usable in any place a human can be used


password usability

A friend pointed me to an interesting article on A List Apart. If you don't want to read through the whole thing it basically says that a lot of password resets are caused by people remembering their passwords correctly but mistyping them. The concerns that once made masking passwords with asterisks are now being eclipsed by the usability problems this design has introduced. The post goes on to describe two potential alternatives, a toggle to show the password in plaintext (similar to the WiFi configuration screen in Windows) or to show the last character typed while masking the rest (similar to the iPhone or Android password inputs).

Both of these options are interesting and I personally would like to see either one gain greater acceptance, although with the rise of password managers built into Operating Systems and Web Browsers it seems less and less necessary. The problem with both of these techniques is discussed in the article, that changing the functionality of the password input undermines the user's confidence in your site's security. This is why I think that changing the nature of password inputs is dubious at best until it gains widespread adoption, maybe if Google were to implement them or some other web giant. Until that day I think a fine alternative would be Mattt Thompson's Chroma-Hash.

Chroma-Hash augments a password input with extra information. Something that is easy to remember and easy to notice when its wrong, a color swatch called the Chroma-Hash. Let's take a look at how it works.

[caption id="attachment_722" align="aligncenter" width="461" caption="The password (conveniently enough 'password') generates the colorful hash to the right."]chroma hash example[/caption]

The passwords match because the colors match, when entering your password you are informed of mistypings immediately by the hash being incorrect. Let's take a look at what happens if we carelessly fat-finger the confirmation typing "passworf" instead of "password" like it should be.

[caption id="attachment_723" align="aligncenter" width="465" caption="One little letter completely changes the Chroma-Hash, immediate feedback"]chroma hash with mismatch[/caption]

Small changes in the password generate big changes in the Chroma-Hash. The human brain is one of the best pattern matching engines in the world, Chroma-Hash leverages this fact. Very small changes in a sites design or color scheme are detectable, that's why people make a big deal when a site they commonly visit changes things, even slightly. This makes Chroma-Hash ideal for serving as a "password proxy." Others can see the Chroma-Hash and gain no information about your password and yet it instantly gives you a wealth of feedback about whether or not you have entered the correct password.

Take a look at Chroma-Hash, fork it on GitHub, implement it on your website. You get the advantage of recognizable feedback without needing to change the fundamental way in which the password input works.

1 comment:

  1. I keep thinking about various methods to compress information for easier mind consumption (social sharing/streams/blah blah).

    I had forgotten how good we are at recognizing color patterns. This and our ability to unjumble misspelled words as long as the first and last letter are correct (weird brain hashing) are two excellent features to improve information transfer.