Industry Analyst & Strategist

Bill West:

Continuing the SaaS interviews, it’s my pleasure to share an interview with Bill West, Chairman and CEO at Ellipsis Technologies, the company behind Human Presence. Human Presence describes itself as “a revolutionary approach to bot detection and website security that utilizes “human-centered” learning algorithms to protect against suspicious activity.”

Robert: Bill, it’s a pleasure to have a chance to talk with you and learn about Human Presence. Can you let us know a bit about you? And how you got into technology and WordPress?

Bill West

Bill: I had spent quite a few years in telecom but when we started Ellipsis we had a total focus on bot detection and mitigation. We looked at a number of platforms to launch our technology and obviously WordPress is enormous, so it was high on our list. When we interviewed WordPress users we were able to identify that there was a strong need among both the WordPress site owners and developers for an invisible bot detection solution.

Robert: Before we get into what Human Presence actually does, can you tell us about the history and usage of Captcha?

Bill: Quite a bit of our initial market research involved site owners and developers in the eCommerce world. We specifically zeroed in on experiences with CAPTCHA and found that as many as 3% of site visitors were departing a site as soon as the CAPTCHA was presented and up to 40% were failing on the first attempt, with departures at each failure. So we saw an opportunity as it seemed that CAPTCHA was losing or at least annoying site visitors. Additionally, the site owners consistently told us that they had spent quite a bit of money driving visitor traffic to the site in the first place and it was a shame to be losing these opportunities because of a Turing Test.

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Robert: So what are the issues with Captcha that you are looking to solve?

Bill: It seemed like most if not all CAPTCHA alternatives still fell into the category of Turing Tests which require a user response (solve the CAPTCHA, identify a specific item in a photo, complete the advertising phrase, etc.) so we wanted to offer a completely invisible and non-interactive methodology for identifying and mitigating bot traffic. As I mentioned earlier, both our research and interviews with site owners showed us that there is quite a bit of friction with CAPTCHA

Robert: What’s the secret sauce?

Bill: Our methodology involves invisibly collecting timing and movement behavioral events such as keystroke timing, time between keystrokes, mouse movements, touches and swipes, etc. during the normal course of a browser session. We then have proprietary algorithms and compare the timing for the events in this specific browser session to our historical database of known human site browsers and if this user falls into the range of human behavior. Known humans then can pass onto the site, all others are labeled suspicious and we route them off the site or in some cases present a CAPTCHA to only this suspicious traffic.

Robert: How is Human Presence important for a better internet?

Bill: Studies that we have read show that 20 – 40% of all web traffic is actually bots which not only require Turing Tests for humans to prove that they are in fact human but actually cause damage when they do penetrate a site. Form spam is one issue that users told us about early on. With comment forms, product reviews and other forms on most sites, bots attack these relentlessly which really damages the user experience for human site visitors where they have to sort through a number of bot-posted comments or reviews to get to read a real post. These bot postings also require the site owner to deploy their staff daily to delete them, this creates an unplanned staff expense. We developed methodology to specifically protect from form spam and, based on feedback from our thousands of users, this seems to be the solution within our technology that creates the highest level of satisfaction from both the site owner and their site visitors.

Robert: What are real world metrics that show the value of Human Presence?

Bill: As I mentioned before, most sites have a median risk of roughly 30% bot traffic. We’ve seen the power of removing reCaptcha from ecommerce sites with increases in conversions in excess of 3.5x. We especially see the damage of bot attacks in the eCommerce world where limited release products are purchased by bots before humans even get a chance. Subsequently, humans miss out completely and wind up paying 2 – 3x more for the same thing in resale markets.

Robert: Is this just a plugin or provided as part of bigger solutions (feel free to mention Convesio partnership here)?

Bill: We currently offer Human Presence as a plugin available in the WordPress store as well as an integration within the Convesio WordPress hosting platform. We also have integrations with select WordPress form builders.

Robert: Is Human Presence a one trick pony or are there future plans for integrating more AI?

Bill: Well that is certainly a straightforward question, but I hope not. There are other bot issues that we have developed solutions for including specific eCommerce solutions for stopping bots from creating fake accounts and protecting an eCommerce checkout from bot-based purchase attempts which as I mentioned earlier are most prevalent during flash sales and limited inventory offerings. Also, we have launched on other app platforms and have on our horizon plans to launch on a number of other app platforms. We are also in the process of modifying our technology for some very specific large enterprise bot issues.

Robert: What’s a best use-case for Human Presence?

Bill: Right now, form spam protection is the easiest to understand and delivers immediate results.

Robert: Are there any performance or security plus and minuses with using Human Presence?

Bill: None that we have seen thus far, really no lag time, our algorithms are incredibly accurate and customer feedback has been tremendous as well as helpful.

Robert: Any predictions for the next year in WordPress and WooCommerce?

Bill: It seems that the WordPress developer community is very knowledgeable and we welcome their feedback and suggestions. Based on our initial conversations I would predict that most enhancements to our plug-in in the next year will be driven by the WordPress developer community.

Robert: Last but not least, what’s the one personal thing that you didn’t get to do this year that is a must for next year?

Bill: After this extremely unusual year, just having a coffee with friends and associates would be nice, but next year I’d also like to get to something that involves the beach.

Robert: Thanks Bill, I think most people would enjoy either option.

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