May 30, 2017

We wanted the form on our new website to have a bit of personality, and be a fun process to complete. We also wanted to weed out the spammers. Having a CAPTCHA on forms blocks the millions of spambots from posting bogus entries on your forms, flooding your inbox with useless mail that drowns out the important conversations. But CAPTCHA typically creates a not-so-fun user experience. We came up with an ingenious solution.

A CAPTCHA (the acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) is  usually really ugly and obtrusive. No one wants to go through your form and then be faced with an unsightly and generally frustrating prompt to enter the wonky characters on the screen. As ugly as these things are, using CAPTCHA is still an effective way to reduce spam. So, we got creative!

We felt it would be helpful to know how users felt as they interacted with us, so we wanted to give them a few different emotions to attach to their form submissions. Each emotion would result in a different confirmation that the user receives on send. For example, someone sending an angry emotion would receive language that is apologetic along with links for emergency contacts. Someone who sends a happy emotion would receive an equally gleeful reply. This would instantly create more of a connection with the user, demonstrating that our website actually reacts to the user’s needs. These emotions would also give us insight as to how to lead a follow-up conversation with the user so that expectations can be set even before the dialogue starts.

No one wants to be faced with an unsightly, frustrating CAPTCHA. Be creative!

So we had two seemingly conflicting needs for our form: something to stop spambots and something that would gauge and react to user emotion. We used our ingenuity to combine the two. We created an extra emotion with a robot as an icon. When this robot icon is the selected emotion, the form refuses to send to us. The robot icon is pre-selected when the form is loaded, so users are forced to click on another emotion before submitting. Bots that won’t click on another icon are refused.

We know that there are some smarter bots that could probably get through our custom CAPTCHA. It’s not the most secure. As a fallback, we’ve backed up our emote-CAPTCHA with Simple Comments, one of our favorite spam blockers because it’s invisible to user and highly effective.

We like to think about problems differently. When we come up with solutions, our ideas do more than solve the problem at hand. They also solve other problems and even add value. We knew that we needed a CAPTCHA to block spam, so we created something that not only stops spam but it also helps us immediately engage with our users so that we are better able to serve them.