john brannen

John Brannen, developer of Made You Laugh app, poses for a portrait. (Courtesy/John Brannen)

After sending what he thought was a funny message to a friend without receiving a reply, University of Georgia alum John Brannen started to wonder—could there be a way to know his friend laughed at his message without them having to send a message back?

Made You Laugh, a game app developed by Brannen which came out of beta on June 4, came to life. The app has a main feed as well as private messaging features. Users can post jokes, photos, videos and external links to the feed which open in the app.

Once a post is clicked on, the app will determine whether or not the user laughed. As more people laugh at the original poster’s content, their points increase, Brannen said. All of the video processing is done on the user’s device, and it even works with airplane mode on to ensure security. All user information is anonymized and none of the video usage is stored, Brannen said.

Another way to gain laugh points is through “Laugh-Offs” which take place through video chat in four 15-second rounds. After the rounds are completed, the app tells users who was the funniest and assigns points to participants based on who was funnier.

Brannen said the app studies the user’s mouth movement in order to detect if the user laughed or not. To make sure he programmed detection of the correct movements, Brannen spent hours watching himself laugh in the mirror, as well as watching videos and reading books about the function of laughing, he said.

To encourage users to laugh out loud while using the app, Brannen created “The Dude”: an animated character that laughs when you laugh.

“I found that he’s acting like a social proxy because the act of laughing is a social activity,” Brannen said. “Just as the laugh track when you watch a sitcom … is there to prompt you to laugh.”

Geno Ernest is an operations manager from Columbus, Ohio, and has one of the highest point counts on the app. Ernest said he likes to watch prank videos that catch people off guard on the app, especially since he misses Ashton Kutcher’s television show "Punk’d." He also likes how the app allows for variety in jokes because of the combination of different senses of humor through different demographics, Ernest said.

Ernest likes to use the app to relieve stress and see that he made other people laugh through his posts, he said.

“When I start looking for other posts I think would be unique and stand out and make other people laugh, I’m coming across material that makes me laugh too,” Ernest said. “Who wouldn't not like to laugh?”

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