The emoticon — a.k.a. Smiley — was born on Sept. 19, 1982. Proud papa Scott Fahlman, a research professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, never dreamed that his suggestion for identifying a humorous post on a b-board would have such an impact on the future of the e-world.
"It has been fascinating to watch this phenomenon grow from a little message I tossed off in ten minutes to something that has spread all around the world," said Fahlman.
He added, "Wherever the Internet has become a part of people's daily lives, the smiley has soon followed. I sometimes wonder how many millions of people have typed these characters, and how many have turned their heads to one side to view a smiley, in the 25 years since this all started."
Online bulletin boards became popular among Carnegie Mellon's computer science community in the early 1980s. Faculty, staff and students used them as a social mechanism, discussing everything from the serious issues of the day to campus parking to the occasional lost-and-found item.
"Given the nature of the community, a good many of the posts were humorous, or at least attempted humor," explained Fahlman. "The problem was that 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 said that would stir up more people with more responses, and soon the original thread of the discussion was buried. So, a discussion of ideas for joke markers ensued, during which Fahlman suggested the sideways smiley face. (Read the original thread.)
And the rest is history.
"This convention caught on quickly around Carnegie Mellon, and soon spread to other universities and research labs," said Fahlman. "Within a few months, we started seeing lists with dozens of 'smilies.'"
Among the first variations were Smiley with glasses 8-) and the winky ;-) . Some hobbyists have gone so far as to create celebrity emoticons ranging from Homer Simpson to Harry Potter.
Celebratory events include cookies at noon on the Cut and a new $500 scholarship is being sponsored by Yahoo.
Smiley was not available for comment at the time of this writing but has been seen around campus wearing a party hat and seems to be enjoying the limelight. <:-)