40 years of evolution from :-) to πŸ˜‚ emojis

Fahlman, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, posted “: – )” on the school’s online bulletin board, a primitive text-only social network accessible only to others on the university’s closed intranet.
With this smiley face, which Guinness World Records named “the first digital emoticon” and served as the forerunner of emojis, Fahlman tried to solve a common problem of today’s Internet users: transmitting sarcasm online.

“Someone would say something that was meant to be sarcastic. Among the many readers, one person wouldn’t get the joke and the initial discussion would fade away with anger, hostility, and pretty soon everyone was arguing with everyone else,” Fahlman. he told CNN Business. “When you’re in a text-only Internet medium, people can’t tell if you’re joking. There’s no body language, no facial expressions.”

In the 40 years since then, emoticons and later emojis have become central to our conversations online and sometimes offline. More than 3,600 emoji are available for users to express their full range of emotions and effectively address that original problem identified by Fahlman: giving our words a deeper meaning to embody, whether with a waving hand, a crying face or a strange character wearing a monocle. .

“They offer things that words don’t say. When you say ‘okay,’ what kind of agreement is that?” said Jennifer Daniel, chair of the Emoji Subcommittee at the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit organization that oversees emoji standards. things like our body language, our intonation, our volume, our eye contact.”

What began with a few punctuation marks written on a college message board is now a global effort to expand our digital forms of expression, including input from tech companies and Unicode staff and users. But decades later, it’s still working.

Evolution from : – ) to πŸ˜‚

It didn’t take long for the original emoticon and its many variations to spread beyond Carnegie Mellon. In those early days, winky faces, noseless smiles, and open-mouthed smiles emerged from the classic colon, dash, parenthesis smile.

But it would take time for emojis to catch on in the US.

In the mid-1990s, the Japanese mobile phone company NTT Docomo introduced a small black heart into its pages. By 1997, SoftBank, another Japanese company, had released a 90-character set of emoji loaded onto a mobile phone model, but graphics didn’t catch on until Docomo’s 176-character collection in 1999.

It wasn’t until Unicode became involved that expansion beyond Japan took root. Unicode, which sets the international technology standards that support different languages, took on the task of standardizing emoji in 2010 at the behest of tech companies like Apple and Google.

While there are now very clear guidelines for emoji and user submissions, the early days of Unicode’s emoji standardization included more questionable options, including a middle finger character.

“That was included in Unicode at a time when there were fewer rules,” Emojipedia founder Jeremy Burge told CNN Business. “There are a lot of rules these days, and they’re pretty well documented, and new emoji go through a pretty rigorous process.”

Apple added an official emoji keyboard available outside of Japan in 2011, a milestone that emoji experts consider the characters’ true entry into the American online lexicon. For 2015, the face with tears emoji (πŸ˜‚) was named the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year. This emoji remains a favorite among US users, according to an Adobe study published this month.

“Having 3,000 photos or less that you can access with a fingertip is 3,000 more points,” Burge said. “So while I think we could get by without it, I don’t know why you would choose to live in a world without emoji.”

The future of emoji

Even 3,000 is not enough, however. As language evolves, so do emojis.

Unicode publishes emoji set updates in September after reviewing submitted proposals and responding to global trends. Released on Tuesday, version 15.0.0 added 20 emoji characters, including hair picks, maracas and jellyfish. (Emoji updates are rolled out gradually across all devices.)

But Unicode has also faced criticism over the years for the lack of representation of race, gender, sexuality and disability in previous emoji sets, releasing five skin tone options in 2015’s Emoji 2.0 and two gender options for occupations in 2016’s Emoji 4.0. According to Emojipedia. Accessibility emojis were added in 2019, as well as gender-specific pairing options.

The consortium relies on subcommittee members and emoji users to move the keyboard forward. Daniel, the first woman to chair Unicode’s Emoji Subcommittee and a designer at Google, has been a champion of more inclusive emoji. It has encouraged the adoption of inclusive design in businesses so that a non-gender police sent from a Samsung device is not received as a police by an Apple user.

Although there are now thousands of emoji options, the main use remains true to the original purpose of adding smile and lightness 40 years ago. “When it comes to the most popular emojis in use, what you’re seeing is fun or humor or love,” Emojipedia editor-in-chief Keith Broni told CNN Business.

As for Fahlman, he uses emojis “very, very rarely.” Mostly, she said, “I prefer small texts, partly because they’re my babies.”

While Fahlman continues to work as a Carnegie Mellon professor emeritus, researching artificial intelligence and its applications, he has lectured around the world on his creation of emoticons and admits to an ongoing interest in it. “I’ve come to terms with whatever my achievements in artificial intelligence are, this will be the first sentence of my obituary,” he said. “But it’s fun to be a bit famous for something.”