Robot test aka “CAPTCHA” change

October 3, 2007

I recently posted this message below to the bm-discuss list about the “robot test” change (also known as CAPTCHA), and many people were confused about what I was talking about.

So, before I post the same message on this blog, I’ll post this non-technical summary of my message by Denise:

The “robot test” is used to prevent ill-intentioned individuals from doing certain bad things on the site. The robot test is where you are asked to type in the word given before you perform a task (such as send an email) to verify that you are indeed an individual wanting to send an email, as opposed to a program sending 1000s of spam messages to the community.

John is saying he believes the current setup may be overkill since BM hasn’t seen any abusive attempts, and he also realizes the robot test is cumbersome and annoying. So, he’s redesigning it to be a little more user friendly, yet still effective.

As of today, BM changes how the “robot detection” thing works.

Namely, instead of always asking for the “robot test” (ie, “type in the name of the author in the graphic below”), it will now:

  • for the first task you do that requires a robot test, a robot test will pop up as per usual, that you have to answer correctly to complete that task
  • once you correctly answer one robot test, you won’t have any more robot tests until:
    • 4 hours have expired
    • you log out and log back in
    • 50 normally-robot-test-requiring actions have occurred, in which case you’ll have to do one robot test again, and the 4h/50 tasks count with restart

My thinking is:

  • the robot test is annoying for most users, and we’ve not had any spambot abuse of BM, so I’m likely over-protecting.
  • one robot test is enough to prevent most problems
  • a very clever spambot programmer could program their spambot to require a human being to pass the robot test, and then let the spambot run afterwards, but with the “50 tasks” limit, the spambot could only get 50 emails through BM before needing to re-confirm with a human being, making spamming BM fairly tedious

7 Responses to “Robot test aka “CAPTCHA” change”

  1. Andreea said

    Thank you for all your work to make BM always a better experience, John! I myself was not bothered by the multiple CAPTCHA requests, on the contrary, they made me feel safe on BM.

    I wanted to mention this new CAPTCHA system I read about just the other day, called reCAPTCHA, which uses the words Internet users type in to digitize old books, old writing that can’t be read automatically – you can read more at

  2. Kathy said

    I’m sure it is a totally unintentional side benefit, but I wanted to say ‘thank you’ because I learn so much about how computers, the internet, and programming work by reading this blog.

  3. andrew said

    Actually, i liked the captcha requests. Having to type in a noted author’s name gave my mooches a patina of literary respectibility, despite the fact that i was mooching a lowbrow sci-fi paperback (“hey, maybe i’m mooching harry potter, but at least i know who kafka is – who you callin’ stoopid?”). Leave the robot test in, i say. And how about a leatherbound book webpage effect, while you’re at it?

    I also appreciated that the text used for the test was easy to read. I often seem to make mistakes when typing in the distorted text used in other sites. Maybe i should ask my parents if there is any spambot in the family tree.

    Speaking of which, this test smacks of discrimination against robots. I think i’ll go setup a competing site for spambots. How does “Botmooch” sound? I’m sure there is interest in the robot community for programming guides, biology for dummies, great scams in history, etc. I’ll let you know how it goes, right after i take my medication.

  4. David said

    I was never bothered by the robot test. In fact, after working in a veal pen 8 hours a day, using Excel and Access I like having proof that I haven’t become a robot!.

    Andrew’s comments above were great. I like his idea for a spambot site. To make sure that humans don’t try to take advantage of the robot site, I suggest he include a “human test” – It could be a series of one million computations that have to be performed…within a second, maybe. Just a thought.

  5. G.L. (zenfish) said

    I’ve kind of gotten used to the robot test and enjoyed seeing what author’s name would come up and if I recognized (or enjoyed the author) but okay… sometimes it would get tedious and I would “cheat” by refreshing the screen til I came up with a short name like Stein instead of Dostoevsky.

  6. mbett said

    I am getting Book Mooch spam from a different source: the forum unsubscribe list. I subscribed to the listserv for a little while and then decided that the volume of emails was too great and unsubscribed. However, even though I’m not subscribed to the listserv any longer, I get about ten emails a day asking if I want to unsubscribe. Perhaps a good place to install a robot test would be the unsubscribe feature.

    I know you’re very busy and have many more important features to tweak. It’s not high on my priority list as most of these emails get caught by my spam feature. But since you were blogging on the subject of spam, I thought I’d mention it as the only annoyance I’ve had so far with my otherwise wonderful Book Mooch experience. If it’s a relatively quick fix for you to implement, you might consider it.

    Thanks so much for all the work you put into Book Mooch. I absolutely love this site.

  7. Sara said

    Just a quick comment to say that I love how its an author’s name since every other website I go to that has a similar feature is always some weird crazy phrase that I usually cannot even make out. Thanks for all the time and effort you put into this site, I’m so glad Vegetarian Times mentioned it in their magazine!

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