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Bill Maher makes fun of Captcha’s poor usability

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m in love with Bill Maher. You might not agree with his politics, his ideology, or his bad language, but you’ve gotta admit that he has a knack for putting people in their place.

At the end of each episode, Bill Maher gives his New Rules — an editorial monologue on current events and pop culture. On April 30th, he targeted a bane of many in the user experience profession — CAPTCHA (“Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”).

Captcha is a method for websites to verify that the user is in fact a human and not a malicious computer program. Coincidentally it was invented at my alma mater Carnegie Mellon University, so my apologies for bashing it. From a technical perspective it’s great, but from a usability perspective it can be a total dead end. It completely interrupts a user’s interaction with the site (as well as their train of thought), challenging them to correctly enter the distorted letters and numbers displayed before them, which are quite often impossible to decipher.

Captcha got on Bill Maher’s radar. Watch what he had to say (it’s brief):

What do you think of CAPTCHA? What alternatives have you seen or implemented that accomplish the necessary safety precautions, but are still natural and easy for people to use?

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  • http://ebakerysocialmedia.com jacquelyn kittredge

    My favorite one displays 4 picture icons and says “If you are a human, click on the flower.”

  • Guest

    I do find it annoying, but I also appreciate the thinking behind reCaptcha – where one word is to verify your humanity and the other word is polling users to identify words in digital books that the OCR couldn't figure out. http://recaptcha.net/

  • http://twitter.com/WDYWFT WDYWFT

    http://www.managementhelp.org/email/form-to-add… uses a drop-down box. The box has to be set to 'confirm validation' before you submit. It definitely does not interrupt your train of thought (cause you are already in the process of marking and selecting stuff in boxes).

  • http://twitter.com/MMudassir M. Mudassir Azeemi

    Hello!

    I prefer the “Honeypot Captcha'

    http://haacked.com/archive/2007/09/11/honeypot-

    Loved the idea, currently implementing it on our NaanMap.com and hopefully we will stop annoying the Users!

    Honeypot Captcha got a good logic under the hood, it is actually have a trap for the spammers which is invisible to the “Human User” and then once they fall off in to the trap, they are squashed with the power bits & bytes.

    Ciao,

    Mudassir Azeemi
    Silicon Valley, CA

  • http://twitter.com/fayafshar Fay Afshar

    I personally hate CAPTCHAs, as a general user and ux professional.
    They are not only hideous and slow down your flow when filling in a form, they are often impossible to read as well.
    Some sites use such badly distorted fonts, it makes me wonder how accessible these captcha images are to people who dont have great eye sight (not visually impaired, thats another accessibility issue altogether)

  • http://twitter.com/hletutour Hélène Le Tutour

    I hate CAPTCHAs too. They sometimes make me feel like I'm an idiot.

    I recently saw a nice alternative on a Web agency's website.
    They included 2 radio buttons with funny statements, something like:
    “I am made of bones and flesh”
    or
    “I am made of steel and iron”
    It made me laugh and definitely reinforced the cool image of the agency I already started having.
    Great user experience!

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  • Jason Luttrell

    As a Web developer who specializes in accessibility, I find it interesting how people just assume that the “conventional wisdom” about CAPTCHAs are true. I’ve actually implemented simple prompts to re-type a word that are just as effective at blocking out 99.5% of all spam. These mythical “robots” that people frequently refer to are not all that sophisticated. You don’t need lines, cursive fonts, and 3d effects. If a normal sighted person, such as myself, can’t decipher some of these CAPTCHAs, then what about people with common vision impairments, such as color blindness? I guess old people just don’t fit in anyone’s business models these days. Seriously, there are no circumstances or occassions when I would recommend CAPTCHAs–they should be completely banished from the Web as a “Bad practice” akin to putting “under construction” on your site; they’re just unprofessional.