Yesterday I received an email from a reader of this blog. On a post called Five Secrets to Promoting Your Business Blog I included a recommendation to post to influential blogs in your niche.
Why didn't he just leave a comment? Read on...
The reader responded that one barrier to leaving comments on blogs is the use of CAPTCHAs--those annoying, messy boxes of alpha-numerics that are supposed to separate the people from the machines. Unfortunately, they can be an impenetrable barrier to people with disabilities. More unfortunately, MaineBusiness.com, which hosts this blog, uses CAPTCHA to prevent comment spam on their site. (So does TypePad, which powers my other blog, flyte blog: web marketing strategies for small business.)
The reader mentioned that census figures show 20% of the population are somehow disabled; obviously, not all of the would be stopped by a CAPTCHA, but why would you use a tool that stops the voice of your reader and quiets the conversation on your site?
Obviously, there's a very good reason for using CAPTCHAs. They help stem the tide of comment spam generated by computers. Spammers use computers to send out an infinite, unending stream of spam to online forms for a variety of reasons. These spams reduce the signal to noise ratio, clog the tubes of the Internet, and reduce everyone's productivity.
New CAPTCHA tools often give people alternatives to those messy alphanumerics. Sometimes there's also an audio option (the computer will read you the answer and you type it in) or a simple math problem (what is 2 + 0) that these spam bots haven't yet caught up with.
Regardless, it's an ongoing battle between keeping communication flowing while keeping noise out. In a recent post, I talked about some of the benefits I've seen by using some non-CAPTCHA tools on online forms. However, ultimately spammers will figure those out as well.
We are in an arms race with the spammers, and of course there are innocent bystanders that are getting hurt, or at least disenfranchised.
There's no right answer on how to handle the balance of reducing incoming spam and keeping the lines of communication open with any human who wants to be part of the conversation. Each company, each Web site owner, and each blogger needs to make their own decision.
What have you found that works for you?
This issue has been discussed for some time in the Accessible Web Design community. There is a good review of the issue and some technical solutions on the W3C web: http://www.w3.org/TR/turingtest/