Solution Providers for Retail: Gaming Replacements for Captchas

You are probably just as annoyed as I am when you encounter those cryptic blocks of text called “Captchas” (the acronym stands more or less for Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart). There must be a better mousetrap, particularly for online retailers that are looking to distinguish themselves and cut down on their shoppers’ frustrations as they navigate their sites. A company called PlayThru has one: they embed a small Flash or HTML5-based game that a human plays with a mouse to prove you are really are a carbon-based life form.

Part of the problem is that the bad guys are escalating their own solutions to defeat the Captchas. They pay actual humans a very low wage to enter the text in massive boiler rooms, run optical character recognition software to figure out the codes, or some other machine-based algorithm. All of these approaches have made Captchas more painful and less usable. (Here is a great collection of the worst of them.)There is research that suggests it takes the average person several attempts to successfully complete a Captcha request, and close to 25% of Captchas are solved by bots today.

There must be a better mousetrap, particularly for online retailers that are looking to distinguish themselves and cut down on their shoppers’ frustrations as they navigate their sites. Scientific American covered some of these alternatives here last year.

One that is catching on and could be useful for VARs looking to expand their practice areas is from a company called PlayThru. They embed a small Flash or HTML5-based game that a human plays with a mouse to prove your really are a carbon-based life form. It is intriguing, and has captured (if you will excuse the pun) more than 4,500 supporters in the past nine months already.

The Play Thru concept is pretty clever: you have to interact and identify objects with your mouse and keyboard, or drag and drop particular objects such as pizza toppings or food from a fridge. As you do so, the algorithms monitor your actions and find the tell that you aren’t a bot.

The company serves up 20 million miniature games each month and “the algorithm hasn’t been defeated yet,” said co-founder Reid Tatoris when I spoke to him in late February. “We are constantly looking at how people are interacting with our games and we write our own bots to test them too,” he told me. What made Play Thru’s games work is that the developers tackled the issue as a usability problem first and foremost, and then made sure the security was ironclad. Most of the Captcha deployments were steeped in security and thus the miserable and virtually unusable result that we are saddled with today.

The proof is in the pancakes, so to speak. They have seen conversion rates improve by 40% over the traditional text-based Captchas, which means fewer abandoned shopping carts and more real shoppers who can conclude the shopping process.

PlayThru offers a free plan along with two paid plans, including a white label plan at $79 a month that includes phone support and would make the most sense for VARs looking to implement this technology. There are plug-ins available for WordPress, Jooma and Drupal and code libraries for Php, Perl, Ruby, Python and Java to make installation easier.

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