Getting surfers to smile: online emotion detection


Things go fast on the Internet. A surfer might ‘Like’ something but then all of a sudden, at the least bother or confusion, he or she will click that little ‘x’ that closes your site and move on to another. So an online platform has to please its users—it has to make them smile. That’s what determines whether the user stays on the site, dives into its pages, or surfs away. Detecting and analysing emotions to better understand website-user behaviour and receive direct feedback—this is what GetSmily can do. The technology goes by the same name as its creator, a UCL spin-off that started up in 2014.

Working in Prof. Benoit Macq’s computer vision laboratory, former UCL researcher and current GetSmily’s Chief Technology Officer David Frenay created the cutting-edge emotion detection technology in 2009. It offers unprecedented web-marketing possibilities. ‘With more than a billion websites on the Internet,’ Mr Frenay explains, ‘the need for businesses to develop strong links with their audiences is becoming essential. Building such links begins with understanding their behaviour and emotions. Emotions drive us every day and guide our actions more often than we think.’


Two tools to achieve greater efficiency

Tapping UCL’s data collection, management and analysis expertise, the GetSmily team created software that analyses the website-user’s experience. Specifically, two performance indicator tools process data concerning, respectively, the user (emotions, sex, age group) and the user’s site visit (mouse movements, heat maps, technical performance, etc.). The two tools:

  • The EmoScore is an innovative performance indicator expressed as a percentage which represents the website’s emotional impact on the user. The indicator is generated by software called Emolytics (a combination of ‘emotions’ and ‘analytics’), which uses a unique, high-performance algorithm.
  • The Net Positivity Index indicates the level of ‘positivity’ of the audience, that is, the degree to which the audience is satisfied by the experience. It achieves this through the use of emojis, which the user selects to best communicate his or her feeling, whether contented, sceptical, annoyed, etc.

Once these two indicators are established, they’re presented via a unique method of reporting that enables marketing and web professionals to improve the performance of their digital tools. Thus GetSmily makes the data easily accessible and helps them develop their platform for maximum user satisfaction.

marketing colors

A healthy web portal

GetSmily reduces market study costs not only because it’s affordable but because it enables better return on investment: it collects short- and long-term data from which a business can learn more about its target audience and understand how to satisfy it. In addition:

  • Results are obtained rapidly. A technical manager can install the software in less than two minutes, and data reception takes only a few hours.  
  • The clarity of GetSmily’s Emolytics interface enables rapid understanding of website or application problems and the strategic decision-making that can lead to higher performance and a more user-friendly platform. Moreover, collected data are qualitative: they indicate exactly what pleases users, and exactly what doesn’t.
  • For new websites, the software can identify what puts off or annoys users. For older websites, GetSmily can help businesses rethink site architecture.
  • GetSmily can adapt to its clients’ needs in order to obtain even more precise data.

This cutting-edge technology attracted private investors, while the ‘VIVES II’ Louvain Technology Fund invested €500,000. ‘Investing in a web start-up demonstrates our fund’s desire to be an actor in this evolving sector while supporting the development of a UCL spin-off, explains VIVES II CEO Philippe Durieux. Investors in GetSmily will help accelerate its international growth and meet technical challenges. GetSmily’s technology has already won over many companies, such as Europ’ Assistance,, Sherpa, Rossel Advertising, Voo and Lampiris.

Pauline Volvert


Why start up a spin-off? And how? 

What is technology transfer? In the UCL context, it means turning university research findings into services or products accessible to civil society and companies. UCL researchers who want to create a company in order to develop and commercialise cutting-edge technology in university laboratories can depend on the Louvain Transfer of Technology Office. This UCL entity, composed of teams from the UCL Research Department and UCL’s technology transfer and investment company, Sopartec SA, supports future UCL spin-offs at every stage of their development, from research funding to commercial launch. Creating spin-offs is part of the university’s community service mission and is a means to develop research findings for commercial or public use.

A Glance at David Frenay's bio

David Frenay, a biomedical civil engineer, earned UCL master’s degrees in physics and management after having completed a UCL bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He pioneered GetSmily’s emotion detection technology, was a manager during the ‘first spin-off’ phase, and is today GetSmily’s CTO.

Published on May 06, 2016