Sunday 28 January 2018

Wot no toilet paper emoticon? (Emoji as a universal language)

Without going into the details of why I wanted a roll of TP emoji, I was amazed to discover that there isn't one - yet.

Back in the day I used to add a ;-) to avoid misunderstandings in emails and texts. But I'm in the "really???!" camp when it comes to adding a string of pictures at the end of a text or social media post.

When Craig gave that infamous demo of the iPhone X ("let's go to backup") He said something along the lines of "Here we are with the most advanced technology in a phone and you want me to make a poop sing" (I can't find the clip and get the exact quote). The technology has well and truly overtaken our real needs.

But then while looking at the page about the forthcoming toilet roll emoji it occurred to me that we're making a great job of assigning images to objects with a short code for each. We're building a dictionary of bytecodes for pictorial representations of objects.

That's incredibly efficient and has potential beyond embellishing your texts. How soon before we start adding more abstract concepts like 'week' and 'meeting', adjectives and conjunctions etc  and end up with a universal language which can be stored incredibly efficiently?


  1. That's an interesting idea,.. we already use them for communication, so why not for storing information and ideas?

    But, while it's a limited subset of faces, flags and everyday objects, the codes are small and manageable. What happens when we try to include everything?

    Some have tried to do with languages and simplification of spelling over the years. I mean, do we really need so many words for snow?..

    ..The answer is probably yes, but in a limited way.

    But just think about all those jokes that won't work anymore, and descriptive prose stripped of its colour. Also how would it work with technical terms that are often derived from latin. Would we also have to include trademarks, and if so what would the legal position of using these be? And how would we type it all in?.. some sort of translation process, or voice to emoji service?

    But it's still a really interesting idea.

  2. I think emoji now generally take 4 bytes to store, which makes them only slightly more efficient than a word (in English I think 5 letters is average plus the space / punctuation which you don't need). But they still have the huge advantage of being universal.

    Maybe you're underestimating how many objects are already represented with more being added at the time. There's already the concept of modifiers (you can modify a face to represent race and other things. Why not modify a snowflake to represent snow / sleet / hail or even the other 49 words if that's not a myth)

    Plus we already have some concepts such as up, down, left, right, occasions and some other abstract things like gender and disability.

    So with all nouns covered, some verbs (run, walk) and some things not absolutely necessary or workable-around in this language (pronouns and prepositions) we may be closer than you might think.

    People have already written out the plot to films and other things in emoji. I'd be very interested to see whether a deft emoji-reader who doesn't know the plot to Big Lebowski could explain the plot based on this: