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The Smiley Face Turns 25 :-) 250

klubar writes "Another milestone of online communications has been reached. The smiley turns 25, according to Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott E. Fahlman who says he was the first to use three keystrokes. 'Language experts say the smiley face and other emotional icons, known as emoticons, have given people a concise way in e-mail and other electronic messages of expressing sentiments that otherwise would be difficult to detect. Fahlman posted the emoticon in a message to an online electronic bulletin board at 11:44 a.m. on Sept. 19, 1982, during a discussion about the limits of online humor and how to denote comments meant to be taken lightly.'"
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The Smiley Face Turns 25 :-)

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  • Editors... (Score:4, Funny)

    by SirJorgelOfBorgel ( 897488 ) * on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @07:38PM (#20661809)
    Anyone else see an obvious mistake here? :D
  • Damn editors (Score:2, Insightful)

    by apollosfire ( 954290 )
    Ignore the headline, as the summary and article both state - it's 25!
  • 24? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @07:40PM (#20661831) Homepage Journal
    That means 1983 or so.

    I know we were using these on a message board in 1979-1980 at a community college in Michigan prior to then. I might even be able to dig some of it up as I printed off a lot of messages back then and may still have them in an old computer paper box.

    Rather odd anyone would lay a claim to inventing it. I'm certain the concept dates further back to teletypes and such.

    Ah well, anything to start a ruckus on /.


    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "I know we were using these on a message board in 1979-1980 at a community college in Michigan prior to then."

      That's nothing. The authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls were using them back then!
      • Re:24? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Jarjarthejedi ( 996957 ) <> on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @08:12PM (#20662147) Journal
        Today's Headline - New Hieroglyph Discovered in Egyptian Pyramid

        And in recent new today a new Hieroglyph has been discovered with the Great Pyramid of Giza. The symbol appears to consist of two vertically adjacent circles and a single curve segment whose curvature is oriented such that the 2 circles appear to be near the center of the circle that would be formed were the curve's slope extended out. Our man on the scene has provided us with a crude sketch of this Hieroglyph, whose meaning is unknown but which is suspected to be related to one of the primary emotions humans have experienced since the dawn of time.

        : ) Note how the segment appears to be a piece of a general circle center on the 2 dots. Why a segment of a circle was chosen,
        ^ Rather than the full circle itself, and why it is centered on the dots, is currently unknown
        Also Note how the two circles are placed one directly over the other. Most other Hieroglyphs have utilized slight angles, generally sloping inwards, so this discovery may help understand a great many things that are currently unknown about Egyptian society

        This has been Faux News' Archeology Department. Stay tuned for the weather.
    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      It's possible then that you're the only person in the world who can prove an earlier instance of smiley-like emoticons. I think it'd be worthwhile and interesting to scan some of those conversations into wikipedia. Better move fast before the smiley cabal takes you and your secrets out! :-)
    • by schmiddy ( 599730 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @08:59PM (#20662575) Homepage Journal

      Thankfully, we no longer need to use this outdated technology of "emoticons" to denote humorous sentiments in email and online postings. Some have historically proposed the use of a "sarcasm" tag littered among ordinary text to convey the sarcastic emotion more accurately. I propose going one step further, and am proposing the Humour-XML standard, which will provide a much richer way to fully denote sentiments on the web. For instance, consider the sarcastic exprssion:

      I'll get right on that ;-)

      Even in this simple expression, the smiley face does not convey enough information to the reader to properly discern the mood of the poster. It is left ambiguous whether the poster is completely sarcastic, and will not "get right on that", or if the poster was merely in a humorous mood and implying that they will "get right on that" in a cheerful way. This failure to communicate is costing the American economy untold billions in lost productivity, rivaling that of "sick days" and movie piracy. The following is a rough draft of an XML standard I am proposing to completely eliminate our dependence on this obsolete form of communication.

