A timeline of cultural and technical events in the history of emoji
noun | emo·ji | \ ē-ˈmō-jē \
A small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion.
Origin: Japanese, from e ‘picture’ + moji ‘letter, character’.
Emoji: En historia om känslor, bajs och ett gult leendeBuy my book about the history of the emoji (in Swedish)
SoftBank, known as J-Phone at the time, releases the SkyWalker DP-211SW mobile phone on the 1st of November 1997, with the world’s first known emoji set. The set includes 90 distinct emoji characters, among them one of the most iconic emoji characters in the Unicode Standard, the poo emoji.
The SoftBank emoji designs heavily influenced Apple’s original emojis which was designed to be compatible with this set when launched in Japan, due to iPhone being a SoftBank-exclusive phone when first released.
Shigetaka Kurita himself tweeted in January 2019 that “The first emoji use in mobile devices in Japan was a pager, but in mobile phones DoCoMo wasn’t the first, I think it was J-PHONE DP-211SW”:
— （く）りたしげたか (@sigekun) January 3, 2019
Shigetaka Kurita creates 176 emojis for the release of the Japanese mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo’s integrated mobile internet service “i-mode”, debuting in February of 1999. The service only allowed for 250 characters which gave Kurita the challenge to figure out a way to communicate in an expressive but short way. Even though the emoji set isn’t the first, it is the first to get widespread use and ultimately make emoji a worldwide phenomenon.
With the release of MSN Messenger 6 the instant messaging platform introduces 30 emoticons, including animated ones. Precursors to emojis, the users are also able to turn any image file into an emoticon and connect customized keyboard shortcuts to specific emoticons.
If a user is undecided, the program also offered a “Decision Wheel” which users can spin to decided which emoticon to use. Emoticons are part of their aim of making the program more personal.
Google begins to convert Japanese emoji to Unicode private-use codes. The Unicode Consortium is a non-profit corporation devoted to developing, maintaining, and promoting software internationalization standards and data, particularly the Unicode Standard, which specifies the representation of text in all modern software products and standards. Unicode was adopted as an international standard in 1992.
Fred Benenson launches Emoji Dick, a project that aims to translate 10 000 sentences from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick into emojis. Benenson enlists over 800 people through Mechanical Turk, where you pay anywhere from a couple of cents to a couple of dollars for humans to complete defined tasks, that in the end spends over 3,795,980 seconds to write the book. Benenson raises the money to pay his army of translators via the crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter.
“I’m interested in the phenomenon of how our language, communications, and culture are influenced by digital technology. Emoji are either a low point or a high point in that story, so I felt I could confront a lot of our shared anxieties about the future of human expression (see: Twitter or text messages) by forcing a great work of literature through such a strange new filter”, explains Fred Benenson on the Kickstarter.
Google releases the Gmail Labs feature “Extra emoji”, an add-on which enables access to more than 1 200 emojis. The emojis, which in Google’s press release is still called emoticons, is made possible by Japanese mobile carriers that Google partnered with.
“All of these extra emoticons are straight from the secret underground labs of some of the top Japanese mobile carriers, used with permission. Thanks guys!” Google writes on its blog.
Emoji is finally standardised by Unicode. This means that brands like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter can start creating their own versions of Emoji that would appear even if a message was sent from another operating system. Unicode 6.0 is also the largest release of emoji yet, with 994 characters including: emotions, a pile of poo, families, hearts, animals, clothes, food, city images, clocks, and country flags.
In an interview with UK’s Independent Scott Fahlman, who in 1982 sent the email where he suggested the first emoticon “:-)”, calls the emojis ugly. He says they “ruin the challenge of trying to come up with a clever way to express emotions using standard keyboard characters.”
#EmojiArtHistory is a Twitter hashtag associated with reinterpretations of famous artworks throughout history through only using emojis. The idea for the hashtag came from a Tumblr post submitted by ladiesupfront which featured four iPhone screenshots of text messages sent from a friend who tried to recreate artistic masterpieces with emoji characters.
A couple of weeks later, Brooklyn-based artist Man Bartlett reblogged the photoset, leading him to use the hashtag #EmojiArtHistory for the first time with an emoji of a man and a gun to represent Chris Burden’s 1971 conceptual performance piece, Shoot.
