Whoever Created the “Please Click Each Image Containing a Boat” Captcha Is the Spawn of Satan

If you’ve ever had to solve one, you feel my pain

Image by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay

The Medium Enhanced Stats plugin for Chrome is one of the best things ever for Medium writers. However, sometimes it forces you to deal with one of the worst things ever.

The plugin is what the name suggests — it mines Medium’s data about your articles to enhance the stats on your page. In addition to the standard views, reads (people who read your article all the way through), read ratio (reads/views), and fans (people who clapped at least once) for each article, you also get

  • % of readers who left your article at least 1 clap (fans/reads)
  • Total number of claps
  • Claps per views ratio
  • Average number of claps left by each clapper for your article
  • Most importantly, it gives you the number of views, reads, fans, and claps today for each article. When you see a big surge in your stats, these numbers are helpful for figuring out which of your articles is popping right now.
enhanced stats for 4 of my recent articles
enhanced stats for 4 of my recent articles
Medium Enhanced Stats — screenshot by author

I love Medium Enhanced Stats, although I try not to check them more than 295 times a day since there are other useful tasks for a writer to work on. However, there is a downside to this extremely useful tool.

Are you a bot?

The Enhanced Stats plugin has to make one API call per article to retrieve the information it needs. As you scroll down and access your older articles, more and more API calls get made, all within a fraction of a second.

All that activity raises algorithmic concerns on Medium’s end. “This connection sure is hitting our API hard,” it thinks. “We better make sure there’s a human on the other side.” So it interrupts the process and throws an “I’m a human” checkbox on the screen. Okay, that’s not a problem.

It’s what you get next that is the problem.

extremely frustrating “select all images of a boat” captcha
extremely frustrating “select all images of a boat” captcha
Screen capture by author

They throw up a captcha, which is a puzzle that they hope is easy for humans to solve, and extremely hard for computers to solve. They show you 9 images, and you have to pick the ones that are photos of a boat (or sometimes a bicycle).

I don’t know how well computers do on these puzzles, but they completely fail on the “make it easy for humans” part.

You see, these captions don’t show a complete boat on the open water. Nor do they show a complete bicycle being ridden down the street.

They might show a tiny sliver of a boat’s bow or stern. They might show a photo of a harbor taken at such a great distance that you can’t even tell it’s a harbor, and that those are boats docked there.

For bicycles, you might barely be able to make out a part of a handlebar in the bottom right corner of the photo. Another image might contain a tiny sliver of a bicycle wheel.

I routinely fail these stupid catpchas once or even twice before I solve two in a row and convince Medium’s servers that I really am a human. I worry what will happen if I fail 3 captchas in a row. Will I be locked out of my own account? Will my IP address be logged? It hasn’t happened yet, but will it?

It’s frustrating and there’s got to be a better way.

Takeaways

Get the Medium Enhanced Stats plugin. It’s super cool and will help you figure out what’s clicking with your viewers and readers. If you get a spike in traffic, it will help you figure out what’s going viral.

After you get the plugin installed, go to a harbor or marina and study boats from every possible angle. Then go to a bike shop and study bicycles from every possible angle. You’re going to need this visual knowledge, trust me.

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I write about writing, ideas, creativity, intuition, spirituality, life lessons. Ex-college teacher https://www.buymeacoffee.com/paulryburn Twitter: @paulryburn

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