      I propose a full XML schema devoted to conveying emotion in email, web postings, and Usenet "flame" messages. For instance, the previous message would be written in Humour-XML as:

      <?xml version="1.0"?>
      <message mood="sarcastic" level="highly"> I'll get right on that <smiley deprecated="yes" symbol=";-)" />

      The message now contains no ambiguities — the reader understands that the poster is "highly sarcastic" , and does not actually intend to "get right on that"

      The Humour-XML schema provides numerous benefits to users such as: enhanced text-to-speech renderings of postings (the speaker's voice could convey emotion, etc.), backwards compatibility with obsolete emoticons, UTF-8 support, building the Semantic Web from the ground up, and other benefits too numerous to enumerate here. Without extolling the virtues of this fantastic language too greatly, I'll touch on one more gold mine of usability: using XSLT [] to transfrom Humour-XML to other forms, such as emoticon-text or even SVG graphics. For instance, we can define an XSLT stylesheet like so:

      <?xml version="1.0" ?>
      <xsl:stylesheet xmlns:xsl="" version="1.0">
      <xsl:output method="xml" indent="yes"/>

      <xsl:template match="posting">
      <emoticon_text> <xsl:apply-templates/> </emoticon_text>

      <xsl:template match="message">
      <xsl:copy> <xsl:apply-templates> </xsl:copy>
      <xsl:template match="message">
      <xsl:text> <xsl:value-of select="symbol" /> </xsl:text>

      The example XSLT spreadsheet provided here should provide posters eager to try this amazing technology a head-start. I am in the process of carefully constructing a DTD for Humour-XML, as well as several more very useful XSLT stylesheets. I hereby disclaim all patents on said technology, and promise that Humour-XML is free for the world to use royalty-free, forever.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ripragged ( 714686 )
      In a related note, Microsoft was the first to commercially use an emoticon as a trademark, with Windows XP.
    • (c:
      What the hell is that? It looks almost like a face, only upside-down. Please right it immediately!
      • It's quite obviously a 'large heavyset gentlemen found hanging upside down and looking in from outside your window, watching everything you do' emoticon. I mean really, it's not that obscure, nothing like the 'mime laying on a ground while inside an invisible box that is shown here for dramatic effect even though it is not visible in reality' or the 'turtles all the way down' emoticons, that's one everyone should know!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Very well, where should I begin? My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low-grade narcolepsy and a penchant for buggery. My mother was a fifteen-year-old French prostitute named Chloe with webbed feet. My father would womanize, he would drink, he would make outrageous claims, like he invented the emoticon. Sometimes he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy. A sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament.
  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @07:40PM (#20661835) Journal
    I hate how you type :) in IM or message boards now and they replace the :) with a graphic. I think that ruins it.

    I won't even get into how annoying it is when it changes part of your text that isn't a smiley into a smiley only because it detects the text. It is like how some MMORPGS do ***umption and stuff.
    • by gardyloo ( 512791 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @07:53PM (#20661977)
      Yeah, doesn't that make you want to ******inate someone?
    • by jmb-d ( 322230 )
      It's not limited to just MMORPGs -- a while back I was reading a thread on the GuitarNoise [] forums about musical genres. Someone referenced Surf music and I almost laughed out loud when I saw the artist cited as an example: Richard Dale.

      If you've ever been to his website [] or seen him in concert, you'll know that Dick Dale is definitely a "Dick", not a "Richard".

      I posted a comment to that effect, only to see the references in my post ALSO listed as "Richard". Seems that the BB software in use at the time ha
    • by mstahl ( 701501 )

      That's actually why I started putting a space between mine. Like : D. Works okay and IM clients don't screw it up too bad. Of course now I just have Adium with smilies that I designed myself and I likes them.

    • by cp.tar ( 871488 )

      I really don't know why it's so incredibly hard to only substitute text delimited with spaces or newlines...

