On Sunday I was driving and listening to NPR, and I heard the most amazing story about, of all things, captchas.
You know captchas, right? They are the bane of every internet user, popping up after you’ve posted a long comment or tried to make a purchase (or, as they say on the show, buy concert tickets) and if you type it in wrong you have to start all over. In fact, when I speak to other bloggers, I often tell them that if they want engagement on their posts they need to stop using Captchas because it’s a sort of barrier to use. You know, like a giant red stop sign that pops up when someone tries to engage with you.
But it turns out that some of those captchas particularly those run by reCAPTCHA are actually serving a purpose. Each time you enter a captcha, you are helping translate scanned books from nonsense into readable text.
How cool is THAT?
The person behind this genius is a young man name Luis von Ahn. You can read all about him at that link, but I think you’re better off watching his amazing Ted talk. What a fascinating idea! And I’m totally going to check out his new project, Duolingo, where he applies some of the same ideas to helping translate web sites while you also learn a new language. So cool!