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