A Programmer's Dream

CAPTCHA Usability

Posted by Stephen Wrighton on 10 Sep 2009

Here's a secret, I despise CAPTCHA's. I hate them. I think they are one of the most user-unfriendly form elements in existence.

Most of the time, I can barely read them.

I understand their purpose, and I know why they exist. But that doesn't mean that I actually like the things, and it definitely doesn't mean that I like entering data into them.

But then there's the ones that I find are actively HOSTILE to the end user.

After all, the usage pattern for these evil things is fairly standard, everyone knows what to do:
  1. Squint and try and make out the relevant letters
  2. Type those letters in as they are displayed
  3. Press the submit icon/button/dongle/blood letting device
This process has become ingrained. It's what we expect.

Which is where I get to that hostile statement above.

I found one of these captchas, and entered the data, and it came back invalid.

So I entered it again, with the same results.

And again, and again.

Finally, I was starting to want to smack the website's author when I noticed something.


Who puts instructions on a captcha I thought to myself as I began to read.

For posterity, I made a screen shot. And in case you were wondering, this is the context of that block of text:
Type a lower-case "w" into the box and then follow it with the code exactly as you see it. The code is case sensitive and zero has a diagonal line through it. The initial "w" is necessary - the system will reject your registration if you do not include it
Yes, they REQUIRE you to type a lower-case "w" as the first letter of the field.

Why? As far as I know it's just to annoy anyone trying to register for their site.

My ultimate thought: poor, poor design.

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