Some background

By emoji, I mean these: http://www.emoji-cheat-sheet.com/

By emoticons, I mean the standard :), :P, ;) etc.

These emoticons or emoji will be available to users in things like text areas for posting comments and writing blog posts.


I am considering cases where we provide a rich text editor and the user can select the appropriate emoji/emoticon from a drop down.

The second approach is a plain text area where users will need to type in :) or :smile: and an autocomplete dropdown like github's: enter image description here


Emojis provide a lot of images which does add to the fun factor. However, from my personal experience, I have always found them hard to use (because I need to remember all the codes :smile:, :stuck_out_tongue: etc). The fact that someone has created cheat sheet means that I am not the only one having this problem. Having to use something like :smile: over :) provides more friction too.

In addition, because I can't be bothered loading up the cheat sheet most of the time, I just end up using the same 3 or 4 emojis in my posts and comments.

Is there any value in using emojis over the classical emoticons?

  • 2
    You don't say what the context is. In writing official letter both are useless. In kids community webpage they can be the most important factor.
    – Voitcus
    Jun 6, 2013 at 6:21
  • I don't think there is much difference between emojis and emoticons. One is just a graphical presentation of the other. Also bear in mind that without their "name" (or "label" or "identifier") being readily available the images may be hard to interpret. I never go beyond the standard smileys because I have a hard time figuring out what emotion the image is supposed to convey and I don't want to convey the wrong one, or have the image interpreted incorrectly by the receiver. Jun 6, 2013 at 6:59

5 Answers 5


Emoticons evolved to give writers the opportunity to express an emotion, and gives readers the opportunity to better understand the tone of the written communication that they have received. Emoji take that idea and extend it further. Sending a text saying "let's get drinks tonight" doesn't give as positive of a feeling as sending a text that has the emoji :cocktail:. The apparently-abandoned Narratives in Emoji tumblr is an excellent example of how much meaning can be conveyed using only emoji.

The value proposition needs to be considered from the perspective of the person who uses the emoji, as well as the person who reads the emoji.

Writers use them, even though they either have memorized a handful of them, or need to go look at a cheat sheet to find the one that they're thinking of but can't remember its code. (Although I would note that you should avoid confirmation bias here. Just because someone else has created a cheat sheet for emoji doesn't mean that the cheat sheet is widely used. After all, think of how few FAQs contain Questions that are actually Frequently Asked.) Given that they're widely used in many different types of online communication, this tells you that the writers who use them view them as providing value over a plain emoticon.

Readers read them. It's somewhat more difficult to determine whether readers see value in them, but there are some ways to understand. If someone both reads and writes emoji, then we can assume that they find value both as a reader and a writer. If someone reads an emoji and has to ask what it means, then they might or might not see the value because they might not understand the emotion that the writer is trying to convey. This is, of course, true for emoticons as well. Adding a :) doesn't mean that the reader will understand the intent of the writer's message.

I think that it's clear that emoji have value in some instances. They were born in SMS, so they clearly have value there. The question becomes whether emoji have meaning in your scenario, which means that you need to determine whether your users have a need and a desire to communicate emotions in the way that emoji allows. This will either require some user research on your part, or a simple leap of faith that it will provide value.


In my experience, much of the push to visual communication (Snapchat, Tumblr, emoji) is driven by the simple fact that most people actually don't have much to say. Keep in mind that this is true whether we're talking in person or on the web: much of real-world communication is actually conveyed via body language and facial expressions. Emojis act as a kind of tool to encapsulate more information into posts that otherwise might feel bland and emotionless: sending a text that says "Happy birthday!" is very different than sending a "Happy Birthday!" text laden with emoticons. A large, empty text box can leave the impression that any comment has to be insightful and constructive, and that has grown the popularity of like buttons, seemingly a more appropriate way to express simple emotions like, "Good job!" or "I agree with this." Emojis act as a kind of midpoint between a like button and a longer comment, allowing users to add more emotional weight to a comment.

On the web, this is underscored by the fact that the purpose of "writing" has changed. Many of the "discussion" tools on the web have evolved over time, from being casual community discussion places to an emphasis on sharing knowledge and expertise. This means that if you are one of those people that don't possess or don't believe you possess knowledge worth sharing with others, posting on the web can feel like a very weird thing.

So, it depends on the experience you're trying to build. If your most important metric is maximizing participation from the community at large, then I'd make the emojis more prominent by providing a box that people can sift through to find the perfect emoji for their post. This is effective both because it makes it easier for people to find emojis, but also because the presence of the emojis act as a signal for the tone of the community: one that is more light hearted and about communication than information.

On the other hand, if your community is more focused on knowledge transfer (think something more in line with the Quora community), then you may want to keep the emojis hidden to reinforce the norms of the community. In that case, you may want to consider restricting the use of emojis completely.


"Communication - textual or verbal - is not only about sharing information but also carries an inherent emotional aspect with it. Whether we appreciate it or not, we are subtly influenced by the use of non-verbal cues to interpret communication in real life. The same goes for online communication as well. We always try to "complete" the communication from all aspects and apart from the informational value carried in messages, we also look for the emotional cues that lie beneath."

I think the idea of using autocomplete dropdown menu is a good, also why wouldn't you allow people to use :) and :smile: for the same image (smiley face), not every user wants to use complicated emotions, objects that are available with emoji.

take a look at Facebook emoticon guide


You got all these good answers telling you how good those emojis are.

However, to increase their discoverability and frequency of use,you can go with the approach of most instant messaging apps (e.g. Skype, Messenger), and provide an "insert emojii" button. By clicking it, a dropdown with most used emojis is shown, and the user can add them simply by clicking any one.

This way, people are exposed to the available emojis, and become aware of them. The smart thing Skype did is also show the code for each emojii, so people can memorize them, and as they are becoming more experienced, they start to write them directly in the message text.

Skype emojii menu, with code showing at its bottom: Skype emojii

MS Lync (2013) emojii menu: Lync emojii

side note: There is still a "cheat sheet" for advanced Skype users, who can code emojis that are not found in the menu. This way, Skype did not give up on the mysterious bits reserved only for the most experienced users. IMHO, this adds a lot to the experience and fun.


Emoji's provide a method of expressing yourself that is not readily possible using just ascii text. How would you express an ascii emoji for: in love, cold, or sick? Even if you came up with one for that, the chances of it being understood by someone else is rather slim. Now compare that to these Emoji:

enter image description here

I'm sure we can agree that they are more expressive than ascii smileys for the reader, but what about for the user?

For that, it's more a question of the UX of shortcuts. For example, :smile: is a poor shortcut for a smiling face, as :) is much clearer and is commonly used. In fact most of the old commonly used ascii smileys should act as shortcuts to emoji. Only the ones that don't and are rarely used should be mapped to shortcuts like :inlove:, :cold:, or :sick:.

  • 1
    I agree to a point. Using the classic emoticons as shortcuts for emoji can cause unintended problems when parsing the text. The problem is that sequences for emoticons are not always unique, they can occur in other contexts as well, as part of a bigger structure. These would then incorrectly be replaced with emoji. I know from experience that that is very annoying. Using the :smile: type of shortcut can help prevent that issue.
    – André
    Jun 6, 2013 at 8:33
  • @André just like any good auto-replace, there should be an escape key to not insert the image. That has little to do with the value of emoji in the first place.
    – JohnGB
    Jun 6, 2013 at 9:56
  • Fair point. But that had better be correctly specified then!
    – André
    Jun 6, 2013 at 10:13

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