:-) 25 2 U Smiley! Emoticon hit screens a quarter-century ago

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What's that emotion?

The Smiley spawned an entire language of words built out of only punctuation marks, which are limited only by the creativity of the inventors. Some are simple but express more emotional nuances beyond happy and unhappy.

Here's a sampling:

The wink: ;)

Smirk: :-,

Bored: :|

Crying: :,(

Happy: :^D

Really happy: :-))

Screaming: :-@

User is another Picasso: %-^

Drooling: :-~~~

Fasten your seat belt: ===[]===

This rocks: \m/

What a night!/has been staring at a computer screen for 5 hours straight: #-)

Before the Internet had become a household word in the early '80s, researchers around the country used it to communicate. They were linked through computer bulletin boards.

Computer science research professor Scott Fahlman was posting a message to colleagues and wanted to indicate that he was kidding about something.

"Given the nature of the community, a good many of the posts were humorous [or attempted humor]," Dr. Fahlman notes on the Carnegie Mellon Web site. "The problem was that if someone made a sarcastic remark, a few readers would fail to get the joke, and each of them would post a lengthy diatribe in response.

"This problem caused some of us to suggest [only half seriously] that maybe it would be a good idea to explicitly mark posts that were not to be taken seriously. ... Various 'joke markers' were suggested. It occurred to me that the character sequence :-) would be an elegant solution ..."

Today is the 25th anniversary of his Smiley face that became the first emoticon -- the use of symbols to convey different emotions in computer text. The Smiley is made up of a colon followed by a hyphen and parenthesis.

To mark this anniversary, the Carnegie Mellon Computer Science Department is launching an annual "Smiley Award," recognizing innovations in technology-assisted communication. The competition is open to School of Computer Science students and teams. The winner will get $500 from sponsor Yahoo! Inc.

The first use of the Smiley icon was documented by Mike Jones of the systems and networking research group at Microsoft, who worked at Carnegie Mellon at the time. He did a little cyber archaeology and unearthed the original message sent by Dr. Fahlman in '82, which had been stored on a backup tape.

The idea caught on in the Carnegie Mellon community and soon spread to other universities and research institutions. As the non-technical public began going online, Smiley became an integral part of net language.

No one suspected that Smiley would be the first step in creating a universal online language -- one that has since evolved into countless other typographical expressions, graphic versions of the smiley and text messaging. Or rather txt msg.

For Scott Fahlman's account of Smiley's birth and history: www.cs.cmu.edu/smiley.

For more emoticons, visit these sites:




Adrian McCoy can be reached at amccoy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.


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