RIA: Defender of Good; Enemy of Evil Robots

By Brian Huse

Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association


In a twist of irony, the Robotic Industries Association has had to defend its members against Internet robots that roam cyberspace and create a nuisance in the form of that evil material known as spam.


The first thing we did when we redesigned Robotics Online was to eliminate email addresses from landing pages. There is a practice of harvesting email addresses from websites and using them in spam campaigns. We don’t want to make it easy for spammers, so RIA’s staff prefers not to include email information in the pages it creates. Members can add their own content but are encouraged to avoid the use of email addresses and to rely on the forms we provide.


Contact on many sites is facilitated through online forms. When an RIA member gets an RFQ form, for instance, they see it came from Robotics Online. This is good reinforcement of the member/association relationship.


Spammers, however, care not about good relationships and have robots to fill out forms. Robotics Online has “invisible” code to defend against this nuisance. Essentially, the code tricks a cyber robot into filling out a field that causes the form to deactivate. A technical battle can proceed from here or a more aggressive defense can be employed.


captchaMany of us have seen the screen prompts that require a user to enter words that look curvy and distorted. These are called CAPTCHAs and create an additional burden on the user.


Another trick is to require a login. Same drawback: it interferes with the user experience.


Thanks to the never ending struggle with evil robots, we all must decide whether to provide hassle-free access to our sites or force visitors to jump through hoops. For many, the answer depends on what information is shared.


RIA members have to login to Robotics Online for special privileges such as the ability to post information. Members with passwords have a lot of power. They help keep the site fresh and useful, and they propagate their business story through case studies, technical papers and even video. Meanwhile, a visitor can run searches all day for free and easily find content that matches their needs. This leads to contacts which are delivered via forms.


And in the irony of ironies, we have to defend these forms against robots. But some robots are good and are not employed in the pursuit of evil. Google and other highly regarded search engines send spiders all over the World Wide Web to search and index sites. Robotics Online is optimized to attract these good spiders. Time and again, member content is served back through Google searches with pages straight from Robotics Online. Since the site is regularly updated, and since it has a “dot org” designation, and thanks to the synergy of so much related content, it is very popular with search engine spiders.


It is important to make websites that work well with search engines and that deliver a good (easy) user experience. Hindering either can be a detriment. This issue has many angles to consider, and we hope our special “invisible” code works on the forms, but we know spammers will never give up – some even use live people to do their dirty work.


How do you feel about CAPTCHAs? What tactics do you use to defend against spam? Share your thoughts here. Below is a link for comments.


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