Are you human?

Photo by That_James

I hate having to ask my users to prove they’re human, so I wanted to make the process as painless as possible. I was only looking for a free, easy and usable way of adding spam-blocking images to my site, but ended up with one that does good too.

reCAPTCHA is a project by the inventors of the original CAPTCHA. As a web service it’s simple to add to your site, and it uses real words rather than random strings of characters, which makes it a lot easier for users. There’s no charge, and my favorite part is that every use helps decipher scanned books from the Internet Archive. One of the two words displayed is from an old book, and couldn’t be understood by the character recognition software that’s used to turn them into computer documents. Every correct answer identifies a hard-to-read word and helps to release that book to the public.

I’ve got an example online, with the source code here. There’s prepackaged plugins for dozens of website systems like WordPress and MovableType. If you have a custom site, it only takes a few lines of code and 5 minutes to get going. Here’s what you do:

Go to
Sign up for an account
Enter the name of your website and get an API key
Download the library for PHP and put it on your website
Open up the example-captcha.php file and type in your key

Now if you navigate to that PHP file in your browser, you should see a working CAPTCHA test. All you need to do then is put it where you need it in your own pages.


Update – I did get some feedback from someone else who’s fanatical about CAPTCHA usability. They were fond of the idea of reCAPTCHA too, but ended up switching to a custom solution because they were still seeing problems where users couldn’t understand the words. I was disappointed to hear that, but so far it’s the most usable component I’ve found.

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