Health and Wellbeing

World Emoji Day 2020: The History Behind the Smiley Face World Emoji Day 2020: The History Behind the Smiley Face

It’s World Emoji Day 2020! But how did the smiley face evolve into the emojis we use on a daily basis?

World Emoji Day 2020 on yellow background with different emoji expressions

On world emoji day 2020, we explore how these little emotive characters have become the emojis we know, love, and use every day. Today, we send five times as many texts as phone calls and over six billion emojis are sent every single day. But first, what is an emoji? 🤷

An Emoji is a small picture used in electronic messages to convey emotions or ideas without the need for any text. The word emoji comes from the Japanese “e”, meaning picture and “moji” meaning character. So, where did it all begin for the humble smiley face? 😊

1982: The Original Emoticon

Although previous decades saw numerous attempts to create a text based language, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the first emoticon came to life. Computer scientist Scott E. Fahiman invented the first emoticon by using three keystrokes made up of a colon followed by a hyphen and a bracket to form: ‘:-)’.

Scott posted the emoticon to an online electronic bulletin board at 11:44 am on September 191982, in a conversation about online humour. The suggestion allowed computer users to convey positive emotion with a smile – or negative emotion with a frown :-(.

1997: The World’s First Emoji Set

SoftBank, a Japanese conglomerate, known as J-phone at the time, released the SkyWalker DP-211SW mobile phone which contained 90 distinct and unique emoji characters, including a similar version of the popular Pile Of Poo 💩 emoji, we know and love today.

The emojis were simple in design and only available in black and white. However, due to the phones lack of success, the emojis didn’t reach the mainstream.

1999: Shigetaka Kuritas Emojis

The Japanese interface designer, Shigetaka Kuritas created 176 colourful emojis for the launch of the Japanese mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo’s mobile internet service.

The service only allowed 250 characters of text which meant that Shigetaka had to create an innovative way of communicating in a concise but expressive way and took his inspiration from weather symbols. This collection of emojis became the first to get widespread recognition across the world.

emoji's all on a wall

2003: MSN messenger <3

With the release of MSN Messenger 6, the instant messaging service introduced 30 emoticons. MSN users were able to convert any image into an emoticon and customise keyboard shortcuts to their favourite creations. If a user was unsure about which emoji to use, the messaging service also offered a “decision wheel” which helped users make a decision.

2009: Moby Dick / Emoji Dick 

The Emoji Dick project was launched by Fred Benenson, which aimed to translate 10,000 sentences of the novel Moby Dick 🐳 into emojis. It took over 800 freelance employees, recruited from Mechanical Turk, 3,795,980 seconds to write (or rewrite) the book.

2010: Unicode 6.0

Emojis were standardised by Unicode, meaning brands like Google, Facebook and Twitter were able to create their own versions of emojis that would appear even if messages were sent from a different operating system. Users with an iPhone and iOS operating system could send emojis to their friends with Android devices who could only previously see a little black square or question mark.

2011: Apple Debut Emoji’s to Rest of the World

Since 2008, Apple has restricted its emoji keyboard to Japan and could only be unlocked using third-party apps. However, when Apple released their iOS 5 software update the rest of the world had access to the emoji keyboard containing 404 colourful icons 📱.  

2014: World Emoji Day 📅

Emojipedia, the emoji reference website which documents the meaning and common uses of all Unicode emoji characters created the holiday World Emoji Day which is held on July the 17th each year based on the date shown on Apple’s emoji calendar.

On the second anniversary of World Emoji Day, Emojipedia released EmojiVote, an experiment designed to give people a vote on what they believe should be the next icon added to emoji keyboards.

2015: The Addition of Skin Tones 

🧑 🧑🏻 🧑🏼 🧑🏽 🧑🏾 🧑🏿

The release of Unicode 8.0 included a range of skin tones based on the Fitzpatrick Scale which describes a person’s skin type in terms of response to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure. Additionally, the default emoji skin tone was changed from white to yellow to appear more inclusive. However, with only five limited skin tones available for users to choose from, Unicode received backlash and was accused of lacking diversity.

2017: The World’s First Emoji Translator

In 2016, London based Today Translations put out an advert for an emoji translator specialist to help them understand the “fastest-growing language in the world”. In 2017, they hired Irishman, Keith Broni, who became the world’s first emoji translator, helping Today Translator tackle translation challenges in court cases where text messages are being used as evidence.

2018: Emoji 11.0

When Emoji 11.0 was released there were an additional 157 emojis for users to enjoy, including a 🛹 skateboard, 🦜 parrot, 🦞 lobster, 🧬 DNA symbol – plus red heads finally received their own emojis.  

2020: Apple Add Emoji Search Function

Previously, iOS users would have to install a third-party app to search through the many emojis on offer. However, at the Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced the release of its emoji search function in their iOS 14, which would allow users to search for an emoji instead of having to scroll through categories.

Now it’s Time to Celebrate World Emoji Day 2020

Over the last decade, emojis have found their way into our daily electronic conversations and shaped the way we express emotions across different languages, cultures, and generations. The little pictures play a key role in advancing our online communications – where body language and facial expressions have no place – to create a more connected digital world. So, on World Emoji Day 2020 it’s time to celebrate your favourites! ❤️🙌

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