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An executive at Microsoft has an unusual idea

Saturday, 4 August 2007 kittenauth rant

I really wish that reporters would get their facts straight before they publish articles… Especially when the core idea behind the subject is my own little brainchild.

Context: Please note that this is not a rant at MS, rather reporters who fail to do their fact checking when writing a story.

I had a few emails and a MSN message about the same thing today: Yahoo News (via PCWorld) had a story about how kittens could solve spam. The article opens:

An executive at Microsoft Corp. has an unusual idea for beating spammers. Powerful software tools and supercomputers aren’t involved, but kittens are.

Or rather, photos of kittens. Kevin Larson, a researcher at Microsoft’s advanced reading technologies group, has found that asking a user to identify the subject of a photo, like a kitten, could help block spam programs.

The subject of all this is the Microsoft Research Asirra project — an alternative to jumbled-text CAPTCHAs where the user picks out cats from a batch of images.

So why am I narked with this Yahoo/PCWorld article? Well it happens that 16 months ago, I published an article and proof of concept model of a system where users pick out three cats from a grid of animals. Sound familiar? I called it KittenAuth.

I’m not bothered that they’re using my model. I welcome any change to making human-verification techniques more humane! I do take issue, though, when people report that somebody else came up with the idea.

There was another “version” of KittenAuth that came out shortly after it called HotCaptcha. This was based on the grid-pick idea but used a larger database. In it’s case it used the Hot-or-Not image library, asking people to pick out hotties from the mingers. God fun all around.

If reporters want to know where HIP really came from: look at KittenAuth and HotCaptcha. MS have just taken parts of each and combined them. Please get your facts straight.

To help you reporters out, here’s a list of their features (and their future ‘ideas’) and where they came from:

  1. Kittens: KittenAuth
  2. Grid-based selection: KittenAuth
  3. Public, automated database: HotCaptcha
  4. Kitten-Webcam: KittenAuth Comments
  5. Displaying more images: KittenAuth and Improving KittenAuth
  6. Choosing from more “types”: KittenAuth comments and subsequently Improving KittenAuth
  7. Video: KittenAuth comments

I’m certain I’ve got a few of those attributions a little muddled. Back in April 06 there really was a stampeed of comments all around the internet and it makes tracking each comment down a little tricky… But you get the idea… Nothing about Asirra and the spin-off HIP programme is original.

I said that MS weren’t to blame for the article but I wish the researcher, Kevin Larson had the balls to make them represent things properly.