Rethinking human verification: transforming the mundane and frustrating into playful and fun

Saturday, April 20th, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Sometimes it seems like the more technology we use to make our lives easier the more frustrations we are subjected to. Take for instance my own personal pet hate online: the awful CAPTCHA.


Reviled by all, CAPTCHA’s have become an accepted burden online. It feels like these unpleasant snippets of mangled text have become the first line defence in a war against machines and bots — based on the theory that humans are able to decipher these riddles better than machines. For now, at least.

CAPTCHA: Rise of the machines

Many alternatives to CAPTCHA have been proposed. Some of the best defence systems against bots are actually invisible to users — for instance the honeypot technique. The less human users are bothered the better, but there is another alternative approach that works remarkably well: so well, in fact, that it’s actually quite fun doing it.

When Facebook registers unusual activity on an account — for instance logging in from a new computer or overseas — it will often prompt the user to verify their identity.

One option it gives is identifying friends in photos.


This approach well and truly turns user verification into a simple game: you get three photos of five friends you must identify (and two skips — which is useful in case it shows you the photos of some friend’s baby or dog or other randomly tagged photo).

The photos chosen are totally random and the process is quite fun. Not only does it make a serious issue like security verification a positive experience, the entire process is so great because the alternatives — such as CAPTCHAS — are so absolutely awful.

Facebook is different from say a ticket booking website in that is does have the luxury of having a huge amount of personal data to draw on. But surely with some creativity many websites could find a more creative way to filter out bots?

Let’s say, for instance, I’m trying to order some Black Sabbath tickets. Why not ask me to identify Black Sabbath from a group of images (or some music as an accessible alternative)?

Black Sabbath

Beats the hell out of a CAPTCHA — even though it might involve a bit of Justin Bieber.

One Response to “Rethinking human verification: transforming the mundane and frustrating into playful and fun”

  1. Angela says:

    What a brilliant idea! Like all humans, I absolutely hate CAPTCHA and your suggestion is definitely an interesting and fun alternative. Nice to see you considering accessible alternatives too — accessibility is so often neglected when considering security needs, so it’s very refreshing to see ideas that also consider the different needs of users.

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