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Emojis Became Bigger Than Their Inventor Thought Possible; Now He’s Getting A Webby Award 😃👏🏼🎉

Emojis Became Bigger Than Their Inventor Thought Possible; Now He’s Getting A Webby Award 😃👏🏼🎉

Back in 1999, the Internet had been widely available less than a decade, Bill Clinton was still U.S. president, and Japanese interface designer Shigetaka Kurita thought it was time to improve what you could do when texting on a cellphone, itself still a rudimentary experience just gaining wide adoption. ☎

“I wanted emoji to facilitate digital text communication,” Shigetaka said in an email interview translated from Japanese. “In short text exchanges, it is difficult to convey the feelings and background of the other party, so miscommunication tends to occur due to this. Our goal was to make digital communication more fun with emoji.” 🥳

Some 2,000 different emojis and nearly a quarter-century later, consider it mission accomplished. Because of that, the Webby Awards are giving Shigetaka a Lifetime Achievement Award on Monday night in New York City, said Webbys President Claire Graves. Emojis, it’s safe to type, are pretty much an omnipresent part of online communication. 😎

These days, no matter where you are, it’s difficult to find a device used to send text of some kind that doesn’t also offer emojis. But back in 1999, communication on the “dumb” flip phones of the day was pretty stripped down. 📱

For Shigetaka, creating emojis seemed like a natural extension of what people were already doing on cellphones in Japan. It was what happened afterward that suprised him. 🤩

“Initially, emoji were used only in Japan,” Shigetaka said. “Since Japanese is a combination of ideograms and phonograms, it goes well with pictograms, which are ideograms. Therefore, it was unexpected and a big surprise that it would be accepted overseas from the latter half of the 2000s.”💡

Helping the spread of emojis was their ability to transcend any one language to communicate, well, something when typing. They’re the first truly international language of the Web, used by far more people than even English, the world’s most commonly spoken language. ⌨️

“Many people around the world use pictograms in some way as a matter of course,” Shigetaka said. “And just as they were originally intended, emojis are enriching digital communication. At first, the vision was only for Japan, but I think that the fact that it has been achieved all over the world has realized the vision more than I imagined.”👀

Shigetaka’s own favorite emoji is the heart symbol, which he said is even older than his own creation. 🏛️

“The ❤ emoji existed before I made emojis, but it’s my favorite,” Shigetaka said. “This is because any negative statement can become positive just by adding a heart emoji. I also like ✨. There is no particular meaning in the emoji itself, but it is because it will decorate your remarks gorgeously.”

But hands of various sorts – clapping, high-fiving, waving, and, Graves’ favorite, “hand-hearting” – are the most widely used emojis, Shigetaka said. 👋🏿

There won’t be much suspense about other winners; they were announced a couple of weeks ago. And only about 40 of the dozens of awards will get a brief spotlight at Monday night’s event, Graves said. 🔦

That’s still a lot, but there’s one saving grace: the Webbys have had an ironclad five-word limit on acceptance speeches going back to the first ones back in the 1990s. 🗣️

If award winners exceed the five words, “then they get booed,” Graves said. “It’s not a good look.” 😭

Shigetaka’s acceptance speech will take that word limit, fittingly, one step beyond. 🚶🏽‍♂️

“It’s going to be the very first wordless speech,” Graves said. “He’s going to do them in emoji.” ❤️

The Webbys encompass, if not everything on the web, quite a darned lot of it, including not just sites, but advertising, social media, podcasts, games and more, culled from 14,000 entries from 75 countries, Graves said. This will be their 27th year.

The awards this year will recognize for the first time achievements in the Metaverse, immersive and virtual experiences, Graves said. Expect a more formal set of categories around artificial intelligence to follow nextyear, if we’re all still here. 👾

About 1,000 people are expected to attend Monday night’s awards at Cipriani’s Wall Street in Manhattan. But award winners will be posted on TikTok, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram as they happen for the rest of the world to watch. The event starts at 5:30 pm Eastern Daylight Time, but awards won’t be handed out until 7:30 pm EDT. 🎉

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