Ranelagh that!

I was just posting on a forum which uses reCaptcha for reducing spam posts. The text it presented incorporates the name of the area of Dublin in which I lived for about three or four years.

Does it make me homesick? I’m sure my mother would love to hear me say yes, but no it didn’t. However, it was a nice reminder of the place! I wonder in what book or newspaper article it found that word. Apparently they’re currently digitising old editions of the New York Times.


If you haven’t heard of it, here’s a spiel from their website:

reCAPTCHA improves the process of digitizing books by sending words that cannot be read by computers to the Web in the form of CAPTCHAs for humans to decipher. More specifically, each word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is placed on an image and used as a CAPTCHA. This is possible because most OCR programs alert you when a word cannot be read correctly.

It’s quite an incredible approach to crowd-sourcing in order to solve problems.

About 200 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent. Individually, that’s not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day.

So if you’ve come across and correctly solved one of these reCaptcha’s before (which no doubt you have), just remember that you’re helping to digitise old books in the process.


  • I never knew that (the digitizing books bit). I think that'll make captchas a teeny bit less annoying for me.

    • It's good isn't it. I can't remember where I first read that, but definitely would make me more inclined to use reCaptcha instead of a random script that does the same thing. May as well get some use out of it. Also I tend to find that reCaptchas are a little easier to do as they generally have two English words that I know, instead of a random selection of letters.

      Some captchas are incredibly difficult to get right.

  • Caro

    That is totally cool! What a great thing to do. I'm not sure I've ever come across any real words on them though – although my name came up the other day!

  • A lot of the captchas you'll come across are very much a random string of stuff, however all the ones served up by ReCaptcha are real words – of all the ones I see I think I prefer the real words option as at least if you can't make out a character you might be able to guess what it is in context.