Prove you’re a human! With games!

One of my jobs is to track down interesting, pertinent articles and reduce them – and their URLs – to Twitter-friendly lengths. To get those links short, I use Ow.ly.

Full disclosure: I chose it because it was easy to remember and, at the time, had the fewest number of steps and sign-ins to go through. Lazy? Yes. I’m human.Screenshot of test

But I recently went through my URL-shortening routine and discovered that the normal CAPTCHA – those little boxes of text that look like someone scanned a photocopy of a water-damaged book printed in the 1630s – wasn’t there!  Instead, you just have to click “Shrink it!”

What pops up then is an interesting intersection of gamification, tech security, and a possible accessibility nightmare. A randomized, simple game shows up in which you drag the appropriate animated image to a predetermined spot. “Make lemonade”, the game requests, and if you drag the lemon and the ice – but not the basketball – to the pitcher, you have proven you’re a human. Your reward is the shortened URL.

Now, I’m not a big CAPTCHA hater. I’m quite good at deciphering the blurry letters and the s that looks like an f – again, text from the 1600s – and it never is unduly time-consuming for me to use the traditional CAPTCHA. However, if I remember correctly, computers are getting better at making the same distinctions I find so simple, and security folks have been scrambling for a good way for humans to prove their humanity without enraging every one of them. So I see why they upgraded their methods and made sure those upgrades were in a game form.

Matrix staffers tried it out, and most were conservatively positive about it. Oh, one person didn’t mind, and another loathed it, but most saw that this new method could be effective with a few tweaks. I’m mainly concerned about accessibility; there is an accessibility icon a user may click to get a different task, but since I’m able-bodied, I don’t think I’m in a position to judge.

You should go try it out.

Tell us what you think about Ow.ly’s replacing CAPTCHA with its new game.