Matthew Rothenberg, a hacker from Brooklyn, New York, launches Emojitracker. A website which in real-time tracks every tweet that’s written and contains an emoji. To date (November 2017) over 20 billion tweets have been tracked with the values being incremental since Emojitracker launched. The clear winner being the most tweeted emoji is, for the time being, “Face With Tears of Joy”, with over 1 billion.
Android users everywhere rejoice when Google finally adds legitimate emoji support to its Android OS version 4.4 KitKat by making them part of the official Google keyboard app. Before this users had to either memorize specific command words to select emojis, or they had to long-press their spacebars after they installed the correct language packs.
In november EmojiTranslate is launched, a website where you can translate texts to emojis and vice versa. EmojiTranslate relies on a custom-built translation engine. In 2018 they roll out support for almost a hundred languages, which enables the user the translate languages such as Spanish to emoji or emoji to Russian.
The Emoji Art & Design Show is on display December 12-21 in New York and features original work from 20+ artists. “An examination of the emoji zeitgeist”, the show explains on it’s website. “The works presented cover a wide range of mediums from digital prints, sculptures, video and performance art, tackling themes such as emotional ambiguity, symbology, and visual communication.“
Author Maris Kreizman of the literary blog Slaughterhouse 90210 sent out a tweet suggesting the publishing industry, instead of using cliched adjectives should allow blurbs to be done in emoji form. The publishing firm Random House took inspiration from this and created the hashtag #emojireads challenging Twitter users to come up with book plots with only emojis:
When the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, held his yearly speech to the nation in january, the british newspaper The Guardian decided to create a storytelling-page by translating parts of the speech into emojis.
Barack Obama said his address to Congress this year was all about “finding areas where we agree, so we can deliver for the American people”. And if there’s one thing we can all agree upon, it’s emojis, the newspaper explains on it’s website.
The New Yorker confronts former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email controversy with a series of emojis on its cover. The newspaper’s take on the controversy is drawn by artist Barry Blitt. In a statement released by the magazine, Blitt said he was fascinated by emojis:
“Where would we be without emoticons, emoji, and sideways winky faces typed out of punctuation marks? Seriously, how does anyone understand anything that’s written with only letters? I feel sorry for the alphabet. I’m waiting for the first original novel to be composed solely with emoticons. Oh, and Hillary Clinton.”
SwiftKey analyzes more than one billion pieces of emoji data across a wide range of categories to learn how speakers of 16 different languages and regions use emoji. Among the findings in the report were:
- French use four times as many heart emoji than other languages, and it’s the only language for which a ‘smiley’ is not #1
- Flowers and plants emoji are used at four times the average rate by Arabic speakers
- Russian speakers use three times as much romantic emoji than the average
- Australia’s emoji use characterizes it as the land of vice & indulgence, using double the average amount of alcoholthemed emoji, 65% more drug emoji than average and leading for both junk food and holiday emoji
Chevrolet writes a press release almost entirely in emojis to announce news about their Chevy Cruze.
“Words alone can’t describe the new 2016 Chevrolet Cruze, so to celebrate its upcoming reveal, the media advisory is being issued in emoji, the small emotionally expressive digital images and icons in electronic communication”, the automaker explains.
To go along the press release they attach the hashtag #ChevyGoesEmoji
A French ad, created by Paris based agency BETC, for fast-food chain McDonalds shows a city full of people going about their daily lives. But instead of human heads, they all have giant emoji heads. The ad ends with the tagline “Venez comme vous êtes,” which translates to “Come as you are”.
In an attempt to reach out to millennials Hillary Clinton reaches out to her followers on Twitter, asking them to tweet back in emojis. The fallback doesn’t wait.
With the addition of Unicode 8.0, the complete emoji library now stands at 1 281 characters. Included are a color palette that provide a range of skin tones for human emoji. These characters are based on the tones of the Fitzpatrick scale. Apple includes the new skin tone emojis in its release of iOS 8.3.
