The New Laugh Track? ABC News’ Social Soundtracker App Translates User Sentiment Into Sound

There have been many attempts to integrate social media conversations with live TV, often through a “second screen” experience (basically, a smartphone app). But ABC News just announced something that I haven’t seen before — a mobile and web-based app called the Social Soundtracker.

Maya Baratz, ABC News’ head of new products, compared the app to the laugh tracks that accompany TV sitcoms, especially older ones. Most of us probably think that laugh tracks are fake and uncool, but Baratz said they addressed a real need — people like to feel like they’re watching TV with other people. That’s also why there’s so much conversation around TV shows on Facebook and Twitter, and that’s what all these second screen/social TV startups have been trying to capture.

What no one else has been able to do, and what Baratz said she hopes to achieve with Social Soundtracker, is to create “a real, immediate, sensory experience” (or at least the illusion of the same). So when you’re watching a TV show with the app open, you don’t have to think of witty comments, or distract yourself with witty comments from your friends. Instead, you just hit a button that represents how you’re feeling — you can clap, laugh, boo, and more. If there’s a critical mass behind a certain type of emotion, then the Social Soundtracker will translate that emotion into sounds like applause or laughter. Baratz said it can also mix sounds, so if most people are applauding but a few are booing, the app can represent that. And you can update your responses as the show progresses.

The Social Soundtracker also integrates with Facebook, so that you can see the responses of your Facebook friends and share your reactions on social networks. (Baratz emphasized that even though the app asks you to sign in through Facebook, it won’t share anything on other sites unless you explicitly tell it to.)

To try to make sure there’s a group of people to interact with when you try out Social Soundtracker, ABC is focusing for now on driving usage around a few live events. The web-based product is launching first — ABC plans to offer it with its live stream of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday. According to a post by Baratz, an iPhone version will be coming in early May.

It sounds like it’s going to be a weird experience for the initial users as they get used to the concept, but also potentially a novel and interesting one. Baratz added that it’s a “very beta” product, one that could look “very different a year from now.” Those changes could include using the technology in other contexts, or adding features like facial detection.

You can watch a demo video here.