Emoticons have long since been relegated to first-base intimacy. They’re primitive relics of how we express what we can’t say in words. They’re also early avatars or “emblematic figures of contemporary co-presence” according to M.I.T’s Beth Coleman (in her new book, Hello Avatar). But now, Facetime and other video-calling apps are rendering emoticons further into the hinterland of the tech terrain. The dancing ninja, the bear hug, the hair-swipe dude, are all digital collateral-turned-retro. They’re more like ironic digital collateral than representations of emotion.

Skype Emoticons

Which makes Skype’s new marketing campaign curious. Launched a week or two ago, Humoticons is a Facebook app that lets users choose a picture from a limited stash of their Facebook photos, which is converted into an emoticon. Once your emoticon has been created, you choose an existing Skype emoticon (smile, wink, angry) that best matches your expressed emotion. Voila, Humoticon.
Humoticons: upload

The Humoticon campaign doesn’t only say something about improving an apparent communication hamstring (or about reviving emoticons). It shows that Skype is interested in conveying emotion, they think emotion makes us human, that the web could do with being “more human.”

According to their blog: “putting humanity back into how we communicate with others each and every day.”

It also gives emotion researchers fertile ground for investigating users’ expressions of emotion. Browse through the Humoticon gallery and you’ll often find fascinating labels for people’s expression of emotion. Take the following:

Humoticon: not smiling
Humoticon: evil grin (not)
Humoticon: Wondering?
tongue out emoticon
Isn’t there also something to be said about reinventing emoticons? A new visual language is ripe for rising up to represent emotions. Can images make us feel? Or at least close enough…

In the same vein as the blooming flower or raining cloud emoticon, this image is my stab at “gloomy.”

gloomy emoticon

Or the unmistakeable “chirpy”:
chirpy emoticon

Teens, music and mood

What happens when you select two random teen girls living in the UK from the community and compare their playlist for a week with their Tweets during the same timeframe? Well, you get hints at how music affects their mood as well as how they identify themselves through song and lyric. 

Read more of the story on – a website looking at the different ways teen girls construct their identity using digital media. 

Your Digital Self

I Want You to Want Me by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar made me think: it’s a huge, goddamn lonely digital universe out there. It feels like, as researchers (and people) we’ve just launched an exploration into a new cosmos and the results are sometimes more unnerving than fascinating.

I Want You To Want Me is a haunting, beautiful, interactive installation that Harris and Kamvar built for the Elastic Mind exhibition at MOMA in 2008. The duo harvested data from online dating sites and then visualized it in a series of floating pink (female) and blue (male) interactive balloons. Viewers can touch a balloon which then reveals bits of the data – like people’s opening or closing lines on their dating profiles or what they’re looking for in a partner.

I Want You to Want Me - Feel Me

I Want You To Want Me, looking for...

I Want You to Want Me, looking for love

Like their other (also beautiful) project, We Feel Fine,it’s divided into movements.

Closers reveals closing lines from users’ profiles:

Hurt me and you die (19-year-old woman looking for a woman in Orange County, California)
Did i mention that i’m nice? (36-year-old man looking for a woman in Omaha, Nebraska)
Also I would like to get married before my 30th birthday. (27-year-old woman looking for a man in Waupaca, Wisconsin)

Another movement is sillouettes depicting shadowy representations of online daters trapped in balloons.

I Want You To Want Me, balloon guy
I Want You To Want Me, girl in balloon

Maybe it was the background music of the Youtube video, or some of the lines, but it really punched a hole in my chest. The floating balloon graphics weren’t people anymore but more like lonely digital ghosts.  Ghosts of our previous analogue selfs?
It’s unchartered space. It’s filled with expression. We can better understand ourselves with the help of social data and design. I get this. This explains away the new charge of data visualizations, apps and tools that help us quantify and analyse our emotions.

But maybe it’s also the start of something else. That the web is now laying bare the complexities of human relationships. That is has always been a goddamn lonely universe out there,  but for the first time we can see it. As we start to uncover our digital selves through data and design, we see the traces of our digital adventures and our new digital existence. We see what we’ve become or what we’ve always been. Either way, this self, seeking love, looks lonely.
– Natalie Dixon