Making CAPTCHAs Productive

from the now-there's-a-good-idea dept

About five years ago, Louis von Ahn was the PhD. student who came up with the idea for CAPTCHAs, the little requests to "type this" before you could fill out a form or sign up for a service. These days, of course, such CAPTCHAs have become nearly ubiquitous. Since then, Ahn has gone on to create other online systems that figured out ways to shift labor resources to users, such as the ESP Game, which is designed to make image search much more effective (and which Google eventually licensed). However, it seems that Ahn has switched his attention back to CAPTCHAs after recognizing what a productivity drain they must be. The nice thing about the ESP Game is the end result benefits image search. CAPTCHAs only help weed out spammers and scammers. However, John writes in to let us know that Ahn's latest work is about making CAPTCHAs useful. What he's done is made it so the text that users have to type are scans from books or other printed materials that are being scanned by Brewster Kahle's Internet Archive project. That way, each time people are simply trying to enter a comment on a website, they're also helping to turn a scanned word into text for the Internet Archive. Of course, if someone were really sneaky, they would just do the same sort of thing and hook it up to Amazon's Mechanical Turk and keep all the earnings. Every time someone entered a comment on a site, it would earn you money. So, if anyone wants to do this, please reserve a cut for me.

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  1. identicon
    scottbp, 24 May 2007 @ 8:49pm

    A nice idea but...

    The whole idea of using CAPTCHAs to
    shift labor resources to users
    seems to me to be a crazy UI design decision.

    Personally when I am designing sites and applications I try to increase usability and decrease cognitive load for the user. This seems backward to me. It also seems counter productive to put more barriers in front of a user right when we are already asking them to search their memories for sign in, or registration type information.

    The ESP game works because it is a game, and produces useful info as a by product. This new CAPTCHA scheme takes something that we should already doing on the application side (identifying robots) and then makes it even more complicated. I think we should be decreasing use of tools like CAPTCHAs not adding more complexity to the system.

    Of course I think this idea is quite ingenious, i just don't want to use it on any of the sites I design.

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