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:

image

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.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Comments

  1. I am used to it so it doesn’t bother me….

    .. then again, i’ve developed websites before and completely understand how annoying spamming comments can become.

  2. Have you tried Akismet plugin for WordPress? It filters spam as efficiently as Captchas and it’s much more user friendly…

  3. Captchas aren’t so bad. Sometimes a plug in like Akidmet do help for WordPress based sites, but typing in some words to post a comment isn’t too big a barrier for commenting.

  4. Have you checked whether you can turn Captcha on for old posts and leave it off for current (today, this week) posts? That would be ideal but I suspect it is all-or-nothing.

    If you can’t, keep the captcha. It isn’t the horrible kind like Ticketmaster has with the impossible to read distorted text, just simple typing.

    Anita

  5. I’d guess that most people comment no more than once a day, so logging in doesn’t sound any more efficient than Captcha. Captcha is better than spam.

  6. I don’t mind the Captcha so much. I just wish it wasn’t an ad. How come they can’t do one that just has you write a nonsense word? Or do they have to pay more for that?
    For me, I’d say try to make it a non-ad captcha, but if that’s not feasible, don’t sweat it. I’d prefer that Boarding Area remembered my name and email like it used to do, though.

  7. It only takes me about 10 additional seconds to leave a comment. Sure its annoying, but if its saving you 30-60 minutes a day (even if its just an hour a week) then leave them on. The value you add to the m&p community is more than worth the inconvenience it adds to me.

    Fwiw I know disqus allows login and cookie storage. It even provides notification when people follow up on comments and automatic subscriptions instead of having to “confirm follow” on every post one comments on. You may want to look into it. Scotts blog (hackmytrip) uses it.

  8. For my own site – I use a plugin called Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin. It’s been very effective – and is simple. It’s simply a check box that a commenter would have to check to acknowledge that they are not a spammer. Might be worth checking out – as it both works well and doesn’t create much of an added hassle for real commenters on your site.

  9. I’m ok with CAPTCHA, as long as its relatively easy to read and it’s real words so I don’t have to fight with iOS spelling correction.

  10. There is a plugin I use called Bot Blocker that says it “Kills spam-bots, leaves humans standing. No CAPTCHAS, no math questions, no passwords, just spam blocking that stops comment spam-bots dead in their tracks.” It definitely reduced my spam by 99.9% 😀

  11. +1 Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin!

    And thanks for sharing! Being new to the world if blogging, this is something I’m finding very annoying, but GASP has helped tremendously and is somewhat less rigorous than testing someone’s ability to desipher what often looks something like an ancient writing system.

  12. As Lance said above, go to what’s known as an ‘invisible’ Captcha concept. Requires no work from the live human and trips up the SPAMbots flawlessly.

    And as a matter of principle, I don’t use websites with Captcha. Made an exception this time ro let you know. In the future, not so much.

  13. So long as you can read the CAPTCHAs, it’s fine.
    My current one looks smeared though
    “everyday d……..”
    I can’t tell if the ……. is 3 or 7 letters, and they’re not readable.
    can BA provide not crappy text in the captchas?

    edit: hit refresh, can’t read either of the words.
    edit: hit refresh again, I think it says “get the card” but there’s a colored streak that prevents me from reading three of the letters so I have to guess

  14. I don’t mind CAPTCHA to control the spam. While I am here, though, I will ask my question about the SW companion pass: When is the best month to get the SW cards so that I will have optimal use of the companion pass? Thanks!
    P

  15. Greg, how about a compromise? Since most spam comes from old content, why not make those pages require a Captcha and make new pages not require a Captcha? It is up to you to decide how new is new and how old is old. Ask the BA tech team if that is at all possible.

  16. Since I consider my time valuable I do consider the CAPTCHA annoying…….now that you have explained the logic it changes the picture and my reaction……..
    1. I would definitely leave the old posts up and leave the CAPTCHA on them as one of the brilliant ideas of Boarding Area is to be able to open the file cabinet and search for old posts that highlight a certain strategy or program……especially all the old Vanilla posts so a newbie can wade through and learn the process as no one explains it as well as you do.
    2. On the current CAPTCHA if you are not receiving any revenue from the ads then I would say they have to go on principle…..if you receive any revenue then it will make your team better and we can live with it…….

  17. As a web developer myself, keep the captchas. Yes it may cause inconvenience to some, but I think this will also give them extra time to think their thoughts before they type it out.

