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Happy 30th birthday, emoticon! :)

September 20, 2012 5:31pm
Attention, Internet addicts: There's a familiar face you should be greeting a happy 30th birthday. It's none other than the ever-smiling emoticon :)
 
The inventor of the emoticon, university professor Scott Fahlman, recalled the now-familiar sideways face's humble roots as an in-house joke among academic colleagues.
 
 
"Given the nature of the community (on the university's online bulletin boards), a good many of the posts were humorous (or attempted humor). 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," said Fahlman, a Carnegie Mellon University professor, in a statement marking the emoticon's 30th birthday on September 19.

"That would stir up more people with more responses, and soon the original thread of the discussion was buried. In at least one case, a humorous remark was interpreted by someone as a serious safety warning," he noted.
 
Fahlman said the problem prompted some to suggest that posts meant as a joke were to be explicitly marked.
 
While many "joke markers" were suggested, he settled on using a sequence of text-based characters - as bulletin boards at the time could handle only ASCII characters.
 
The idea spread around CMU and spread to other universities and research labs, with the list of smileys soon expanding.
 
Among the early smileys were an open-mouthed surprise, a person wearing glasses, Abraham Lincoln, Santa Claus, and the pope, he said.
 
But he said his two original smileys, plus the “winky” ;-) and the “noseless” variants seem to be in common use for actual communication.
 
He also voiced a tinge of regret that tech giants Microsoft and AOL intercept such strings to come up with more graphical smileys.
 
"It’s interesting to note that Microsoft and AOL now intercept these character strings and turn them into little pictures. Personally, I think this destroys the whimsical element of the original," he said.
 
Fahlman also defended the emoticons from critics who said good writers such as William Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, and Mark Twain should have no need to explicitly label their humorous comments.
 
He said some critics point out that in satirical writing, half the fun is in never being quite sure whether the author is serious or not.
 
He pointed out not all people who post on boards are literary geniuses, and that the literary greats published their words "in a different medium, with different properties."
 
"If 100,000 copies of a novel or an essay were distributed in printed form, and if 1% of the readers didn’t get the joke and were outraged at what they had read, there was nothing these clueless readers could do to spoil the enjoyment of the other 99%. But if it were possible for each of the 1000 clueless readers to write a lengthy counter-argument and to flood these into the same distribution channels as the original work, and if others could then jump into the fray in similar fashion, you can see the problems that this would cause," he said.
 
In contrast, he said the judicious use of a few smileys can reduce the frequency of such firestorms.
 
On the other hand, he maintained the emoticon was his idea - and any similarity with the ideas of others could have been a coincidence - though he does not discount the possibility.
 
"Some people have told me that the :-) or :) convention was used by teletype operators in the old days. Maybe so. I haven’t seen any examples of this, but it’s plausible, given the limitations of the character set in that medium," he said.
 
"So, the smiley idea may have appeared and disappeared a few times before my 1982 post, but it is pretty clear from the timing that my suggestion was the one that finally took hold, spread around the world, and spawned thousands of variations," he added. — TJD/HS, Art by Den Fajardo, GMA News



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