When Facebook launched their emoji-esque “Reactions”, USA Today decided to use them on its own front page by adding them next to their headlines. The stunt was heavily criticised, arguing that the icons felt like they were trying to reflect how the reader should feel about the news, which blurs the line of journalistic neutrality.
David Callaway, editor-in-chief, USA Today, responded with: “My feeling (as editor-in-chief) is that a billion FB users may soon start using these to share stories—all kinds of stories—which of course is Facebook’s intention. Social media and its icons are becoming a dominant form of communication in our world. We wanted to show what they would be like if transferred to print.”
Instagram unveils the function to use emoji in your hashtags but users soon discover that a search for the eggplant emoji results in “no tags found”. Instagram confirms that the eggplant was blocked because it violated their community guidelines. The emoji for the banana and the peach though remain unaffected. The ban is later removed.
A 12-year-old from Fairfax, Virginia, is charged with threatening her school after the police said she posted a message on Instagram in December laden with gun, bomb, and knife emojis. The girl’s family claims she sent the message in response to being bullied.
Pornhub announces the launch of an emoji mobile video delivery service. The premise is simple. You text Pornhub an emoji, and the site will reply instantly with a specially selected film relating to it.
The services launches with 30 corresponding public emojis, including the eggplant emoji, which provides a link to a “big dick” video; the melon emoji, which would generate a link to a “big tit” video; and the scissor emoji, which sends a link to a video from the “lesbian” category. Though the site also includes a number of ‘secret Easter eggs’ that you can discover among the 1,620 others that are available.
Update: The service was closed in 2020.
In time for World Emoji Day, Twitter launches emoji keyword targeting which gives brands the ability to target people based on the emojis they include in their tweets.
“Emojis have become a ubiquitous way for people, publishers, and brands to express their feelings. And over 110 billion emojis have been Tweeted since 2014,” writes Twitter on their blog.
With the tool advertisers can target people who have recently Tweeted or engaged with Tweets featuring emojis. For example, a food chain could now target people who Tweet food emojis.
Apple announces that in iOS 10 the gun emoji will change it’s appearance from a realistic revolver to a water pistol. Conversely, at the same time, Microsoft decides with it’s latest update to Windows 10 to change the design of their gun emoji from a toy ray-gun to a realistic revolver. Later in 2016, ironically Apple, Microsoft and Google voted against including a rifle emoji to celebrate the Summer Olympics’ shooting events.
A lot of people feel confused about David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of the seminal science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert from 1965. When the star of the movie, Kyle MacLachlan, got asked on Twitter to explain the plot of Dune he retold the entire story of the film in a single tweet:
Researchers at the University of Michigan and Peking University analyze 427 million messages from nearly 4 million smartphone users in 212 countries and regions to see if emoji use was universal or differed based on user location and culture. They used a popular input method app—Kika Emoji Keyboard—made available in 60 languages. The team’s results are believed to be the first large-scale analysis of emoji usage.
“Emojis are everywhere. They are becoming the ubiquitous language that bridges everyone across different cultures,” says Wei Ai, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan School of Information.
In line with perceptions of the culture, the romantic French embrace icons associated with hearts, while users from other countries prefer emojis related to faces. Countries where ties between individuals are integrated and tight, like Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Colombia, use more emojis expressing sadness, anger, and negative feelings. People in long-term orientation societies who tend to have values that center on the future like French, Hungarians, and Ukrainians—are less likely to use negative emojis than those living in societies with low long-term orientation like Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Israel.
Stefan Johansson launches Emoji.se, an emoji archive and search engine, as he found it frustrating to search through countless lists to find a specific emoji. Essentially being Emojipedia in Swedish the website also gives some cultural context to some of the emojis, especially the ones stemming from Japanese culture.
NTT DoCoMo’s original set of 176 emojis, created by Shigetaka Kurita, is added to the collection of Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA) in New York, USA. In december the same year the museum opens an installation about the evolution of emojis and their cultural impact.
