Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Goodbye (Crummy) CAPTCHAs. Hello Ad Dollars?

Hate dealing with captchas–the squiggly, indecipherable text strings Web sites often force you to read and regurgitate for security reasons? Join the club. And pay attention to what Solve Media is trying to do.

The New York start-up isn’t getting rid of captchas, but it does promise to make them more tolerable: It says it can swap out the random, hard-to-read text with clear, concise English. And while it’s at it, it says it can turn captchas into revenue generators for publishers, by transforming them into ad units.

It’s a super-simple pitch, and if you see the ad units Solve Media is selling, it gets even easier to understand. So click the image to enlarge:

How can Solve’s easy-to-read English text defeat the bots and other evildoers that captchas are supposed to foil with their jabberwocky? Got me. I’ve got no way of verifying its claims, either.

But assuming it does work, CEO Ari Jacoby has an interesting product on his hands. He’s pitching it specifically to display advertisers and big brands that put a lot of money into TV spots but have a hard time doing much with click-per-action schemes offered by Google’s (GOOG) AdWords and others.

The idea is that Jacoby’s ads require users to engage with them, by typing in the names of brands and products. But they don’t do anything beyond that–they don’t trigger a video, or take you to another Web site or anything else. It’s sort of like sitting on your couch and uttering “Outback” every time a Subaru spot comes on.

Jacoby claims his “type-in” ads will increase Web surfers’ recall of the ads, for the same reason that writing anything down makes it easier to remember.

That’s much more valuable than taking users to a branded minisite, he argues. “If we can deliver the cognitive payload up front, then we don’t need to deliver the users to a site that they don’t really want to go to anyway.”

And Jacoby thinks advertisers will pay up for the privilege, in the range of 25 cents to 50 cents each time a surfer types in a brand or product. He’ll split revenue 50/50 with publishers.

Playing along so far: Advertisers including Microsoft (MSFT), GE’s (GE) Universal Pictures and Toyota (TM), and publishers including Meredith (MDP), Tribune and AOL (AOL).

AOL is also an investor in the company (previously named AdCopy), via its AOL Ventures arm. Other investors, who have collectively put something like $6 million into the company, include First Round Capital, New Atlantic Ventures and angels like Chris Dixon, Roger Ehrenberg, Aydin Senkut and Shervin Pishevar.

Solve Media from Solve Media on Vimeo.

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google