Some apps help you navigate. Some apps help you with your banking. Some apps help you shop. But some apps have absolutely zero practical application, and yet they’re still insanely popular. Why?

You’ll pay $.99 to download Yo just to have it text “Yo” to the contact you specify.

You’ll pay $.99 to download Hodor Keyboard on Android. It replaces your traditional keyboard with a single-word keyboard that allows you to type “Hodor” over and over and over again.

Yo, Hodor is the iOS answer to the Hodor Keyboard. It’s the same exact thing, but it’s free.

Emoj.li is a new social network that only allows you to communicate with others in tiny cartoon pictures – no words.

Snapchat is an app that sends messages, photos, and videos to friends who also have the app, then deletes them.

Kik is an app that sends messages, drawings, and photos to friends who have the app, but it’s not a text messaging service.

Creating a Useless App

All of these apps are wildly popular, but in light of accomplishing a task or improving someone’s life or offering convenience, they’re useless. These aren’t even games. These are “communication” apps. Why do we get so excited over something that does nothing? Why are apps like this popular to the point of virality?

In an interview with IGN, Yo, Hodor creator Tyler Hedrick said he created the parody app as “a funny project to share with his friends.” He intended it for “small groups of friends who just want to goof off.”

Kik was started by a group of students who wanted to “shift the center of computing from the PC to the phone.” At least their original intent was inspirational and forward-thinking. Five years later, they’ve only given us a fancy, username-based messenger app.

Snapchat was created by three frat brogrammers who were really into girls and the idea of disappearing messages.

The guys who created Emoj.li thought the idea of usernames in emoticons was hilarious. That’s it? (For the record, they thought the Yo app was hilarious, too.)

And Or Arbel created the Yo app to do something he and a few buddies already did themselves – text the word “yo” back and forth.

Creating a Culture

So all of these apps but Kik was started as an inside joke among a group of friends or people with common interests. Is this the key to what makes us want these hip apps-that-do-nothing so badly?

We as a culture have trained ourselves to need to be in the know, to be in the cool group. And one of the worst feelings in the world is hanging out with a group of people you call friends, hearing them refer to an inside joke, and realizing you weren’t there for it.

“Laughter contributes to group bonding,” says Dr. Robin Dunbar. Inside jokes are tools we use to deepen bonds of friendship and camaraderie. They’re like a secret signal reminding each person involved of a time when they felt close to the others. We recognize inside jokes among groups of friends, and it triggers a desire to belong.

That has to be what’s behind Snapchat, Yo, Emoj.li, Hodor Keyboard, and all the other silly, useless apps we put our hard-earned money down for: we recognize someone else’s inside joke, and need to be part of the in-crowd.

What do you think? Is there another reason these entertaining but useless apps have taken off so rapidly?

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Photo: Daniel Go/Flikr