      I mean, I understand people's need (or want, at least) for graphical smilies - beyond the basic few, most text smilies are quite geeky and specialized; I just don't understand why it's so incredibly difficult to parse them properly.

      Oh, another pet peeve: smilies in nicknames. For instance, as soon as the person you're talking to in MSN uses a custom smiley face, Pidgin parses every subsequent occure

  • obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by blhack ( 921171 ) * on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @07:41PM (#20661859)
    Smilies are lame :(...

    now bow before you evil smiley overlord >:-|
    ^emoticons, making perl regex NSFW for 24 years!
    • pff, those look lame.
      / / ( . Y . ) \ \

      bam. that's better, but the spacing needs work.
    • Smilies are lame :(...

      ^emoticons, making perl regex NSFW for 24 years!

      s/24/25/; // <-- NSFW!!

      There, fixed that for you. :)

  • by The Living Fractal ( 162153 ) < minus poet> on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @07:45PM (#20661893) Homepage
    And it wasn't short after that fateful day, in the next post in fact, that the 8========D came along, forever ruining the intarweb. Historians would later say it was only a matter of time.
  • November 23, 1987 I was surprised when a total stranger told me I had first use. Best explanation is from this interview. []

    Here's the original posting. [] Paul

  • by RobertM1968 ( 951074 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @08:09PM (#20662121) Homepage Journal

    Is the guy is full of shit in making such a claim. ASCII Art, including the use of emoticons, have been around a lot longer than his first use of it. To claim he was the first and/or created the idea is insane.

    I'm sorry, but I grew up in the 300 baud modem, emoticon existing and using days that predate his claim by over half a decade.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      Well then, someone should be able to provide evidence of a prior smiley, right?
      • And I am sure someone could - but who really would care that much to do so? The smiley, such that it is, ":-)" predates the late 70's anyway - but on different hardware.

        Maybe he's bragging about the fact that he wrote an "instruction manual" for it?

        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          And I am sure someone could - but who really would care that much to do so? The smiley, such that it is, ":-)" predates the late 70's anyway - but on different hardware.

          It's an unusual situation. You have a culture develope within the past 30-40 years. It's archeology where the subjects are still alive and there are extensive records of who did what. Given that, it makes sense to trace how ideas evolve.

          To give another example, the standard online gaming cheer for when something good happens, is "woot!

    • by brarrr ( 99867 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @08:31PM (#20662305) Journal
      you grew up in a 300 baud modem? must have been both uncomfortable and incredibly noisy. it'd be like constantly trying to see through the hayes.
  • by Higaran ( 835598 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @08:11PM (#20662139)
    The article is about how the smiley face is used for humorus purposed, so how many geeks missed that the title was actually a joke, looks like just about everyone so far. Wow I don't know if I should be happy that I got it, or terrified that I did. Well anyways. (.) (.) V
  • by qdaku ( 729578 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @08:13PM (#20662161)
    I remember early - mid nineties when I used to draw ascii (newschool, though I dabbled a bit in the oldschool too) for various groups / BBS in the 905/416/519 region (southern ontario and parts of quebec), that there used to be a different system instead of smileys. Smileys were frowned upon. Instead the system revolved around:

    (g) - grin

    (bg) - big grin

    (vbg) - very big grin

    I wonder if it was just a local thing, or if anyone else used to use that too.
  • Teletypes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Miykayl ( 841085 )

    Yes... That "Old School" porn...

    Pinup girls printed in 80-columns of delicious Courier(ish) typeface.

    I would be stunned if smiley faces were not in use to some degree in the 70's, or even the late 60's, when teletypes (with 110-baud modems) were how most news services sent and received news...

    They had the nice pin-up girls...

    And, what work it must have been to make ACII art back in the day, before video-card drivers had ASCII-effect filters...

