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Captcha enabled and we’re really, really sorry

By: 27 January 2011 5 Comments

Captcha is one of the most obnoxious things about the Internet.

Sadly, it’s also necessary at times.

What is Captcha? That awful bit of technology was developed in an attempt to make it impossible for nasty, automated bots to show up and slam comments sections on sites such as First Arkansas News with Spam.

Just about everyone has seen Captcha at work. It’s that obnoxious little application that forces people leaving comments or filling in other forms on sites to interpret a bunch of squiggly, twisted letters and type them. Interpreting a Captcha block is an effective way for a commenter to prove he or she is a human being instead of a spam-spewing bot.

By the way, the preferred format for Captcha appears to be all caps, meaning the folks behind this thing like to see it identified as CAPTCHA. Pretty much any organization, technology, company or anything else you can imagine that is identified in ALL CAPS will annoy all who come across it. Write that down and commit it to memory — it’s just a fact of life.

Now, seeing how this site is built on the excellent WordPress platform, First Arkansas News has been running since the day it was started with a plug-in called Akismet. That handy application is very good at keeping spam out of a comment section.

Akismet has been working overtime lately. First Arkansas News started in April and Akismet kept about 5,000 spam comments off this blog last year. Just this month, however, Akismet has protected this site from 11.364 spam comments.

On Wednesday, this site was hit with a bot that both overloaded Akismet and slowed this site down to the point where it was virtually unusable for about two hours. The bot simply pounded our comment section with post after post with links that would send people over to sites selling “legal” methamphetamine, Viagra substitutes and other terrible things.

Fortunately, the good people at our hosting company — Just Host — were able to ward off the bot so that we could again receive traffic. They advised us to install CAPTCHA to protect the site and we took that advice.

Still, CAPTCHA is annoying and it’s unfortunate that we have to use it. It would be great if our visitors could leave comments without having to interpret a bunch of distorted letters and numbers to prove they’re not bots, but that’s how it is. That’s a shame.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

5 Comments »

  • Sarah said:

    CAPTCHA is written in all caps because it is an acronym. It stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”. How’s that for a mouthful? 😉

    Although CAPTCHA is an annoyance, it does serve it’s purpose — it is pretty effective at stopping the majority of spam (because the majority is spread by bots). With that said, there are some other options out there that try to make it less frustrating for people. There are options where you can identify a picture or shape, or answer a simple question. Those approaches are usually equally good at stopping bots while being less frustrating for people than trying to decipher warped and distorted text.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Sarah — I’ve read that about Captcha, but I’d think that the technology is so common by now that it’s time to lose the acronym and spell it in a way that it doesn’t come across as shouting when its printed.

    Thanks for mentioning some alternatives — I figure on giving some of them a look. I just installed Captcha because, well, it’s easy to find and I was worried about another site shutdown and wanted something quick. I’ll have a look at something a bit easier when I have the time.

    Oh, and I agree — Captcha does serve its purpose and quite well. Those wavy, distorted letters just bug me. It’s a shame I feel it necessary to inflict a Captcha code on visitors — kind of punishing the majority for the bad behavior of the minority. That’s how the world works, sadly.

  • Pavel Bains said:

    Hey Ethan,

    One of the reasons people don’t like captchas is because they are so difficult to solve. Since you are using WordPress, you should try out our captcha plug-in. It’s video based and is much better for people to read.

    Here is the link: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/nucaptcha/

    Pavel

  • Joseph Scott said:

    On Wednesday, this site was hit with a bot that both overloaded Akismet and slowed this site down to the point where it was virtually unusable for about two hours.

    There was no change in the response time on Akismet.com, you can check that at http://status.automattic.com/9931/136079/Akismet-API (run by a 3rd party service). Akismet processes millions and millions of comments a day – http://akismet.com/about/ – and we monitor the load closely so that we can easily add more capacity if it is needed.

    If you ever have any questions or concerns about Akismet, for performance or other wise, you can drop us a note at akismet.com/contact/

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Joseph — not meaning to swipe at Akismet (and I hope y’all don’t take it that way). I was merely relating what the plugin told me — that Askimet had missed about 20 comments due to volume. If I misinterpreted that message, let me know.

    Akismet has been a great service and no disrespect was meant.

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