“Shigetaka Kurita’s emoji are powerful manifestations of the capacity of design to alter human behavior. The design of a chair dictates our posture; so, too, does the format of electronic communication shape our voice. MoMA’s collection is filled with examples of design innovations that radically altered our world, from telephones to personal computers to the @ symbol. Today’s emoji (the current Unicode set numbers nearly 1,800) have evolved far beyond Kurita’s original 176 designs for NTT DOCOMO. However, the DNA for today’s set is clearly present in Kurita’s humble, pixelated, seminal emoji.” / Paul Galloway (MoMA Architecture & Design Collection Specialist)
The world’s first Emojicon is held in San Francisco in November. The conference is arranged by Emojination, an organization who hope to raise awareness about emoji’s many possibilities. It’s motto is, “Emoji by the People, for the People.” During the three days you can attend activities such as emoji film festival, emoji karaoke, and emoji improv.
Today Translations, a translation firm based in London, puts out an ad for the world’s first emoji translator specialist to help them meet the translation challenges posed by “the world’s fastest-growing language.” A need has risen since text messages more and more are being used as evidence in court cases. The software being used isn’t sensitive enough to understand the many cultural differences in usage and interpretation of the expressive pictograms.
Maria Tenggren, Department of Media Studies, Stockholm University, analyzes in her report ”Emoji as a Universal Language – A study of Apple and Samsung’s transformation of universal codes” how the design of emojis difference themselves between mobile operating systems. Maria finds that 93 % of emojis are similar.
In the episode “Smile” (S10E02) of the British cult tv-series Doctor Who the eponymous Doctor and his companion discovers an alien colony inhabited by robots who only communicate through emojis.
With it latest update Twitter now allows you to use emojis in their search engine. First spotted and confirmed by Emojipedia, the functionality is supported both on Twitter’s website and apps. You are not only able to search for specific emojis within the text of a tweet but also accounts that use emoji in their usernames.
The Empire State Building in New York City, USA, is lit up in yellow in celebration of World Emoji Day, July 17th.
The iconic Manhattan building installed in 2012 a computer-controlled LED light system that will power the celebration and turn the skyscraper into a beacon of “emoji yellow”. The city frequently uses the building’s state-of-the-art lighting system to mark special occasions and celebrations.
To celebrate the forth annual World Emoji Day on Monday July 17, the winners of the second World Emoji Awards are announced live from the New York Stock Exchange. Facepalm wins Best New emoji for 2017 with the Lifetime Achievement Award, voted by general public, going to Face With Years of Joy.
Sony Pictures Animation releases The Emoji Movie. Sony won the rights in July 2015 in a deal reportedly worth almost seven figures. The film gets critically slammed with a now standing 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, audience wise though the movie earns back its money with a box office of over $210 million worldwide against a budget of $50 million.
A study published in “Social Psychological and Personality Science” claims that the inclusion of smiley emojis in work emails doesn’t increase perceptions of warmth and actually decreases perceptions of competence. The study also shows that there’s a glimmer of sexism in emoji usage. It revealed that when the gender of the email sender was unknown, recipients were more likely to presume that an email which included a smiley icon was sent by a woman.
Unicode, the technical organization in charge of selecting and overseeing emojis, is embroiled in a fierce internal debate. The whole debacle, in the media nicknamed “The Great Poop Emoji Feud”, centers primarily around “Frowning Pile Of Poo,” one of the emojis under consideration for release Summer 2018.
The critics say that the emoji proposal process has become too commercial and frivolous, thereby cheapening the Unicode Consortium’s long body of work.
Organic waste isn’t cute, Michael Everson, a contributing typographer, wrote in an October 22 memo where he called the submission of new poop emojis damaging … to the Unicode standard.
Danish media analytic Thomas Baekdal tweets a screenshot of Apple’s and Google’s respective cheeseburger emojis showing the different cheese placement. The tweet ignites a debate about where the different ingredients of a cheeseburger belong. Some users also point out flaws in the cheeseburgers from other companies, like Apple’s and Samsung’s lettuce placement, as well as the amount of sesame seeds on Facebook’s buns.
The viral tweet caught the attention of Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who wrote in response: “Will drop everything else we are doing and address on Monday:) if folks can agree on the correct way to do this!”
The non-profit organization Plan International writes in a study about menstruation that there is still a huge taboo surrounding it and that most women aren’t comfortable talking about the subject. Half of the women between 18-34 in the study feel that it would be easier to talk to their partner about menstruation if there was an emoji for it.
