Emojot – a web-based application used for quick user feedback gathering – started as a project at Sri Lanka’s top technology university, where Co-Founder Shahani Markus had been challenging her students to build tech businesses. The technology is simple to use and is based on the notion that web users are no longer willing to comment on stuff they read. They want to participate in social media, but increasingly look for quick ways to do so – a trend that has been identified by Facebook’s “like” button. To cater to this impatient audience, content providers can embed Emojots – simply several emoji – on their websites, Facebook posts, tweets, emails, mobile apps or online articles, which users can respond to with a few clicks. The technology really shines when it’s deployed at events like sports games, conferences or television debates, where the shifting audience mood can be captured.
Web content providers can purchase Emojot subscriptions, which allows them to add a series of emoji that people can choose between to respond to content. The content provider decides on what question to ask, how many answer options to provide, what they are and even how many times a single user can respond. The answers are in text or simply emoji, so a user’s response time is minimal and his involvement is limited to a couple of clicks.
Users access these Emojots through their web links, which can be shared in the same way hashtags and Facebook pages are shared today. Responding via Emojot has two advantages. It’s far easier to react by selecting an emoji that corresponds to what the user likes, rather than by writing a comment. Secondly, an audience’s changing mood can be measured by allowing users to keep reacting to a live event. It could be deployed around a conference or a television debate.
“The big difference between tweets and Facebook posts – which is how people interact on their phones and tabs today – and Emojot is that this is non-obtrusive,” explains Markus. “When someone tweets or posts on Facebook, they have to take their mind off the event and construct a sentence. Also, real time aggregation is pretty much impossible because the program can show only one tweet at a time. There’s the language issue too. With Emojot, you use just emoji, so it’s completely language-agnostic.”
Emojot aggregates user responses as they happen. A map on the same page tallies the answers, so a user can see what kind of responses are coming from around the world. The technology also uses the responses to customize ads that run on the same page. Users who respond differently see different ads. So Emojot garners revenue not only from its subscription model, but also from the number of ads it can draw its users to.
Emojot’s power lies not only in its ability to capture feedback for content providers, but also to engage with users based on the emotions they express and harness these reactions to better satisfy consumer needs. An Emojot shared on a live cricket match giant screen, for instance, can gauge the audience’s overall mood at a given moment and customize its ad feed to either comfort consumer items like pizza and beer if the audience’s favoured team isn’t doing well or to team gear or memorabilia if it is.“It’s about capturing momentary sentiment,” says Markus. “People buy based on emotions. So Emojot provides real power in a retail environment.”
Emojot began to take shape two years ago while Markus was lecturing in the Computer Science department at the University of Moratuwa. She had mentored several batches of senior students on their final projects, throwing innovative ideas their way and hoping one would turn into a startup. But each year, she had seen her graduating seniors being swallowed up by 9-to-5 industry jobs. In 2013, she decided to start a company with that year’s best-performing team, offering to match the team members’ salary offers at the end of the year. Two members in the team she selected, Andun Liyanagunawardena and Sachintha Ponnamperuma, took up the challenge.
Markus also brought on board Manjula Dissanayake, an Australiabased Sri Lankan IT professional. She was familiar with his work on a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team that created emsense, a hardware device worn around the head that analyzes brain waves to understand the wearer’s perceptions, which was used in the 2008 Obama campaign and also in 2009 Superbowl Coke ad selection.
For the first nine months of Emojot’s operations, the team couldn’t work face to face, as Markus was based in the US by then, Liyanagunawardena and Ponnamperuma in Sri Lanka and Dissanayake in Australia. The four cofounders met for the first time only in December 2014, and by then the company had already gained traction. Even today, the company has no office; the founders work from home.Launched in July 2015, Emojot has been working with companies in Australia, Sri Lanka and the US and customizing according to client feedback. Several global conferences and institutions have used the technology. It is not yet officially launched in the US; the founders hope to launch it in Seattle in the latter part of 2015. “We’re seeing tremendous interest and are ready for that hockey stick kind of growth,” says Markus.
Emojot is not the only company that’s trying to harness users’ emotions through emoji. Two competitors are snapping at its heels, including a big name in the tech world, but Emojot is “streets ahead of them,” according to Markus. She looks at the competition positively. “It means we’re in the right space,” she says.
Markus has bootstrapped Emojot, loathe to seeking angel funding, as that tends to redirect startups. But the company may soon secure some funding in order to secure intellectual property rights. It is currently working with a provisional patent and expects to generate a few patents from that. The company has submitted the patents in the US and have also submitted for trademark of the term, “emotion sensor”.
Asked about how Markus came up with the Emojot concept, the answer turns out to be far less technological than one would expect. “I’m a very spiritual person so I meditate and, through this, I’ve realized the importance of emotional awareness,” she says. “But many people lack that capability, so I thought of building a tool that’d help them reach that emotional awareness and through it personal growth. I was interested in a platform that would help users figure out that moment by moment they have an emotion and that these emotions change constantly.”