Security is one of the most important factors that a webmaster or developer has to take into consideration when designing a website - especially one that handles sensitive user data and/or requires users to register before they can begin to interact with the site.
Among the many solutions that Web workers have devised to improve security measures, as well as the user experience on their sites, is the CAPTCHA (or Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart - I think it's a good idea they decided to use the acronym), a solution that presents a challenge response test to users that ensures the "person" trying to access the site is actually a human, and not just an annoying spam bot.
Unfortunately, while these solutions can be useful in theory, they are often more problematic when they're actually implemented. Not only can they be cumbersome, difficult to read and a generally unwanted hassle for users, but they're not even foolproof, as bots can use optical character recognition (OCR) software to crack the CAPTCHA code.
As a result, developers have had to get creative with their CAPTCHAs, resulting in an improved experience for many users. Here are six of the more interesting, innovative and just plain useful CAPTCHA solutions available today:
Although reCAPTCHA looks a lot like traditional CAPTCHA solutions (because it is), it's also a service that helps digitize books, newspapers and even old radio shows. Basically, as reCAPTCHA goes about the process of putting this old content into a sleep new digital format, it will go through and find those words that are pretty much impossible for OCR programs to read, and then uses those for it's CAPTCHAs, making it far more secure than other solutions.
This is a Microsoft Research project adds a dash of cute to a website by asking users to identify photos of dogs for cats (e.g. they'll be asked to identify all of the cat pictures in a set that mixes both cat and dog photos). It's powered by a unique partnership with Petfinder.com, and according to their user studies, not only can people accomplish this task quickly and accurately, but a lot of them also think it is fun.
Another similar CAPTCHA solution is available from Confident Technologies, which provides clickable picture CAPTCHAs that stop spam and bots by asking visitors to click on specific pictures. This tool comes in various international languages (including French, Spanish, German and more), is already mobile-optimized and allows websites to brand their CAPTCHA using their own unique logos and marketing messages.
Ironclad CAPTCHA is a solution from the Security Stronghold company that presents a set of 3D objects for users to count and identify. According to its website, the solution is "easy for even a kid, impossible for [a] robot." A box will appear with a variety of 3D objects and ask users to count how many individual objects they see. And the best part is, it's totally free!
If CAPTCHAs are driving away users, why not give them a game to play instead? At least, that's the idea the folks at Are You a Human had when they created PlayThru, a cloud-based service that provides little interactive minigames with simple tasks (e.g. drag the food items into the refrigerator) that users must complete before they can move to another part of a website.
NuCAPTCHA takes a new approach to CAPTCHA security by using videos that feature easy-to-read streaming letters, as opposed to a traditional static box. It's also much less of a hassle for developers to integrate into their sites and can be customized in a skinless form that lets designers match it to the them of their websites.
Advertising is everywhere these days, and now it's even in our CAPTCHAs thanks to Solve Media, which has created a CATPCHA and display ad hybrid that asks users to answer a simple question about an ad that it shows them from another company. Advertisers pay for these appearances, and publishers will share half of their ad revenue with Solve. In other words, this is a solution that allows you to monetize your CAPTCHAs and keep spam bots away at the same time.