Wednesday, July 23, 2008

StumbleUpon trips up users with CAPTCHA

In my last post, I mentioned that I’d unsuccessfully experimented with StumbleUpon as a possible Del.icio.us replacement. I’ve enjoyed using StumbleUpon and there are lots of things I like about the service, but their use of CAPTCHAs is a deal killer. Each time I’ve tried to write a “review” (i.e., tag and write a comment about a Web page), I’ve been greeted with this screen:

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I know Social Bookmarking sites are under constant siege from unscrupulous Web site owners and spammers, but repeatedly greeting users with a CAPTCHA each time they make use of your core features isn’t the right way to solve the problem.

Not to be all John Madden about it, but for a recommendation engine like StumbleUpon or Del.icio.us or Digg to function properly, it’s got to convince users to submit recommendations. Reducing friction is paramount. CAPTCHAs, of course, introduce friction into your bookmarking process. They might deter spammers, but you’re throwing the babies out with the bathwater.

I should know. I’m one of the babies. I’m not going to use your service if you’re going to tax me with additional clicks or keystrokes each time I try to save a page. To be fair, StumbleUpon’s toolbar offers a simple, one-click “thumbs up” button that allows you to bookmark a page without running into the CAPTCHA. But, remember, I wanted to use StumbleUpon to replace del.icio.us. And I typically import my del.icio.us bookmarks into Facebook, Tumblr, and FriendFeed. I almost always add a comment that explains why I bookmarked the page. I can’t do that with StumbleUpon if it requires me to enter a CAPTCHA everytime I try to use the service.

Oh, as if running into a CAPTCHA isn’t bad enough, half the time you can’t read the damn thing well enough to correctly recognize the letters. It’s supposed to be tough for computers, not humans. I frequently had to give up and stumble to the next page. The difficulty makes sense once you realize that StumbleUpon has chosen a CAPTCHA provider that uses its hapless human guinea pigs as volunteer decoders for printed books that are hard to read.

Yes, you read that correctly. StumbleUpon is deliberately putting its users to work when the success rate is likely to be quite low.

No thanks. 

Incidentally, other bookmarking / link submission services get by without resorting to CAPTCHA in their core bookmarking flow. Here are some non-idiotic thoughts about dealing with spamm-y submissions from developers associated with del.icio.us, Mahalo, Metafilter, and more. At the risk of a self-referential pun, I’d suggest that StumbleUpon take some notes.

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