Emoji for search? :thumbs up:

Pictograms, amirite?

Help me win this bet and I’ll :heart: you forevs, :okay:? :fisted hand sign:

Since reading “Bing Now Lets You Search By Emoji,” a few of my coworkers and I have been debating the future of emoji and search. Will emoji search ever be a thing? They think not; I disagree. Let me explain.

How did we get here?

Pictograms aren’t a new concept; emoji is just a modern, graphical iteration of the characters-to-represent-entire-things-or-ideas that written language has employed for millennia, right? The advent of the printing press and what we used to call “desktop publishing” accelerated the evolution. While we have Eastern cultures to thank for introducing and developing pictograms for written communication, the concept is no longer exclusive to them.

Emoticons, an ASCII-based (non-graphical) precursor to emoji, were used in print in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. But Scott Fahlman is credited as the first person to use :-) and :-( to express emotion in modern communication. (Personally, I think the nose is not a value add, but I’m also a hard G gif man, so…)

Japan’s emoticons are Kaomoji (顔文字, literally “face marks”). They’re more complex, as you might expect from a culture with a rich history of communicating with pictograms. Oh, they’re also awesome:

٩(͡๏̯͡๏)۶   ᕙ(⇀‸↼‶)ᕗ   ಠ_ಠ   ( ‾᷅⚰‾᷄ )

A rep from a Japanese mobile telecom company, NTT-DoCoMo, created emoji in the late nineties. I’m not convinced that emoji has conquered the world, but it’s certainly gaining mass appeal. Google, Apple, Microsoft and others gave emoji a major mass-market popularity boost when it was added to popular tools and platforms like Gmail, Android, OS X, iOS, and Windows.

Emoji is now baked into every major computer operating system, desktop and mobile. Leading browsers (with one major exception, Chrome) support it, and some of the most popular web services in the world like Facebook support it. It’s everywhere. If you’re looking to dig deeper, check out caniemoji.com for a pretty up-to-date list of modern emoji support.

How emoji is used

If you don’t spend your entire waking life on the Internet, you’re likely to be exposed to emoji through text messages. And I’d say a Millennial likely composed the message you saw (emoji use among Millennials is ubiquitous — so much that the White House recently released an emoji-filled infographic targeted to that demographic). And if it’s not from text/sms, you’ll find emoji used to share status updates on Twitter or team productivity updates on Slack, among other things on other platforms.

Back to that whole search thing

As emoji becomes more accessible, is more widely supported by technical standards, and matures to be more culturally agnostic, and as informal, interpersonal communication evolves, we’ll see more and more of it. emojitracker.com is fun visual representation of how popular emoji use is on Twitter. Increased exposure leads to increased adoption leads to innovation, hence emoji ouija boards, to emoji mashed up with classic art, to Halloween costumes.

So why isn’t it reasonable to assume we’d search with emoji?
If it’s more natural and native for a user to enter a :pizza emoji: or :hamburger emoji: instead of typing p-i-z-z-a or c-h-e-e-s-e-b-u-r-g-e-r-s into a search field on Yelp, why shouldn’t that be supported? (Yelp supports that by the way.) And Wikipedia supports emoji search too. And Twitter’s getting there. And emoji search in Slack is pretty fun.

How does this apply to you?

It might not at all. But if you’re running a business, you should know all about your customers, and your ideal customers, and your potential customers. Get to know how they communicate, and how they prefer to connect with your business. You may find that they respond better to a simple fist-bump (:fisted hand sign: emoji) Tweet reply than the bullshit coupons that you’re designing for next week’s USPS mailer. And the next woman that walks into your locksmith shop might’ve found your business by having searched:

Emoji Search on Yelp

You never know. But you should. What do you think? Am I gonna win the bet?

Image by: Emoji Nation Part 2 by Nastya Ptichek via Behance

Noah Plumb
Noah’s for the underdog just about every time; he stands for justice. He’s a pretty social dude with an asymmetrical face (the mustache is ‘shopped by the way). With GoDaddy since 2004 in communications, public relations, and social roles, he’s now a small business evangelist. And he’d like to hear your story. Say “hey there” on Twitter. Email him. Smile in his general direction. (He likes the attention.)