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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

Decoding the emoji: Find out where the smileys and heart eyes come from

It started as computer-generated punctuation marks in the 1980s. Now, emojis have their own movie. Here’s tracing their history and rise in popularity.

more-lifestyle Updated: Jul 29, 2017 10:21 IST

Reuters, Los Angeles
More than 60 million emojis a day are sent on Facebook alone.
More than 60 million emojis a day are sent on Facebook alone.(Shutterstock)

Cheery Hi-5, a snobbish Poop and a conflicted Meh have starring roles in the animated The Emoji Movie, which imagines a world inside cellphones where emojis rebel against portraying just one emotion all their lives. Yet the dozen or so people who select and release the tiny, ubiquitous characters globally are far removed from the glitz of Hollywood, where the Sony Pictures movie, which begins its global roll-out on Friday, was developed.

The humans who toil in obscurity to shape and approve new emojis are part of the Unicode Consortium, a Silicon Valley-based group of computer and software corporations and individual volunteers with backgrounds in technology, encoding and linguistics. From smiley faces to thumbs up, there are now some 2,600 different emojis worldwide. According to a July Facebook Inc report, more than 60 million a day are sent on the social media network alone. Emojis have inspired books and there are emojis as well that date way back in time.

The consortium approves about 50-100 new emojis every year, not counting the different skin tones for people emoji, after a rigorous application and review process, said Mark Davis, president and co-founder of the group. The latest batch, released in June and reaching phones and other devices in coming months, include a star-struck emoji, an exploding head, a group of wizards, mermaids and a woman wearing a hijab.

“We get submissions from all over the world,” Davis said in an interview. “The hijab emoji came from a Saudi Arabian young woman who is living in Germany who made a very compelling proposal. I’m looking forward to the exploding head — I think that’s going to be very popular. People need to make a case as to why they think their emoji is going to be frequently used, how it breaks new ground, how it is different from other emojis that have already been encoded.”

Logos, brands and emojis tied to specific companies are not accepted. “We also don’t accept specific people. We did encode a cowboy but we wouldn’t encode John Wayne,” Davis said. Some concepts just do not translate as emoji. “Anything that needs a lot of detail to explain or understand is trouble. It’s also hard to make an emoji for something abstract — like good governance, or a responsible president,” Davis said.

Davis said there are 2,666 emojis worldwide. The LOL emoji with tears of laughter is the most popular, according to a July Facebook survey of its 2 billion monthly users, followed by the heart eyes emoji. Italians and Spaniards favour the kissing emoji. The consortium played no part in the making of “The Emoji Movie,” Davis said, because all of its work is open-source, available to all, and no permissions are needed.

Nevertheless, he never imagined that the computer-generated punctuation marks that originated in Japan in the 1980s would become Hollywood stars. “That’s something that never really crossed our minds,” Davis said.

Follow @htlifeandstyle for more

First Published: Jul 29, 2017 10:19 IST