  18. Ok, here I go:

    I was also drowning in spam until Raffles at Head for Points begged me to install the Akismet WordPress plug in. Since then I get one spam per month, maybe two. SAVED MY BLOGGING CAREER 🙂

    I find it totaly incredible that Boarding Area, with all its resources, are fending you off alone with this! Amazing! If little old tech challenged me how come you have to deal with so much spam?? Ok, maybe an explanation is your site gets a lot more traffic. But I think it is the spam plugin that matters.

    You do what you gotta do. I find I comment here less because I have to suffer through the additional steps. Having to watch a whole 1 min video is…inexcusable. Having just type two words is not too bad but if you just can not find a way to kill the spam volumes you are getting.

    Do other BA bloggers have the same issues? I think Randy can afford to spend some money to help you guys! I almost quit blogging because of this. Akismet just rocks!

    I had to enter this to approve the post:
    mileage junkies

    Lol!

  19. I prefer the math question plugins you can get for WordPress. I’m sure you can adapt them to your blog here if you have a tech team. They are simple, require a few seconds to answer, only require typing 1 number, and are easier to read than CAPTCHA. I used one on my blog, and it reduced spam comments by roughly 90% of what I got with a more complex CAPTCHA. And no ads!

  20. Oh, and definitely turn off comments on old posts. I found that was a huge plus, too. You get maybe 1 good comment a week on old posts, but you lose HOURS trying to keep up with spam.

  21. captcha is not bad if the text is easy to read/type. Some sites employ a version that one has to try many times to get the answer right. Those are frustrating.

    I like the math idea by Tom.

  22. Leave old posts open! Captcha isnt a huge bother – and if someone thinks it is, then odds are extremely high their comment is worthless to start with.

  23. Agree with Paul above, these captchas are extremely easy to decipher and take no more than 5 seconds to type. Much better than the ones that are very hard to read

  24. CAPCHAs are OK if it is not too difficult to solve. I once returned a laptop I had bought because I couldn’t solve the CAPCHA in ten tries.

  25. Does BA use Cloudflare for protection and anti-downtime? Cloudflare uses data from Project Honeypot to ban spambots and other malicious threats, and it’s helped to whittle down spam for me. You could also look into using an alternative comments system, like Disqus. Those require you to make a Disqus account or select if you want to post as a guest – the secondary step is not too troublesome and would help to weed out bots. Hope this helps!

  26. The captcha is fine, no need to get rid of it. The only time captchas are truly annoying is if you’re doing a repetitive task and have to enter them over and over again (yes, I’m remembering Club Live!) For a one shot like this, they’re perfectly fine.

    • Thanks for all of the terrific feedback! It’s great to hear that so many people don’t mind the CAPTCHAs. We would, of course, prefer a solution that works even better for readers, so The technical team at BoardingArea is reading the comments and investigating the ideas that have been suggested. My understanding is that Disqus would be a BoardingArea wide decision and apparently the BoardingArea staff have already been disqussing it. There are pros and cons to going either way.

      As to Akismet, BoardingArea does use Akismet. Unfortunately, there are spammers that target high traffic sites like BoardingArea and figure out how to get around Akismet and other filters. I don’t know about Cloudflare.

  27. As I read all the comments a couple more thoughts came out
    1. Your loyal followers will put up with CAPTCHA and humor you that they will still blog with you………….they probably will but their participation WILL GO DOWN……just how much is a question for the statistical gurus that have the boarding area numbers to look at……..
    2. Fence sitters will drop out at a greater pace…….how much again is a hit research question.
    3. Boarding area bloggers evolve……….you can see various levels of evolution in your comments………..the CAPTCHA will discourage the evolution but by how much……….
    4. It’s nice being the pack dog leader even if the wind is more in your face……..but don’t believe Randy isn’t cashing in on the CAPTCHA………..

  28. CAPTCHAs usually suck because they’re so hard to read, but I like these sponsored ones; the sponsor doesn’t want to frustrate the hell out of people, so they make it less of a chore to read.

  29. I think CAPTCHA is fine for blog comments, but there are much better methods out there. I use Disqus for comments because they force someone to create an account to post. It pretty much forces someone to be human to post. Another method to consider is called a Honeypot method, which is similar to a CAPTCHA without the user interference. Last, make sure Akismet is enabled on your WordPress blog at the very least. I generally consider a CAPTCHA to be the last resort and least user friendly.

    That said, at least I can fully read your CAPTCHA!

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