The omnipresence of the smiley face “:-)” almost made us forget to wonder about its creators. Although very few people know who invented the “smiley”, the symbol has become a part of our written communication, enabling us to transmit the right message, hindering misunderstandings.
And actually the constant errors in understanding in written communication had born the smiley face. It was 25 years ago when Computer Science Research Professor Scott E. Fahlman from the Carnegie Mellon University, tired of long diatribes generated by some sarcasm that wasn’t comprehended as it should have been, first used :-).
“I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-). Read it sideways.” And this was the birth certificate at 11:44 a.m., on Sept. 20, 1982. That is the moment when his brother, the frowning face, :-( was born too.
The Computer Science Department of Carnegie Mellon University, which became School of Computer Science in the meanwhile, used computers for more or less brainstorming discussions, in a period when a few people used a computer and significantly less utilized it as a means of communication.
The idea of the smiley spread to other universities and businesses, probably by alumni, and then spread with the speed of the Internet popularity. Yahoo’s instant messaging program uses more than 80 such signs, called emoticons.
According to the dictionaries emoticons are “symbolic picture made from keyboard characters: an arrangement of keyboard characters intended to convey an emotion, usually viewed sideways”
In fact, Fahlman invented the ASII representation of a happy face, but the yellow smiley face on which the majority of today’s graphic emoticons are based was created in 1963 by Harvey Ball.
“It has been fascinating to watch this phenomenon grow from a little message I tossed off in 10 minutes to something that has spread all around the world," said Fahlman quoted by AP. "I sometimes wonder how many millions of people have typed these characters, and how many have turned their heads to one side to view a Smiley, in the 25 years since this all started.”
After a quarter of century, as a token of recognition for :-)’s alleviation of some sequences of communication, Fahlman and co. are initiating the annual “Smiley Award”, that recognizes innovation in technology-assisted, interpersonal communication. As Fahlman mentioned in his comment posted on Google News the award is intended for current students (graduate and undergraduate) at Carnegie Mellon University.
“This is meant to be a small, fun award to stir up more creativity and fun on our campus. Maybe someday there will be an award of this type that is open to everyone, but judging that competition would be a very big job” wrote Fahlman.
Also in his comment Professor Fahlman apologized to those who hate the smiley symbol and emoticons.
“Some people hate the smiley symbol, and all emoticons, with a white-hot passion. To them, I apologize, but I think that most people find them useful and fun. Perhaps one function of emoticons is that, when there are really angry people around, this gives them a harmless object to hate, so that they don't have to go beat someone up. :-P”, Fahlman wrote.