CAPTCHA System from Are You A Human: Goodbye Distorted Text, Hello Games

January 6, 2012

11:30 am

Yesterday afternoon, I spent an obscene amount of time and money buying tickets to a Coldplay concert in July here in DC.  Being forced to use TicketMaster is bad enough, but they made it worst with their horrible CAPTCHA system that depends on text so distorted I wasn’t even sure if they were letters in the alphabet.

I was therefore very excited to hear about Detroit-based startup Are You a Human, whose 3 founders have developed a CAPTCHA alternative that uses short, simple games (instead of distorted text) to verify that yes, I am a human!

Co-founder and CMO Benjamin Blackmer explained the concept, which goes beyond just the game aspect:

We are building a system that allows anyone to use our product, which we call PlayThru, for free on their site.  We then allow advertisers to create their own branded games to run within this network.  We are also developing a system to allow anyone to create their own game.

Blackmer met his fellow co-founders in grad school at the University of Michigan. Tyler Paxton, CEO, and Reid Tatoris, COO, graduated last year, and Blackmer will graduate this April.  They received $750k in funding from Detroit Venture Partners.

Always curious where these cool ideas come from, I asked Blackmer who thought it up – and I loved his answer, as it proves that necessity is the mother of invention:

Tyler started thinking about our solution after a co-worker of his (so he says) attempted to buy Hannah Montana tickets, but was unable because they sold out in 6 minutes.  He was curious about why that happened, and then saw a WSJ article a few days later about how the security system for the ticket site was broken by automated programs specifically designed to get around the CAPTCHA.  He thought there could be a better way to stop bots and came up with our concept.

Because they wanted their solution to be simple and fun for users, they decided that games were an obvious choice to make that happen.  Plus, their technology relies on user interaction to prove their “human-ness”, and games naturally force users to interact.  “But really,” said Blackmer, “what’s more fun than a game?”

During development, the team kept potential advertisers in the loop to ensure PlayThru would, you know, actually have a market once it launched.  “We’ve received very positive feedback, in particular for the ability to offer guaranteed interaction for the advertiser,” said Blackmer.  “It is a rare commodity among digital advertising opportunities, and advertisers have told us that captured attention is valuable for brands.”

So, why Detroit?  And why DOWNTOWN Detroit?

The entire team is from Michigan, and we passionately believe in the future prospects of Detroit.  There is a growing sense of hope and momentum in Michigan that we want to be a part of.  To your question about why downtown Detroit, we think that downtown Detroit is at the very beginning of a renaissance that will have a strong tech component.  There is a lot of activity and entrepreneurial events happening downtown, and we want to be close to the action.  In addition, our lead investor, Detroit Venture Partners, is based in Detroit, and they are very supportive to their portfolio companies.

Are You a Human is planning on rapid growth in 2012 – “We want to be the CAPTCHA replacement that people love rather than tolerate,” Blackmer said.   They are now in public beta, so you can sign up here to try it out.

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Monika Jansen is a writer and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, newsletters, website content, and other materials. Follow her at: @monikacjansen

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