They therefore launch a competition in May where they ask people to vote on five different period emoji designs, and between the UK and Australia over 54,600 people voted in total. Over 18,700 voted for the pants emoji to be added to keyboards worldwide. It was submitted as a proposal to the Unicode Consortium, asking them to add it as an emoji standard in 2018.
In his book “The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats” the linguist Vyvyan Evans comes to the defence of emojis. He argues that the criticism of emoji is only cultural elitism, for Evans emoji is the next step in the evolution of human language. “Emoji adds more than a splash of color to our digital alphabet. It provides a visual form of communication that is both resonant and powerful.”
Beginning on January 1st Ivorian artist and student O’Plerou Grebet start posting an Africa related emoji every day till the end of the year on Instagram. Grebet taught himself how to create emojis after getting fed up of seeing just poverty images of Africa. He wanted to depict the beauty in the everyday lives of African people.
“My idea was to create emojis so Africans can have emojis they relate to.”
In December 2018, he incorporated all 365 emojis from his project into an app which he titled ‘Zouzoukwa.’ which means “image” in the Bete language spoken in Ivory Coast.
The total number of new emojis in 2018 is 157 when Emoji 11.0 is released as part of Unicode 11.0. The version number skipped 6 through 10 (the last emoji release was named Emoji 5.0) to instead use the same number as the Unicode release.
New emojis added in Emoji 11.0 include a skateboard, dna, kangaroo, partying face, parrot, lobster, and more. Finally red heads also get their own emojis, along with bald and curly emojis.
When the emojis will be available to the user depends on the platform. Emoji updates for smart phones are tied to major OS updates while internet platforms like Facebook and Twitter can update their emoji sets at any time.
As with all emoji sets, designs vary by vendor. Below is the sample images Emojipedia created in an Apple-like style to show how they think the new emojis might look like:
Sanjaya Wijeratne, a Ph.D. student at Wright State University along with Dr. Emre Kıcıman from Microsoft Research AI – USA, Prof. Horacio Saggion from Universitat Pompeu Fabra – Spain, and Prof. Amit Sheth from Wright State University – USA, organize the first emoji workshop, titled International Workshop on Emoji Understanding and Applications in Social Media. “Emoji2018” for short. The workshop is held in conjunction with The 12th International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM-18) at Stanford University, California, USA.
The workshop attracts more than 35 attendees representing many disciplines. The workshop program includes a keynote, a tutorial, a total of 8 paper presentations, and a panel discussion with leading researchers and practitioners. The proceedings for the 2018 workshop are available at http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-2130/.
The workshop has been held every year since, the latest being Emoji2021.
On World Emoji Day the new musical Emojiland premieres Off-Broadway. The show marks the first time emojis have been adapted into a long-form narrative and is the brain child of husband-and-wife duo Keith (book, music, lyrics) and Laura Harrison (book). It was partly financed by a Kickstarter campaign.
Emojiland tells the story of an emoji civilization contained within a teenager’s smartphone. When the phone falls behind a dresser, the inhabitants of Emojiland must figure out how to save themselves before the battery runs out and their universe shuts down, lost forever.
With the release of iOS 12.1 to iPhone Apple plans to introduce support for 70 new emojis from the latest Unicode-release. But when the iOS 12.1 beta 2 is out for testing one emoji is quick to be criticized – the bagel.
The critics points out that the bagel is missing any filling and doesn’t look appetizing. As with Google and their burger-emoji, that caused uproar a year earlier, Apple is quick to appease the Twitterverse and with the beta 4 of iOS 12.1, the bagel design is changed.
Philipp Antoni, a San Francisco based developer, creates “Emoji Builder“. A UI for building your own emojis using Apples emoji designs. As the custom made emojis aren’t part of unicode it isn’t possible to send them inline with text but only as images.
— Philipp Antoni (@phlntn) November 11, 2018
The world premiere of Picture Character – An Emoji Documentary is held at the Tribeca Film Festival, New York, on April 28th. The tagline on the poster is “Everything you ever wanted to know about emoji”. The film is directed by Ian Cheney & Martha Shane, and produced by Jennifer 8. Lee, of Emoji Nation, and executive produced (among many others) by Fred “Emoji Dick” Benenson.
