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Emojipedia creator on non-human emojis & Twitter disputes

It’s not often you meet with the person responsible for chronicling everything you ever need to know about emojis. But here I am sitting opposite Jeremy Burge, founder of Emojipedia and his Emojipedia blog at Flat White café in Soho, London. Burge is smiling and upbeat – the sort of persona you would expect from someone that runs a site on hundreds of characters that people have grown to love. If you ever wanted to know what those strange yellow characters on your phone with the smiley faces mean, Burge is your go-to-guy.

What made him interested in emojis in the first place?

“It was about two years ago when a few changes were made to the iPhone and they added in a few different emojis. I was Googling to find out what was new but couldn’t find much information online,” Burge tells me. “I was really surprised as I thought there would be boundless amounts of information online. But there was no concise place where you could go and say: What are the emojis? How are they used? I just found it interesting and thought that someone should be documenting this.”

And away Burge went. On his blog, Burge writes about the latest releases and updates on emojis. On Emojipedia, you can search for a list of emoji meanings, the latest emoji news, as well as the most popular emojis. He says currently there are about 850 types of emojis.

And the site is doing pretty well. Burge tells me he gets “over a million” people per week that visit Emojipedia.

“Obviously it can fluctuate depending on releases or more interest. A lot more people will flood in whenever there is a new release, especially from Apple. They look up about three emojis on average per user per visit.”

Many people are not fans of emoticons, emojis and whatever else that is seen to intrude on the English language. Even Scott Fahlman, the creator of the emoticon in 1982 hates emojis and prefers the classics. At the same time, a growing number of people absolutely love using emojis to communicate with their families, friends, and colleagues.

But what was first deemed to be just another fun way of communicating is also leading to some paranoia about its repercussions. One grad student is freaking out as he believes he is starting to “think in emoji” and some believe that excessive use of emojis is butchering the English language.

Instagram takes it one step further and believes that with emojis we are observing the rise of a new language. According to Instagram’s research, emojis went from appearing in just 10% of Instagram entries in 2010 to featuring in nearly half of all comments and captions on the Instagram service. 

What does Burge make of all this?

“It’s an interesting point and I think we are just looking for ways to communicate in the quickest way possible and an emoji helps that. I think there’s always a place for journalism and articles and long-form prose but I don’t think it’s ruining the English language – I just think it’s another way to chat to your friends.”

Then there are the disputes about emojis and race. Apple got quite a bit of heat recently when it updated its emojis to allow users to customise their emoji’s skin colours. Apple’s intentions were obviously good as it was only trying to cater to diversity. But it backfired when users started using the new emojis to make racist comments on social media sites. And that’s not all. Some people believe that even the default bright yellow emojis are racist towards Asians. Perhaps as result of what happened with Apple, in an unusual move, Microsoft will now be using grey emojis as its default colour rather than yellow.

Is this a no-win situation?

“I agree that it is no-win to some degree but I think if you give people the choice then it’s over to them. [As for Windows 10] I don’t know their reasoning behind it but the specification from the Unicode Consortium says that the emojis should be non-human in appearance by default. The Unicode standard does not suggest yellow or grey – just that it should be non-human,” says Burge.

“Maybe they saw the flack Apple got for using yellow. Or maybe it was just a stylistic approach because they just prefer the look of the grey ones. I don’t think adding new skin tones to emojis makes a statement from any of the tech companies. People can use emojis to be offensive if they want to be or they can use them as a colourful or interesting device,” Burge adds.

Burge tells me that often people get into arguments on Twitter about the intention behind emojis – as some of them can be quite ambiguous.

“You see people going back and forth on Twitter and they end up with a link to Emojipedia saying: ‘No this is the laughing one. I’m laughing not crying!’ So in some ways it is an argument ender!”


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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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