As I read the article below, all I can think is Dan Gilbert and Josh Linkner’s dream of WebWard is coming true. DVP (Detroit Venture Partners, the Venture Capital firm spearheaded by the two of them) has once again invested in a group of Michiganders who are on track to change the way the internet is used. I’m looking forward to seeing this grow!
Enjoy the Freep article below.
3 MBAs answer computer spam with game-based sign-ons
Detroit Free Press Business Writer
On the third floor of the M@dison in downtown Detroit, three University of Michigan MBA graduates are trying to prove there’s a better way to block computer spam than forcing people to type in the letters they see in distorted text images.
Cara Jo Miller works on a PlayThru game. The firm, which is introducing a game each week, has developed games that only humans can play as a substitute for the blurry text sign-ons known as CAPTCHAs. The technology lets websites cut spam by verifying that visitors are humans.
Their company is called Are You a Human and in January it launched PlayThru, simple games to replace those blurry text images known as CAPTCHAs.
The games are now available on more than 1,500 websites, and the company is introducing a new one every week. Designed to block automated computer programs from buying tickets, signing up for accounts, posting comments, etc., the games can be successfully played only by humans.
CAPTCHAs have become increasingly difficult to read, so people often leave a website rather than try to type in the letters. Are You a Human hopes its games avoid this pitfall, helping websites attract more users.
Are You a Human co-founders Reid Tatoris, above, and Tyler Paxton demonstrate a game on an iPad. The company developed simple games that websites can use to verify that their visitors are real people. / Aug. 1 photos by William Archie/Detroit Free Press
“CAPTCHA is a tool that is universally used but everyone hates,” said Tyler Paxton, who came up with the idea for the games and started the company with his classmates Reid Tatoris and Benjamin Blackmer.
The 10-second, free games involve easy tasks, such as putting food in a refrigerator, placing toppings on a pizza and getting syrup and butter on top of a stack of pancakes. The games are designed so that people can easily figure out what to do.
The trio behind Are You a Human grew up in Michigan and wanted to keep the start-up firm in the state instead of moving to California. After the team won several prestigious business plan competitions, they quickly gained the backing of Detroit Venture Partners, the Detroit-based venture capital firm whose general partners include Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert.
DVP, the Detroit-based First Step Fund and the Frankel Commercialization Fund at U-M agreed to invest $750,000 in Are You a Human. Last November, the company moved from the TechArb business incubator at U-M to the M@dison building, which was bought and renovated by Gilbert’s real estate investment firm.
“It’s such a fun time to be in Detroit,” said Tatoris, who lives near the M@dison. “We definitely feel we are part of something bigger.”
To make money, the company plans to incorporate brands into its games. For example, pizza would be identified as Domino’s or Little Caesars. Paxton and his team are now in talks with potential advertisers after hitting a key milestone in June: a million of its games loaded on websites during that month alone.
Tatoris acknowledges that it’s just a matter of time before the PlayThru games will be hacked. But he said the company has put in place systems that will be able to quickly respond to these attacks and improve security without making the games harder. In contrast, CAPTCHAs get more difficult to decipher after they are hacked.
CAPTCHAs are also vulnerable to a security flaw that can’t be found on the PlayThru games. Computer spammers can easily take photos of the distorted text images and instantly send them to low-wage workers in developing countries, who are paid to quickly type in the letters. But Tatoris said this tactic won’t work with his company’s games because they have elements that are always moving. That makes taking a static photo impossible.
Contact Katherine Yung: 313-222-8763 or firstname.lastname@example.org
More Details: Are You a Human
What: Provider of online human verification games for Internet security
Headquarters: M@dison building in Detroit
Number of employees: Eight
Co-founders: Tyler Paxton, Reid Tatoris, Benjamin Blackmer
Revenue: None yet
Web: http://www.areyouahuman .com
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