[Updated 10/23/05: Elisa has updated her post to make a few additional points, so I’ve updated the URL to her post here.]
Elisa Camahort and Sour Duck have both recently had trouble with comment spam, but responded in very different ways. First, Elisa in “Bloggers getting more and more restrictive with comments…And it’s definitely not good for blogging business“:
I recently implemented the word verification tool on this blog after a weekend spam attack (over 400 comment spams within 24 hours.) When I encounter such a tool I consider it to be a minor inconvenience, but a small price to pay for posts free of comment spam. […] It seems like most spam-fighting tactics focus on creating barriers that impact spammers and non-spammers alike.
Commenter Angel followed up:
On the word verification, I don’t mind it as much. However, a recent study by the American Foundation for the Blind found that obstacles like word verification create a hindrance to people who are visually impaired since tools like JAWS cannot cope with the squiggly words. It was something I had not even thought about when I turned on my word verification after the spam was getting unbearable. However, I am not planning on turning the word verification off.
I did think about that. I’ve noticed that when you buy tickets online, for example, there’s always a link to click in case you can’t “read” the verification word. I’m sure we’re not meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing an alternate. (But since were not government contractors I don’t think it matters.)
I’m turning off the comments facility until I figure out a way to filter spam comments. (I don’t like to use the word verification option that Blogger offers, because blind people and others with vision difficulties can’t join in.)
However, she has now turned comments back on and is using the word verification option.
This “word verification” option they are discussing is what’s called a CAPTCHA. Six Apart describes CAPTCHAs like this:
Perhaps the most famous Turing-style test in use as an anti-spam technique is the CAPTCHA (a cutesy acronym that stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”). CAPTCHAs frequently come in the form of images of fuzzy or distorted letters and numbers, which humans can read and parrot into a text field, but which automated optical character recognition software has trouble identifying.
[…] an image-based CAPTCHA is impossible to solve for people with impaired vision, those with reading difficulties (e.g. dyslexia), or those using text-only web browsers. If the only way to comment on your site is by solving an image-based CAPTCHA, you have a serious accessibility problem.
Anyone who knows me well would expect me to start yelling when I read Elisa’s comment that she doesn’t think it matters whether users with disabilities can comment on her site, or when Angel and Sour Duck recognized the problem but decided to use the CAPTCHA. But since I’m trying to grow as a person, I’m more interested in this question:
WHY CAN’T THE GENIUSES WHO MAKE THIS SOFTWARE FIGURE OUT A BETTER SOLUTION?
Elisa’s Worker Bees blog is hosted on Blogger. Blogger’s commenting CAPTCHA, unlike the ticket purchasing sites Elisa mentioned she has used, has no alternative. If you can’t see, you can’t comment. The American Federation for the Blind has put out a few articles on blogging (see end of post for details), and they commented on the process of setting up a blog on Blogger:
Unfortunately, a blind user cannot get past the “name your blog” stage because they are confronted with a message that instructs them to complete their registration by “entering the words they see in the picture.” Below these difficult to follow instructions for a screen reader user is an alternate option, which has been labeled “advanced setup.” This option allows an individual to host their blog elsewhere.
As far as I can tell, Blogger has eliminated users with vision or reading problems from either hosting their blogs with the company or commenting on any blogs hosted by the company where the author needs a tool to fight comment spam. Six Apart, despite describing CAPTCHAs as a serious accessibility problem, uses a CAPTCHA once as part of the TypeKey account creation process. The only alternative they offer is to change the CAPTCHA image until you find one you can discern. So Six Apart has eliminated these users from commenting on blogs that require TypeKey authentication (though Movable Type offers a wider range of options than Blogger on managing comment spam – one does not have to simply require TypeKey or go without).
This baffles me. Comment spam is a huge issue, and this is the best you can do? Exclude people who can’t see, which will include more and more people as they get older, and people with reading difficulties? It’s too hard, so we’ll throw those folks overboard as our solution?
I know Elisa wouldn’t hold BlogHer in a building with no wheelchair access, so why don’t you give her some reasonable tools so she can offer the same level of access to her blog without getting crushed under comment spam?
The American Foundation for the Blind articles on blogging have been kind of a mess. They make a lot of good points, but they aren’t very well organized. For example, they don’t distinguish between the purposes of Blogger and Bloglines when reviewing them, and even recommend Bloglines for starting a blog – even though the “my blog” functionality seems from the outside to only allow clippings from other blogs. Also, their “tips” for bloggers would have been a lot more useful if they’d done an inventory of the default behaviors of the most popular blogging software rather than instructing bloggers to pick through their sites. My favorite part: they ask bloggers to choose an accessible service, but don’t give a list.
It’s like they know their accessibility stuff, but haven’t quite caught on to this new system. On the good side, I’d like to highlight one of their tips:
Coding your links so that they automatically open up a new window can be very disorienting for a visually impaired user. Only the most recent versions of screen readers give blind users any indication that a new window has been opened. Popping open a new window also resets the back button, effectively “breaking” it. Avoid the use of target=”new” in your links.
This software is not free, people. JAWS costs $900, and you pay for upgrades. [Edited to add: unless you can get it from a government agency, which some folks can.] So there are a good number of folks out there who will be using the older versions for many years to come. Opening links in new windows is just bad manners.
Here are the AFB articles: