When Captcha is Really, Really Bad

I confess: I also had a captcha on my blog, in my “prior life” on blogware. In fact my defenses were so developed (or primitive?) that Zvents CEO Ethan Stock rightfully called it an obstacle course.

Thankfully I have a better life (OK, just a platform) now, on WordPress, where the combination of Akismet and Spam Karma 2. provides sufficient enough spam protection so I don’t have to torture readers with such obstacle courses anymore. But I guess not all blog platforms are created equal.

Today I tried to leave a comment on Vinnie’s post, which is protected by a captcha. That would be OK (well, sort of) if only I knew it upfront. But what typically happens – and I am not picking on Vinnie, seen this on several other Typepad blogs – is that I review the comment, hit “post”, then move on to another Firefox tab (hey, even I can multitask). Later, when I come back to review the comment/close the tab, I find the captcha screen still waiting for my input. The damn thing was so slow, it did not reveal the captcha screen in when I was here before.smile_angry

How to improve the captcha? Well, displaying it right on the comment entry page would be a good start… but even better, remove it entirely, replace it with some more intelligent background process (like, if I am a repeat approved commenter on this blog, chances are I am not a spammer … but I am not trying to re-invent Spam Karma logic here).

The absolute irony of the situation: you can read it all right here, on Vinnie’s blog: UI again …don’t pretty up, destroy!

P.S. Vinnie, my friend, I am not picking on you … just your platform.smile_wink

Update (2/28): A hilarious collection of the 10 worst captchas.

Update (3/5):  CAPTCHA is Dead, Long Live CAPTCHA! @ Coding Horror.


Startups: Challenge the Market Leader, or Ride With It?

“A new spam blocker called Defensio is attempting to improve on the standard set by Automattic’s Akismet, the default blocker for WordPress” – reports TechCrunch.

But they are planning to do more than improve… they want to replace Akismet. From Defensio’s FAQ:

  • Is Defensio a replacement for Akismet?
  • Will Defensio outperform Akismet?
    -We can’t make any promises (sorry), but our early testing suggests that Defensio’s performance is very, very good. As with any adaptive filter, it will only improve with time.
  • My accuracy is not satisfactory. Why?
    -If you have recently installed Defensio, then try to be patient. The filter’s learning algorithms take some time (usually no more than a couple weeks) to become very effective…
  • Does Defensio work in conjunction with other spam filtering plugins?
    Not really. We highly recommend that you use Defensio as your stand alone spam filtering solution.

And therein lies the rub. Other plugins, like Spam Karma 2 may also outperform Akismet at times, but they don’t replace it; instead, they work together quite well. A status change in either takes effect in the other. Now, I don’t know how good Defensio will be, but it takes a huge leap of faith to give up the proven standard (i.e. Akismet) and replace it with something that may need weeks of learning, as we’re warned by the FAQ. They lost me as an early user right away.

The bigger question here, for software startups: should you start challenging the market leader right at launch, or ride with it, grow as part of the “ecosystem”, then perhaps declare you’re better and no longer need them after you got traction?

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