The documentary was later renamed The Emoji Story.
In July, Facebook and Instagram updates the Facebook Community Standards regarding permissible sexual expression on the social media platforms. Under the new terms using “Suggestive Elements” such as “contextually specific and commonly sexual emojis or emoji strings” isn’t allowed anymore and may result in a user’s account being flagged or removed.
The Facebook Community Standards doesn’t name which emojis specifically but the eggplant, sweat drop and peach emojis are probably included. Facebook and Instagram won’t censor “suggestive elements” on their own, however. They must meet a combination of criteria to be subject to removal, and be a part of an implicit or indirect sexual solicitation.
“Certain emojis will only be removed from Facebook and Instagram if they are used alongside a request for nude imagery, sex or sexual partners, or sex chat conversations. We aren’t removing simply the emojis.” / Stephanie Otway, Facebook
The Twitter account Emoji Mashup Bot is created by 18-year-old developer Louan Bengmah. Louan, who is studying web development in France, runs the account which creates and tweets a randomized mashup of two different emoji every 60 min.
“I thought making a Twitter bot would be a fun exercise. So I watched some great YouTube tutorials, and while I was experimenting I found the idea of merging two emojis together amusing and interesting. It took me approximately a week.” / Louan Bengmah in Time Magazine
As a side project, Enric Moreu creates Emoji Trends by using a Twitter scrape of around 800 GB of tweets containing emojis.
Enric wanted a “language agnostic” way to see what was happening around the world by creating charts of how often different emojis were used. His goal isn’t that the charts are to be informative, but rather that they should trigger people’s curiosity.
I don’t intend to prove any point in this project, I think it’s just funny to see people wondering why people were tweeting a snake emoji.
Google releases an update to its emoji keyboard called Emoji Kitchen allowing Gboard users on Android to create certain emoji mashups, with the results suggested in the keyboard for input as a sticker. Each of the stickers are specially handcrafted by the designers at Google.
Emoji have been around long enough that people want to play with them like we do with words—mashing them together, turning nouns into verbs, breaking them apart to create entirely new concepts. Language is infinitely creative just like art and music, and with Emoji Kitchen, your phone’s keyboard becomes an even richer canvas for expression. / Jennifer Daniels, Google
Users on WeChat, the Chinese messaging app, evades censors by translating a viral interview about covid-19 from the March edition of the local state-run magazine, People, into emojis. The interview is with Ai Fen, the director of the emergency department of Wuhan Central Hospital. Ai was the first doctor to pass along information about the then–mystery illness which become known as covid-19 or the coronavirus.
The censors keep deleting the story so the users started to translate it in different ways, one of them using emojis.
Facebook adds a seventh “reaction” button on its platform, shows a heart being hugged by an emoji.
It sits next to the other five reactions, introduced four years earlier, and the original thumbs up: like, heart, LOL, wow, sadness and anger.
The new reaction is intended as shorthand for the 2 billion global users to show caring, compassion and solidarity when commenting on a status update, message, photo or video during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This idea of a hug reaction came back consistently as one of the emotions and feelings that were missing from reactions. And with the crisis that we are going through right now, there is no doubt that people need more compassion, more support.”
Whether the reaction only is a temporary addition during the pandemic or if it will stick around will depend on users’ reaction to it, according to Simo.
At their yearly Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, Apple announces the upcoming release of iOS 14, their operating system for the iPhone. One of the new features is adding an emoji search to the keyboard.
A new search field for the emoji keyboard lets you search for the perfect emoji. Enter a commonly used word or phrase such as “heart” or “smiley face” and you will be presented with corresponding emoji to choose from.
Before this users had to install third party keyboards on iOS to have emoji search.
— Jeremy Burge (@jeremyburge) July 1, 2020
On World Emoji Day, July 17th, a lipstick-wearing smiley is beamed onto the Houses of Parliament in London, United Kingdom.
Behind the projection is makeup brand Ciaté London who has partnered with SmileyWorld Ltd, who owns the copyright for the smiley face in most of the world.
The image projected is therefore one of the company’s trademarked smiley faces and not an emoji.