Turn Waste of Time into Online Books through reCAPTCHA

Google has launched reCAPTCHA in order to help digitize books. Oh, yeah, this came as a surprise to you as well? It did to me at least. Actually, this is one of the reasons I love Google. They calculated that we write about 200 million CAPTCHAs on the web every day. Each CAPTCHA takes about 10 seconds to write and thus we waste about 500.000 hours every day writing CAPTCHAs.

To make a long story short. Google decided that they wanted to do something with this otherwise wasteful use of time. As they are working on digitizing all the books in the world, they decided that they should put the two problems together and make them work for each other.

What they do is that they take one word their computer doesn’t understand and they put it in their reCAPTCHA next to a word they know what it reads. They trust that if you know one of the words, then you are a human. They also trust that if enough people guess the other word right, the aggregate should highly likely turn out to be the actual word their computer cannot understand yet. The aggregate helps them translate the second word.

Thus, Google is turning a waste of time into Online Books through a process meant to counter spam. I think it is quite ingenious and way of working that I believe other companies should copy. If you have a problem, try to bundle it with other problems and see if you can make one of them worth the solution of the other.

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8 thoughts on “Turn Waste of Time into Online Books through reCAPTCHA”

  1. Damn, thats clever! Would be funny to see more approaches like this. Throw out all the crap games from Facebook and use convert the power of the users to some more creative problem solving.

  2. Indeed!! Can’t agree with you more. I mean… thinking like that I could come up with a million ways to utilize farmville for actual utility. But the Facebook bastards don’t want to share their data. Bastards!!

  3. This is indeed very clever by Google. However, if you watch the video, they add another (known) word to the reCapcha (since they don’t know the first one). The means you have to type TWO words instead of ONE. Google doubles the burdon for the users, they take all the profit.

  4. @Flite – well that’s not entirely true. Actually it is not true at all. As they are making millions of books available for us, the users, I feel like it is the kind of give and take relationship which has come to classify Google’s activities the past few years.

    If you have a great idea that helps me but you earn the dough, then I am more then willing to help out creating it. Even when it would cost me money doing so. It is all about how much I evaluate the effort vs. the gain.

    With regards to captcha I now have two values. 1. I provide help in digitizing books and 2. I get to post my comment. If I value that greater than the 10 seconds it takes.. then I do it.

  5. @Jesper – My point is that the Google guy in the video does not mention that with this system, the amount of time we spend on captchas is doubled to 1.000.000 hours a day.

  6. Yes. Absolutely! I think they’ve taken it into consideration, but I guess we just disagree on how valuable this time is and what we get for it.

  7. I just want to highligth that it’s not the waste of time you turn into something useful, it’s an additional time, and that’s a big difference.

    By the way, I like Google (although they’re getting dominant in several areas) – everything they do is awesome, and I’m using Gmail and Android. I also contribute to projects like OpenStreetMap, so we don’t disagree that much =)


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