In the late 90’s, Shigetaka Kurita invented the emoji in response to an early mobile website that had been launched. The site was similar to ones that we are used to today. It combined things like weather, news, and entertainment on a single platform. A critical difference, however, is that instead of using symbols to explain things like the weather (sun for sunny or cloud for cloudy), it would say things like “fine” or “bad.” This was terribly confusing for Kurita as “fine” could mean a whole range of experiences.
In the beginning, there was the word and the word was code and the code was turned emoji.
The first generation of emojis was not standardized. Because emojis are based on a numeric code this caused some complications. For example, a smiley face may be coded as number 123,456 for one cell phone carrier, but 123,456 might be an ice-cream cone or just not exist on another carrier.
Though this continued to be a problem, emojis remained hugely popular in Japan, so when Apple came out with the iPhone and wanted to tap into the Japanese market, they knew that they had to create an emoji bank. Originally, they wanted to make the emojis available only to the Japanese market, but we Americans, fueled by a strong dose of caffeine and freedom realized that we could install an app that translates part of the Japanese language coding into emojis. At this point, however, the coding for emojis was still not uniform, making it ever so slightly to text your friends with androids.
Luckily for us, Unicode, the organization responsible for standardizing code that runs on many platforms (like fonts) created a standardized emojis in 2010 meaning that when you send a winky-face from your iPhone to an android, you might actually get a kissy-face in response. #MessageReceived.
Every year, Unicode seeks to expand the emoji data bank both to make communication that much simpler and also to be more representational of the diversity in the world. The 2018 emoji update, for example, is rumored to feature a woman wearing a hijab and redheaded emojis.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.