A post from Shady Characters

Emoji, part 9: going beyond

This is the eleventh in a series of thirteen posts on Emoji (😂). Start at PART 1, continue to PART 12 or view ALL POSTS in the series.

Given all we’ve seen so far in this series, it becomes natural to wonder: what’s next for emoji? And how do we even begin to answer that question?

We saw in part 7 that emoji are neither a language nor a script. But if we might be permitted for a moment to call them script-like, then, of all of the scripts and script-like things that we use to communicate online, emoji were perhaps the first to be native to the digital world. They were born to inject life into Japan’s teen-friendly poke beru, or pagers; later, they were adopted by Apple, Google, and other companies who have made their money online; and, under the care of the Unicode Consortium, they continue to be tended to by a group of nerds of the highest order. (As a software engineer by trade, I say that with the greatest respect.)

As such, it should come as no surprise that emoji have been, and continue to be, darlings of the tech industry. Emojli, the emoji-only social network, may have folded back in 2015,1 but that same year saw online payment company WorldPay muse that emoji might reasonably replace numbers when it came to PINs, reasoning that a combination of four distinct emoji makes for a significantly more secure password than four distinct digits.2* Also in 2015, Snapchat, an edgy messaging service popular with younger users, added emoji to indicate relationships beween users; a year later, Facebook, a distinctly non-edgy social network, augmented its internet-ancient “like” button (👍) with a palette of five additional “reaction” emoji (❤️, 😆, 😮, 😢 and 😠).4,5

Apple, as befits one of emoji’s earliest adopters in the West, have worked emoji especially hard. In 2017, the newly-launched iPhone X came with what Apple called “animoji” — animated, three-dimensional emoji with the ability to replicate the user’s facial expressions.6 It sounds odd, and, well, it was; within a day of the iPhone X’s unveiling, Devin Coldewey of TechCrunch opined that “Animoji are dumb and I detest them”.7 Dumb or not, Apple have since doubled down on the “weird animated emoji” front, last year launching a “memoji” feature that creates custom, emoji-style stickers based on the user’s facial appearance.8





Kraus, Lydia, Robert Schmidt, Marcel Walch, Florian Schaub, and Sebastian Möller. “On the Use of Emojis in Mobile Authentication”. In IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology, 502:265-280. Springer New York LLC, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-58469-0_18.








Coldewey, Devin. “Animoji Are Dumb and I Detest Them”. TechCrunch.


Apple Newsroom. “Apple Previews IOS 12”.


A study conducted in 2017 showed that in certain circumstances, emoji were indeed a practical alternative to PINs.3 

4 comments on “Emoji, part 9: going beyond

  1. Comment posted by John Cowan on

    I think it’s worth mentioning that no character makes it into Unicode without approval not only from the Unicode Consortium but also the ISO committee. Any country can send representatives to it, and about 14 do on a regular basis. And they are always desperate for volunteers to attend meetings. This slows the process down still further, it’s true, but it does ensure some degree of democratic (as opposed to anarchic) control.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi John — thanks for the clarification! You reminded me once before about the role of the ISO/IEC 10646 committee in the emoji standardisation process, and it’s a slip on my part to have omitted them here. I’ll update this post accordingly.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Comment posted by Nicolas on

    I love the idea of Wikidata-based emoji, never heard it before! The only thing that it makes me afraid of is how much it might cause vandalism on Wikidata and a lot of work for volunteers.

    Otherwise, I’m often thinking that the emoji standard could be moved out of the Uni­code Con­sor­tium. The Uni­code Con­sor­tium would simply reserve a large range of Unicode for emoji use, and delegate all the work of allocating what goes or not on this range to a separate, independent entity, an Emoji Con­sor­tium of some sort. The Emoji Con­sor­tium can have different ways of working and different criteria than Unicode, something that fits emoji better. It would remove a lot of ‘silly’ work from the Uni­code Con­sor­tium that would be able to use their focus and resources on actual languages, alphabets, and scripts, and have emoji evolving in a much more fitted environment :)

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Nicolas — I think the Unicode Consortium would, as you suggest, prefer to delegate emoji work to some other entity. I’m not sure a fixed (if large) range of reserved characters is the right way to go — who’s to say how many emoji is too many emoji? — but some sort of tag-based approach would permit an open-ended number of emoji while still allowing for standardisation of the most important symbols.

      Thanks for the comment!

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