Trailing comments

Clayfox has never been deluged with comments, despite some provocatively insouciant — if not downright ignorant — claims. It’s a quiet place, this blog, offering arcane pondering that trips barely a ripple in the chat-o-sphere. But let’s consider quality as an inverse of quantity. Indeed, I’ve been honored to net responses from a few mindful colleagues, nostalgic friends, quizzical strangers, and producers of a couple of the projects touched on here — reacting to or extending my quick generalizations.

Spam has been kept largely at bay by the popular WordPress plugin Spam Karma 2. Dr. Dave gets fooled once in a great while — I too was an early sucker for those “I love your blog!” Trojan insincerities — but on the whole, he’s been a valiant defender against relentless bots, and commentary has been a quiet and easily managed thing here.

So why change what ain’t broke? Walking home, listening to a Digital Campus podcast (another fine offering from George Mason’s CHNM, oft-mentioned here), I heard about a little validation program that is such clever good citizenship, I had to install it: reCAPTCHA.

You’ve doubtless already proven to a CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) that you’re a human being, not a computer bot, while submitting a comment or voting in a poll or registering for something online. CAPTCHAs are those funny distorted words that you’re asked to type out, using powers of discernment that extend beyond an optical character recognition (OCR) program.

reCAPTCHA’s twist is that it uses actual ‘rejects’ from OCR processing — image patches of text that OCR software isn’t sure what to make of during digitization — and works these mystery patches into the validation process. It is up to you, flesh and blood, to recognize the distorted word and type it back. When you ‘solve’ a reCAPTCHA to post a comment, say, you’re also contributing human brainpower to the digitization of a book in the Internet Archive . The reCAPTCHA motto conveys the doubleplay: “Stop Spam. Read Books.”


This is just a picture. For a true reCAPTCHA experience, you’ll have to post a comment.

You might wonder how much effect your little ‘solution’ has in the scheme of things. reCAPTCHA claims that 60 million CAPTCHAs are daily solved: that’s a lot of blurry text getting cleared up, a steady current of human recognition. You may also wonder how reCAPTCHA determines that your submitted solution is correct. The key is delivering two words to you to ‘solve’ at once: a word for which the answer is known, and a word that can’t be determined by OCR. If you correctly solve the ‘known’ word, reCAPTCHA has more confidence in your solution of the mystery word, and compares your solution to other presumed correct solutions of the word.

So that’s what you’re doing, should you favor Clayfox with a comment going forward: proving your human identity while hastening along the migration from print. Oh, and you’ll be registering — at least here — what you thought.

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