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Published on April 11th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie


Scott Fahlman: The Man Who Started An Internet Sensation :-)


Though many of you may never have heard of him, you probably will have known his invention. Virtually ever single person that has used a computer has either seen or copied his work. Everyday it is used hundreds of millions of times by tens of millions of people. Sometimes it is used to signify a joke, other times it just means happiness.

Scott Fahlman is the man who made : – ) famous.

Fahlman is well-know in computer science circles as specialising in blocks worldsemantic networks and neural networks as well as being a fellow of the American Association of Artificial Intelligence. However, none of this work has made him quite as famous as his three-charactered smiley face.

While lecturing at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh,  Pennsylvania, Fahlman noted that the university’s online message boards could often be misinterpreted. He saw that frequently there was a problem with jokes being taken seriously and leading to anguish.

Fahlman states: ‘The problem was that if someone made a sarcastic remark, a few readers would fail to get the joke, and each of them would post a lengthy diatribe in response. That would stir up more people with more responses, and soon the original thread of the discussion was buried. In at least one case, a humorous remark was interpreted by someone as a serious safety warning.’

So he came up with the smiley icon which he posted on the message board – so there would be no such ambiguity and raised tempers. And the rest, as they say, is cyber history!


Here is a copy of the email that was sent.

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman : – )
From: Scott E Fahlman

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:

: – )

Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use

: – (

Please note that there were no spaces between the characters in Fahlman’s original email. Many websites now turn : – ) (without the spaces) into 🙂 automatically so Yellow Magpie added the spaces.

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