  • by AdamTrace ( 255409 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @08:38PM (#20662369) []


    Original Bboard Thread in which :-) was proposed

    Here is the original message posted by Scott Fahlman on 19 September, 1982:

    19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman :-)

    From: Scott E Fahlman

    I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers: :-)

    Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark

    things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use :-(

    The entire thread is reproduced below. We didn't have formal newsgroup threads in those days, but these are all the messages that mention the need for a joke marker or that use the :-) symbol.

    This was retrieved from the spice vax oct-82 backup tape by Jeff Baird on September 10, 2002. The period covered is 16 September 1982 through 21 October 1982.

    Credits: Here is the account by Mike Jones describing how this ancient post was retrieved. It's an impressive piece of digital archeology, with many contributors. I am grateful to Mike, to Jeff Baird, and to all the others who played a role in this effort. It is great that we can view this bit of Internet history once again.

    Many people were involved in this computing archaeology success story. I (Mike Jones) kicked off the effort in February 2002 by looking through some old bboard program (Bags) sources, figuring out the filename that the post would likely be found under (/usr/cmu/lib/bb/, and asking Howard Wactlar, the former CMU SCS facilities director, whether the file could still be restored. Scott Fahlman provided data narrowing the probable span of time during which the post was made. Howard and Bob Cosgrove, the current director, determined that backup tapes from that period (1981-1983) still existed and asked Jeff Baird of the facilities staff to try to find and restore the post. Dave Livingston of facilities located a working 9- track tape drive and a machine to use it on. Kirk Berthold and Michael Riley in CS operations managed retrieving tapes from off-site archival storage. Grad student Dan Pelleg's FreeBSD machine was used to read the 4.1BSD dump format tapes using a compatibility mode in the restore program. (Later in the effort a NetBSD machine was used to do the same thing.) Dale Moore looked for the post on Tops-20 backup tapes from CMU-20C. But by all accounts, Jeff Baird should get most of the credit for doing the hard work of locating and retrieving the data. He kept asking for more tapes, reading those that could still be read, narrowing the date range, and sticking with it until the post was found. Thanks all for your efforts to restore this part of computing history, and especially, thanks Jeff!

    Note: There apparently were a few posts prior to 16 September (not on the tape that was retrieved) that posed various physics questions about what would happen to various objects in an elevator if you cut the cable. Given the quality of the elevators in Wean Hall (then and now), this was more than idle speculation.

    Apparently someone had posed the problem of what would happen to a helium balloon in free-fall, someone else had asked about pigeons flying around in the falling elevator, and someone had then asked what would happen if the birds were breathing the helium...

    16-Sep-82 11:51 James Wright at CMU-780D Related question

    Of equal interest is how the birds cheeping will

    sound after they have inhaled the Helium.


    16-Sep-82 12:09 Neil Swartz at CMU-750R Pigeon type question

    This question does not involve pigeons, but is similar:

    There is a lit candle in an elevator mounted on a bracket attached to

    the middle of one wall (say, 2" from the wall). A drop of mercury

    is on the floor. The cable snaps and the elevator falls.

    What happens to the candle and the mercury?
    • by Khomar ( 529552 )

      I find it interesting how the meaning of the smiley has changed from this idea. I see it used frequently now as a way of softening a message or adding extra warmth rather than making it comical. The humorous tag has been replaced by the wink which I believe is actually a far better indicator than the original smiley.

      Emoticons are actually very beneficial in typed communication as I have come to learn in my work-from-home job where 90% of my communication with co-workers takes place either on e-mail or i

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @08:38PM (#20662379) Homepage Journal
    High school girls have been using Smiley's in passed notes since the advent of paper.

    Just because it's on the computer, it must be new!

    I know I saw them in a military communications in '84 during transatlantic tests. 2 people, many hours away really,really tired tend to get punchy...I wonder this is the person I was communicating with? That would be weird!

