Robot CartoonDateline: An obscure corner of cyberspace

What’s the Spanish word for “busybody?” That would be metiche, at least in Mexican Spanish, where the word can function as either a noun or adjective. And, at times, that word might well apply to yours truly, El Gringo Suelto.

The current manifestation of this personality flaw started when Google, owner of Blogger/Blogspot, found that its inferior blog-spam prevention technology was being overrun by ever-cleverer spam bots. Apparently some enterprising whiz kid had taught them to read squiggly text and photographs of house numbers, and thus the robotic hellhounds of cyberspace were unleashed to wreak their havoc.

I don't seem to be able to find

I don’t seem to be able to find “NterdKer” in my dictionary. Is it Dutch, perhaps?

So instead of, say, licensing Akismet from Automattic, owner of WordPress, or even simply copying one of its obviously better features (automatically approve any commenter who has been approved once before), Google decided to go down one of the more annoying roads possible: visual guessing games.

And they certainly didn’t make them easy. Take that, whiz kids! So now blog readers who want to leave a comment are required to jump over many a cyber-hurdle before their own contributions can be accepted. First, one must click a box “Prove you’re not a robot.” The first time or two I encountered such a box, I clicked it, the screen redrew and brought me back to the top of the page. “Done!” I thought, and went on my merry way. Only later did I find out that I was only part way home and that the comment was never posted.

So now, after clicking the box, I have to scroll back down to see my comment, and then go through a visual guessing game or two, based on the contents of very grainy, low-resolution pictures.  These pictures are tiny, perhaps 100×100 pixels, so it’s hard to see what they are on a regular laptop or computer monitor. On a cellphone, it’s impossible, which is a pity since mobile is the fastest-growing part of the web. And, to make matters worse, not all nine photos are visible at a time, despite there being plenty of screen space on a computer. So one naturally scrolls down, but alas, the pictures don’t want to stay down, and then they jump back up and hide themselves. So it’s difficult to select the correct 2 or 3 pictures out of the nine, if you can even tell what they are.

And figuring out what they are isn’t exactly straightforward. For example, one recently asked me to click all the pictures of kayaks. Well, one of the “kayaks” was in reality a canoe, but clicking it turned out to be the right answer, even though it bothered my inner persnicketyness. Others have asked that I click all the pictures of food in a group that included plants that might have been food crops (but weren’t). However, the most recent of these (which finally inspired this post) asked me to click all the images that contained pie. But as far as I could tell, none of the images contained pie, except for the example image. Do you see any pie in the image below? Besides the example?

As impossible as pie!

As impossible as pie!

So this is where the metiche part comes in. After a few frustrating experiences with this anti-robot Chinese wall, I decided to try to persuade my blogger friends who were still using this ridiculous system to either switch to WordPress or to implement Disqus as their commenting system. About six weeks ago, I sent a detailed email to four of my favorite bloggers, basically saying that I enjoyed their blogs, wanted to be part of the conversation, but was increasingly frustrated by having to prove, re-prove, and prove again that I still wasn’t a robot. (Seriously, you can make 3 or 4 comments within minutes on the same blog and have to re-prove each time!) And I emphasized that WordPress is very easy to use with lots of beautiful templates, and that there were a lot of advantages to Disqus too, besides the robot thing.

Results from the email were mixed. Of the four, Tino of ELBLOGDETINÍSIMO, decided to switch to WordPress, and managed to import all of his old posts along with existing comments into a snazzy new template, which looks vastly more elegant than his old blog. Tino reports that the conversion was easy and he’s glad to have made the switch. By the way, if you haven’t read his blog, you should. He doesn’t post often, but as a native of Monterrey, and a fluent English speaker who mostly posts in English, his blog provides some nice insights into real life in Mexico. And aside from that, Tino is a great friend, and was my ambassador into Mexico on my road trip last year.

The rest of the results were less enthusiastic. One blogger friend said he’d look into it, but I’m still busy re-proving my human status whenever I comment on his blog. One other responded, but said it would be too difficult to make the change. And the fourth didn’t even reply. Oh well.

So I’m taking my case public!  Y’all know who you are. Please, please, please…switch to WordPress or give Disqus a whirl.  Or I’ll soon be forced to write fewer comments on your blog and more posts on my own blog.

And we can’t have that now, can we?

P.S. Some while back I wrote a post about commenting, which is very relevant to this post. You can find it here.

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