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Cultural UX, Captcha’s.

Article Reading Time: 3 minutes

Captcha’s. Known to many across the world as “Completely Automated Public Turing Tests”. Represented as ‘funny picture based things’, or an absolute jumble of letters, often shown to the user (customer) in a grid. In this article i will be concentrating on one feature of a picture based Captcha, the pictures certain types of Captcha’s display.

Captcha’s can be used during logging in to a website, or after sending an important contact message to provide proof of human, versus automated access. Artificial intelligence however can break certain types of Captcha as proved recently by team Vicarious a Californian based startup using a recursive cortical network (RCN) that recognise’s text Captcha’s with a high degree of accuracy, demonstrated in 2017.

There are many types of Captcha available baffle text, pessimal point, question based Captchas, and picCaptchas, audio Captcha, and novel methods images but we will be looking at visual comparison Captchas, or the No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA, a google creation where the users prompted to identify maybe a human, or an avatar of some sort inside a grid.

Captcha’s protect from bots, spammers, and automated processes accessing many potential website features such as logins, or sending emails.

What I started to notice with Captcha was how often the pictures used in the Captcha for identification were not necessarily representative of a typical web users own cultural experience.

You must be saying how could that be? The pictures in the Captcha grid are representative of what a user is being asked to identify and validate the featured image is the correct answer. In the following examples the Captcha requests the User to identify a bus.

two seqences of Capchas of buses, fierst two pictues show a non standard bus and verification sequence in a grid. Second sequence shows a range of buses in grid during verification sequence asking to identify which pictures feature a bus!
Above a series of Captcha sequences featuring a bus images from different parts of the world.

Okay so the world has quite a few different buses. Designs of these buses can vary from country to country, colour changes abound, shape, size, different window shapes even. So how does the typical user fare when an unfamiliar style of bus is represented to them?

Many different styles of buses from around the world! Including an american style bus.
Above a series of buses from different parts of the world.

Immediately you can see the variations in the pictures of different styles of buses. Users must make a decision based on existing mental models of a bus.

This type of Captcha image should therefore stay firmly within the culture of the country perhaps?

So is it possible that a user can tell what a bus if they are shown a non standard bus image?

Bus not of UK origin, but US and similar to a camper van
The following image above did validate with the Captcha system as a bus!

Is this a bus, or isn’t it? Well the Captcha says it’s a bus, it’s the only large vehicle looking thing in the picture perhaps. If your from Europe, or the UK perhaps the following bus is what you expected?

Picture of a  bus inn london

So is this an issue with the design of the Captcha , or more of a cultural phenomenon in the design of software for many different applications not just websites?

Here at ixdlab_ we can help you to understand and formulate opinions through research of how solutions to problems such as this can be approached. It’s no good asking a user to verify a picture of a bus they’re unfamiliar with because it’s outside the Users own experience of what a bus should look like.

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