Tag Archives: CMU

Emoticons to explain what you really mean

stephen2By Stephen Rhodes

Last week I said word of mouth is still the best marketing tool available and how Social Media made it exponentially easier to engage customers in the conversation.

Have you ever had a weird response, sometimes nasty, to an email and on re-reading understood how someone might misinterpret your intent?

IMG_0058Enter the emoticon.

Thirty-three years ago Sunday , a professor at Carnegie Mellon University invented the emoticon. Scott E. Fahlman, along with other members of CMU’s computer science community, used online “bulletin boards” to share information, make announcements, and chat, Fahlman recalled in a post on Carnegie Mellon’s website.

There were also a bunch of posts trying to be funny, Fahlman writes. But the members of Carnegie Mellon’s computer science community had a hard time deciphering sarcasm from more serious posts.

“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,” Fahlman writes. “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.”

To keep this from happening, some of the group’s members decided they needed a way to mark jokes separately from more serious posts.

“After all, when using text-based online communication, we lack the body language or tone-of-voice cues that convey this information when we talk in person or on the phone,” Fahlman writes.

His solution: using 🙂 to indicate jokes and 😦 to demarcate serious posts.

Of course, it has arguably evolved since then with an emoticon or emoji for every possible sentiment.

Sometimes it’s just easier to pick up the phone. More productive too.


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