problem commenting from home. Very weird.

Also, I saw Captain America last night.  AWESOME!

15 comments:

  1. THANK YOU for posting about this, Ken! The CAPTCHA drives me nuts. I know some people with very popular blogs probably have to have it, but the rest of us - and that's the majority - really don't. It's just an impediment to people commenting.

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    1. I guess the mark of success for a writer is when you HAVE to use CAPTCHA on your blog. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. I'm definitely anti-CAPTCHA. I even have a campaign on my blog.
    http://melissamaygrove.blogspot.com/p/captcha-free-blog-buttons.html

    The worst part (like you mentioned) is that it doesn't show up until you click to post your message. I've often considered commenting about, but usually decide not to because I don't want to go through the whole word verification process again.

    In all fairness to bloggers, though, a person's blog doesn't require it of them when they comment. If the writer helping me set up my blog hadn't told me to turn it off, I would have never known.

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    1. That's right. I remember seeing that on your blog. I should have mentioned you in my post. In fact, I think I'll edit it right now. Thanks.

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  3. I really hate CAPTCHA. It's often hard to decipher and my eyesight's not the best, anyway! It's worth putting up with a few spam comments if it means not inconveniencing people.

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    1. Some of the work verification filters actually allow you to listen to the letters instead. Of course, I bet that takes even longer. And it's certainly not something I'd do at work. :)

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  4. Well said, Ken.
    There is someone participating in the Challenge who has refused to even allow comments. What does that tell a reader?

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    1. Do you think that person knows they did that? I can't imagine why anyone would turn them off. It's not like you have to pay any attention to them.

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    2. I came across an A to Z blog yesterday that didn't have comment enabled. I was like, "What's the point then?" I mean, if you want a one-sided conversation, keep a personal diary. And if you want to lecture and not suffer feedback, become a professor.

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  5. Perfect, perfect topic Ken! It really is about ease of reading and engagement for your readers. I get spam on my blog sometimes. I just hit the delete key. Not that much effort, really.

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    1. I don't think I've ever had anything get past Blogger's filter. At least not on this blog. The only way I know that someone tries to spam me is when I receive an email notification that someone commented.

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  6. The rule is generally: The more work people have to do (to comment on your blog, to get your book, whatever) the less likely it is they will do it. You only limit yourself when you make it harder for readers to engage with you or your product. I have Wordpress and use Akismet to clear out spam comments; it does a great job. My only rule on my blog is that the comments cannot be anonymous. (Not that I get that many!)

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  7. Oh, boy, I couldn't type a CAPTCHA right if my life depended on it. I hate them. But when my blog got big enough to get a lot of spam, I turned CAPCHAs back on until someone complained. Might have been you. So I turned them back off and tried approving comments until I decided to email the companies the spammers were linking to, and that took care of it for a long time. When the spammers came back, they commented on old posts, so I disabled comments on posts older than two weeks, and that seems to have done it. Knock on cyberspace... now, back to taxes. About the same aggravation level.

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  8. I have a Blogger blog and don't have CAPTCHA on, but I have one or two blog posts from a year ago that keep getting continually spammed. I've considered putting the CAPTCHA back on to get rid of them but I don't want to put anyone off.

    It can be a tricky thing, but as you say I think most bloggers could do without it.

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  9. The CAPTCHA drove me nuts when I co-hosted the IWSG. And now again with the A-Z Challenge. I do exactly the same as you when I get a CAPTCHA window.

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