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Google Captures reCAPTCHA

By Craig Buckler

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Google reCAPTCHAGoogle has acquired reCAPTCHA Inc, the company that developed the popular spam and fraud prevention system.

CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) are the squiggly letters or words you must read and enter when completing a web form. They’re a hindrance and are ultimately doomed by computer advances, but they can help sift the spambots from real human users.

reCAPTCHA has been implemented on 100,000 websites. It’s one of the better systems and many would say it’s the best:

  • The service is free.
  • The widget is easy to embedded in your web forms.
  • An audible version of the CAPTCHA is provided for visually-impaired users.

reCAPTCHA is also unique because it improves the process of digitizing books and other paper-based documents. The widget presents the user with two scanned words that failed optical character recognition (OCR). One of the words is known but the other requires further human verification. If the user solves the known word, reCAPTCHA assumes the second word is probably correct. The system can verify the word with a high level of confidence if several users enter the same text.

reCAPTCHA is a positive example of crowd-sourcing: it distributes a laborious process among millions of users. Books are digitized quickly and accurately, developers can be sure a real user has accessed their site, and user inconvenience is kept to a minimum.

The deal is a win-win for both companies. reCAPTCHA will benefit from Google’s financial and marketing clout. Google can replace their awful in-house CAPTCHA system and use reCAPTCHA’s digitizing facilities to assist with their ambitious and controversial book-scanning project.

Neither company has revealed the full terms of the buyout, but Google is unlikely to receive much change from $500 million.

Do you use reCAPTCHA? Does this deal make us ever-more reliant on Google services?

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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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