  • Prior Art? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by darqchild ( 570580 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @08:43PM (#20662429) Homepage
    I believe there is prior art, found in an 18th century poem. I'd bet that typesetters had been mucking about with this stuff since the invention of movable type. []
  • For Your Reference (Score:3, Informative)

    by InvisibleSoul ( 882722 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @08:46PM (#20662455)
    Here is the complete list of canonical smilies: []
  • The first thing that popped into my head was: "I wonder how old the Penis bird is?"

    Curse you slashdot.
  • As long as people are claiming things, I claim the invention of the "Bearded Bulletin". This is the hardcopy bulletin-board posting with a fringe of precut tear-offs with contact information (typically a phone number and a word or two to indicate what this particular one is about). This occurred in the winter of about 1969 or 1970. (I could go through some old records and figure it out exactly.) I was in Ann Arbor at the time and needed to move to Lansing and sublet my current apartment. I first went t
    • Thank you for that one! It would be nice if you had made a latex template, though, that would have saved a lot of people the work to find out again and again how to mix the text in the two orientations. Well, you'd have to invent TeX first in those days, so I guess you're not to blame ;)

      I recently discoverd that when creating an on-line ad on some german websites for student housing they automatically use your input for the website to generate a bearded-bulletin pdf to print and hang out on your campus. I

  • []

    I posted in that thread too...

    Anyone read up on Kibo?
  • Wow... (Score:2, Funny)

    by mmxsaro ( 187943 )
    I've never seen so many smiley faces around here on /. Quick, someone post a story about Vista before we all get too friendly with each other.
  • [] Tell your friends ok.
  • by KNicolson ( 147698 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:38AM (#20663921) Homepage
    And wrote a short article in my blog: []

    So as not to link whore (but karma whore instead...), here goes:

    You may have heard the news that 25 years ago on the 19th of October 1982, there was the first recorded use of western smileys on usenet. However, that got me wondering as to how old horizontal Japanese emoticons were. With a little investigation, I came across this Japanese page on the evolution of smiley marks in Japan. I'll now present a summary translation of this history of the Japanese emoticon.

    First up is a nuclear scientist claiming to have invented (~_~) and others round about the same time as ASCII Net (a Japanese online service) started on the first of May 1985, although he says he wasn't the first, he was just following the patterns of others.

    Next up was someone claiming that when he attended Hokkaido University the first Japanese emoticon he saw was from Master Koala with (^O^) in fj.jokes, inspiring him to invent the following:

    (^.^) - laughing
    (;.;) - crying
    (-.-) - sleeping, shocked
    (_ _) - apologising, lowering one's head
    ; - sweat mark, eg (^.^;)
    * - red-faced, eg *^.^*

    These were coined between May and July of 1988 and used on JUNET, the Japanese University Network.

    Now, we get to a usenet post from January 13 1998, indirectly archived by Google Groups (but with broken encoding). In the message we can see the following marks:

    (^O^) - Master Koala smiling
    (-O-) - Master Koala sleeping
    (*O*) - Master Koala shocked
    (@O@) - Master Koala looking sideways
    (=O=) - Master Koala squinting through narrowed eyes
    (>O<) - Master Koala surprised
    (dOb) - Master Koala neutral

    Now we get a very interesting post, suggesting that the classic (^_^) was invented in Japan, but perhaps not by a Japanese. A Kim Tong Ho claims that in the first half of 1986 he signed posts to ASCII Net with the above-mentioned emoticon, with one example from 20th of June 1986. However, he doesn't have confidence to claim to be the very first person to come up with a Japanese emoticon that doesn't require head-tilting to read. Around the same time a person with the handle 'binbou' (the nuclear scientist mentioned above) used (~_~), but as to who was first, it is rather difficult to say.

    So, there we have it; the Japanese emoticon is at least 21 years and a few months old, perhaps even 22 and a bit years old.
  • is still just as impossible to convey over the internet.
  • LET'S ROCK OUT!!! (Score:2, Redundant)

    by mstahl ( 701501 )

    \m/ >_< \m/


The absent ones are always at fault.