CAPTCHA stands for (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart).
The CAPTCHA program is able to protect websites because computer programs cannot read or understand distorted text the way a human can. The purpose of CAPTCHA is to create a positive online user experience during the transmission of sensitive data like logins, registrations, email or online payments.
However, there are many instances where the program can also unintentionally work against the user experience.
How does CAPTCHA work?
The use of CAPTCHA requires the user to type letters or numbers or combination of the two from a distorted image that appears on the web page. These images are automatically generated by the program on the screen for the purpose of blocking malicious programs because computer programs cannot interpret or translate images.
For this reason, the security benefits of CAPTCHA include:
- website registration protection
- e-mail address protection
- prevention of comment spam
- protection of donation forms
- protection of e-commerce transactions
- protection of user logins
From the user experience, challenges can include:
- jumbled letters and numbers
- unrecognizable punctuation and characters
- distracting lines that make letters and numbers hard to see or read
- colors and print text that are hard to understand
- automated questions the user may not know the answer to
- math or logic equations that are beyond the users knowledge
- user gives up trying to figure it all out and leave the site
Many of the above mentioned challenges can cause unwanted frustrations, distractions, and delays for users. Some will attempt to reload the CAPTCHA in hope of being able to figure out the next display and for some multiple reloads may be needed just to find that one they can read or understand just so can they submit.
Such delays for most will be considered frustrating and in turn will be viewed as a bad user experience. Frustrating experiences online can product loss of supporters, donors, and ultimately revenue.
How will I know if CAPTCHA is right for my website?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question, some CAPTCHA programs are better than others, but none are perfect. With that said I recommend gauging your audience.
In other words, take a review of who your community of users are. Is your community of the younger generation or of the senior generation? Or is your audience a combination of the two? Are your community of users web or tech savvy or not really? Do you anticipate any users that may have visual impairments where reading of the letters and numbers will be difficult for them? Do you anticipate users that will have language barriers? Will CAPTCHA be a barrier of hassles between you and your online community? And on the other side of the spectrum, you have to look at, what your experiences as the administrator have been.
For example, have you suffered fighting against spam, bots, or hacker attacks?
These are just a few of the variables that you will need to consider as well as those that can create potential challenges for your users and your website. Ultimately, you will need to decide what are my primary objectives? Am I trying to create a user-friendly online community? Or is my focus and priority security? How important is one versus the other and what will that mean for my online environment?
Weigh your options. Look at the pros and cons. Ultimately, the choice is yours. To CAPTCHA or not to CAPTCHA, that is the question.
Are you using CAPTCHA already? How has your use of CAPTCHA impacted your online presense?