Internet trends: marketing research & predictions

Emoticons – a trend to last?

December 6th, 2007 by


Emoticons were first introduced in 1982 by Scott Fahlman, a research professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. Twenty five years later and they are still popular.

Emoticons – needs they serve:

I think emoticons combine three primary needs

1- Emoticons have the power to express emotions otherwise are harder to communicate

2- Emoticons are instant and time saving

3- As we spend more and more time online, we need to compensate the lack of presence of facial expressions in our lives. Emoticons are representations of our social selves.

The use of emoticons:

A survey of 40,000 users of the Yahoo Messenger instant-message program, conducted on July 2007 reveals that:
Nearly 85% of people using Yahoo! Messenger daily rely on emoticons to add color and character to their communication
40% of the respondents said they first discovered emoticons within the last five years.

Use of emoticons by age factor:
68% of the respondendants aged 19 – 25 use emoticons daily
55% of the respondents older than 30, report using emoticons every day.
48% of respondents over the age of 50 used them every day.

82% of respondents considered women more likely than men to use emoticons.
More than half felt that love is easier to convey using emoticons than in person: 57% of respondents would rather express their true feelings using an emoticon.

Popular emotions on emoticons:
83% of respondents report “happiness” and “flirting” are the emotions they express most often using emoticons.
10% of respondents would go as far as proposing marriage to their loved one via IM.

Memorizing emoticons: 66% of Yahoo! Messenger users have memorized the text characters for 3 or more emoticons. 19% of respondents have memorized more than 10.

Emoticons: evolution of a symbol:

Todays emoticons are three dimensional, and highly interactive as they can sing, laugh, twist and dance.  You can now easily convert text emoticons into the graphic cartoon smileys.
Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, and Google Gmail have their own emoticons and smileys popping.
Great many third party companies are involved in the emoticon business (SweetIM, myemoticons, Smiley Central and others).
Facebook applications use the emoticons not only as direct mood reflections (“Moods”)  but take those communication tools few steps further and use graphic symbols to send gifts (“Free Gifts”) to ones’ friends.

Cultural dependency:

While it is known that across cultures facial expression hold a strong evolution impact (face expressions as survival signals, infants strong preferences towards face representation over other geometrical patterns), it has been found that different cultures interpret face expressions as emoticons differently:
The University of Alberta study suggests that “in cultures where emotional control is the standard (such as Japan) focus is placed on the eyes to interpret emotions. In cultures where emotion is openly expressed, such as the United States, the focus is on the mouth to interpret emotion”. The study shows that Japanese emoticons for happiness and sadness vary in terms of how the eyes are depicted, while American emoticons vary with the direction of the mouth.
See most popular emoticons in Japan.

Current Popularity evidence:

– Facebook: “Moods”   is currently one of the 14 most popular applications on Facebook – with 7,103,000 installs and 213,000 active users

– Harvard: “ back on Harvard: Emoticons: punctuation as communication? October 5, 2007”

Emoticons – where to?

My future prediction for emoticons presents two possible extremes:

On one extreme emoticons will be more connected to the “real me”. As such, it can be used with real photographs of oneself, each representing different expression.

At the other extreme, emoticons themes will surely develop from faces (pictures and videos) to personal objects, any object that can represent oneself and the things he likes to have.

Either way, emoticons will keep on serving us as long as we value “instant” social tools of communication. Emoticons will be enhanced by ongoing SN developments and will show meaningful rise in the mobile web.

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2 Responses

  1. Glenn Friesen | Customer Service Training Says:

    Emoticons were possibly first introduced by Abraham Lincoln’s speech-writer in 1862.


    Outside of that esoterica, you have some insightful analysis of emoticons here! Time to email everyone I know about your article! 😀


    Glenn Friesen

  2. Book of Mormon Tickets Says:

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