Are You a Human?

. May 22, 2012.

It can be universally frustrating trying to match a distorted image of text to gain access to a website. The process, called human verification, is meant to weed out spamming programs and confirm that we are, in fact, real people.

But a group of University of Michigan business school graduates think they have a better way. Instead of deciphering distorted letters, they have designed a simple game that asks you to perform a task like dragging a shaped object into a bin. 

A year ago they formed the startup company, Are
You a Human, and have since attracted an investor with deep pockets.

The company has four full-time employees, all from the Ann Arbor-Detroit area. Two are graduates of the U-M Ross School of Business, one is still working on his MBA and the other is a U-M undergraduate in computer engineering.

Are You a Human just closed on an early-seed venture capital round from the bullish Detroit Venture Partners, backed by Cleveland Cavaliers owner and Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert.

The dollar amount is confidential, but AYH co-founder Tyler Paxton said they were hoping to attract $1 million and are pleased with the overall deal.

As part of the deal, they will move from the University of Michigan’s TechArb business incubator at Liberty Square into the historic Madison Theater Building in downtown Detroit when it opens Oct. 1.

Gilbert purchased and renovated the Madison building with the intent of turning it into a high-tech business hub downtown. Detroit Venture Partners plans to install a dozen startups there. As they grow to 15-20 employees, DVP will graduate them into their own office space, likely in one of Gilbert’s other high profile real estate purchases downtown.

“We’re not messing around,” said Josh Linker, CEO and DVP managing partner. “We’re committed to entrepreneurism in Detroit.”

The company won $115,000 in the spring for placing second at a Rice University Business Plan Competition.

Distorted text identification verification technology, called Captcha, has been around for about a decade. As many as 300 million Captchas are filled out a day and many are abandoned by frustrated users. They are also becoming hackable by spamming programs.

Game verification is harder for a spam program to imitate and makes for a more pleasant experience, Paxton says.

And it can be easily tailored to advertisers, for instance by turning the shaped object and bin into a Domino’s Hawaiian pizza, where you drag ingredients onto it.

“It’s an exciting value proposition for advertisers and (website) publishers,” Linkner said. “For publishers, it means a more positive experience for users and less drop off, and for advertisers, a fully-engaged customer experience.”

They’ve so far signed up a handful of websites through an early beta invitation to test a spam blocking game, PlayThru, and are accepting requests on their website, www.areyouahuman.com.

“We think there’s a real need in the marketplace,” said Linkner.