What’s CuteCapture?

I wrote briefly at http://www.toddzabel.com/2012/04/a-quick-note-about-cutecapture/ about CuteCapture, an anti-spam app for web forms. I wanted to provide some more details about it in response to some questions I’ve received. Essentially, CuteCapture puts a fun, configurable, creative spin on anti-spam technology. When a webmaster has a web form available on their site to allow anyone to submit a question, comment, registration form, etc… it is basically an invitation to spammers to target it with bots that fill up the form with links, obscene material, and other undesirable or un-useful content. Anyone who has enabled comments on a blog knows that it’s a pain to monitor the database and remove those entries. If you’re an individual with a blog, at best, you might have an anti-Spam app, such as Akismet, to handle this on the back-end, or some email filters, but still, you have your form being used (and bandwidth being taken up) by nonsense submissions (or outright attacks) from spammers.

The front-end filters, often referred to as CAPTCHAs, are a reasonable anti-spam tool as well, but they are hard to use and ugly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed to type in the correct sequence of characters on a Captcha. It’s pretty frustrating and it really impacts the user experience and reflects poorly on the brand. Since I’m very interested in (or obsessed with) user experience optimization, this bothered me for a long time. A few years ago, I made my own “captcha-esque” app that looked nicer, was more fun and was effective in blocking spam submissions. I used it on my own site and on sites I consulted for, and found it to be very effective. Of course, some spam operations actually employ human beings offshore to manually bypass Captchas in order to submit spam, so no front-end blocking mechanism relying on a human vs. bot distinction is foolproof for eliminating web form spam.

A few weeks ago, my friends Keith Kaminski and Sandy Jones-Kaminski suggested I turn it into a web service that can be easily installed by other people. I managed to create the web service portion of the app in two days, but the interface for the account management system was a more time intensive project. I’m really happy with the outcome, and I’ve even become more of a fan of it, myself, as I’ve continued building the service and installing it on sites. I didn’t realize at first how cool it could be to have brandable image-based anti-spam when a site has a very specific area of subject matter. For instance, I worked on a recycling company site a while back. I installed CuteCapture on their site with ‘recycling containers’ as the primary image.  I also installed one on a photography site and used cameras as one of the images. All in all, it’s a much more fun experience for the user and helps to drive home the site’s messaging in a subtle and playful way.

So, here’s how it works: One or two images are displayed to the user, for example, some pictures of ducks and some pictures of chickens. The user has to count the number of ducks they see and enter it into the form. If they’re right, whatever script is processing the form will do its work.  If they’re wrong, the site owner can configure the response to refresh the page (to reset the number of images to another random value) or simply make the form do nothing.  Pretty simple.

So, here are the details about the service from the account UI perspective:  Once you create an account (takes 1 minute), you tell CuteCapture your domain name, choose two images, and install the code. The installation should take less than 10 minutes. It requires that you have access to the html of your web form and that you can add a form validation event Javascript call to your form tag. That’s it. There are some other optional settings, such as styling the form, adding a custom form name, changing from multiple choice / dropdown authentication to type-in (this means that your site visitors would type “2” or “two” into the CuteCapture, rather than selecting “2” from a dropdown), and modifying the number of images which can be displayed at any one time on the form. The user can also upload their own images, or hotlink to images that are already on the web. So, as you can see, the styles, overall aesthetics and security settings are configurable to the site owner’s needs and it provides a great user experience.

Please contact me with any questions. I’d love to get your feedback. While the site is in Beta, it’s free :)

Posted in web entrepreneurship, web security