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Variation in Depiction of Same Emoji on Different Platforms Can Lead To Miscommunication 111

How your device depicts an emoji depends on the operating system it is running. The same "smiley face" emoticon, for instance, appears slightly different when viewed on an iPhone, an Android-powered handset, and a Windows Phone-powered handset. This variation can cause miscommunication between people (PDF), a study by GroupLens Research has found. The research lab in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota said that sometimes this can cause people to misinterpret the emotion and the meaning of emoji-based communication "quite significantly." The conclusion reads: Emoji are used alongside text in digital communication, but their visual nature leaves them open to interpretation. In addition, emoji render differently on different platforms, so people may interpret one platform's rendering differently than they interpret another platform's. Psycholinguistic theory suggests that interpretation must be consistent between two people in order to avoid communication challenges. In this research, we explored whether emoji are consistently interpreted as well as whether interpretation remains consistent across renderings by different platforms. For 5 different platform renderings of 22 emoji Unicode characters, we find disagreement in terms of both sentiment and semantics, and these disagreements only increase when considering renderings across platforms.
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Variation in Depiction of Same Emoji on Different Platforms Can Lead To Miscommunication

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  • by Zontar The Mindless ( 9002 ) <plasticfish.info@ g m a i l .com> on Saturday April 09, 2016 @11:56AM (#51874621) Homepage

    This is exactly what I said would happen when I wrote to the Unicode Consortium asking them not to adopt emoji into the standard. Their response was that rendering differences in alphabetic/ideographic symbols with well-defined *objective* meanings never posed such a problem, so rendering differences for entirely *subjective* symbols wouldn't, either. /facepalm

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Saturday April 09, 2016 @12:17PM (#51874721) Journal
      There was arguably a case to be made for the one-time adoption of some 'emoji' in line with Unicode's "Sometimes we do horrible things so that even worse legacy standards and nonstandards can die." policy; but the failure to stop there has been a total clusterfuck.

      Even good old Plane 0 is riddled with characters that should never have been allowed to exist; but if the Unicode Consortium had taken the principled stance and refused to hand out the codepoints needed to support migration from various legacy encodings, Unicode would probably still be more or less irrelevant in practice. Cleaning up the mess in the Japanese handset market is at least arguably in line with the same approach.

      Once that was done, though, leaving open the invitation to turn Unicode in to a clip-art library was an atrocious plan; and bafflingly stupid(especially since the core mission of rendering actual languages is still pretty deeply unfinished once you wander too far from languages that can be handled with the latin alphabet and a few accents and umlauts.)
      • They could have closed this loop hole by providing a royalty free font showing how the character should be rendered. Without that each platform is *forced* by copyright law to deviate from each other.
        • There are plenty of fonts available cross-platform(either because they are liberally licensed or because they are considered vital enough or cheap enough that more or less everyone throws them in; but fonts have never been Unicode's problem(their documentation does include examples drawn from one or more fonts, not sure who they use as a supplier and under what terms in order to provide examples; but those are explicitly noted to be non-normative and purely for the reader's convenience).

          For the surprisin
      • I like having string encoding that explicitly tells me 'emoji of an old man walking his rhinoceros'. Its so much nicer to work with than having to write a custom parser for each source, like if I needed to parse github's :boat: syntax and worry about all the magic quoting rules. The world isn't going to go back so ASCII smilies. That :boat: has :bon-voyage:.

        I'm not sure why people get so worked up about it? If you don't need them, you don't implement them. If you do need them, it makes things better.

        Next up

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I was thinking that the real problem is that here we have an example of using multiple emoji implementations as characters within a single document to point out how the implementations can convey different meanings - time to make a new version of unicode that includes both "android emoji" and "iphone emoji" code pages. Need to keep that bidirectional transformation going

      • by tepples ( 727027 )

        The traditional solution to show different implementations of a single character is font markup.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      This is exactly what I said would happen when I wrote to the Unicode Consortium asking them not to adopt emoji into the standard. Their response was that rendering differences in alphabetic/ideographic symbols with well-defined *objective* meanings never posed such a problem, so rendering differences for entirely *subjective* symbols wouldn't, either. /facepalm

      '
      The only reason Unicode is adopting emojis is because Unicode is supposed to be that - a universal code. *every* character set in the world is suppo

  • "For the longest time, I thought it was frozen yogurt." - Weasel referring to the shit emoji.
  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Saturday April 09, 2016 @12:07PM (#51874673)

    I thought the emojis were kind of a Japanese thing originally. Do they have any data on mixed perceptions of them? I'm assuming that as early adopters they didn't have a uniform version of the characters/icons and may also have suffered from lower resolution depictions of them.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@Nospam.world3.net> on Saturday April 09, 2016 @12:58PM (#51874937) Homepage Journal

      The early Japanese ones were proprietary, unique to each mobile operator. If you had an AU phone and your friend had a DoCoMo phone you couldn't trade emoji. In short order they got together and merged their sets.

      Back then Unicode was totally inadequate for Japanese text as used by people day-to-day, and didn't have any emoji support anyway. Even now the bulk of Japanese text files and plain text email is Shift-JIS rather than Unicode. When Unicode is used in anything but trivial situations needs hacks to render properly. Westerners who run Japanese software need to use AppLocale because most apps aren't Unicode.

      It's a total disaster and needs replacing with something better.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        All of Shift-JIS was supported in Unicode 1.0 in 1991, and on modern systems Shift-JIS support has been implemented by software converting to and from Unicode internally. And modern here means anything post 2000 and quite a lot before that. (So yes, even when you view a text file that's stored on disk in Shift-JIS format, you are using Unicode, or at least the text editor and operating system are.) The first emoji on the other hand were introduced by DoCoMo as late as 1998 through proprietary ad hoc JIS ext

  • So this passes as a valid research topic at the University of Minnesota? What a joke.
    • by jrumney ( 197329 )
      It has me wondering whether I can get grant funding for a study into my thesis that the use of emoji in and of itself is what is really causing the confusion, and whether or not my phone's fon has a depiction of steam coming off of U+1F4A9 doesn't mean shit.
      • by Ark42 ( 522144 )

        According to http://ark42.com/unicode/emoji... [ark42.com] it has steam on Android 4.4's font and the free font some Linux systems might tend to use by default. It also happens to have a face and eyes on Twitter and iOS/OS X. On Windows 7+ and Android 4.1-4.3 there is neither steam nor a face though.

    • What is the point of such shameless hostility? How is this not a valid research topic? They have shown marked differences in how subjects perceive what should essentially be the same display of emotion by which mobile platforms they use. This has hefty implications on modern sociology, including the ability to predict how subjects may react to the same exact message based solely on their choice of phone.

      A joke? Why does something that doesn't interest you have to be labeled as "a joke"?

      What you should rea
      • I agree;The fact that emoji are rendered and interpreted inconsistently is actually useful knowledge. At the same time sentences like the following one really do beg for a good mocking:

          "Psycholinguistic theory suggests that interpretation must be consistent between two people in order to avoid communication challenges."

        FFS, really?

        • ""Psycholinguistic theory suggests that interpretation must be consistent between two people in order to avoid communication challenges."

          FFS, really?"

          Yes, really: we only *suggest* it being the case because we need more grant money to be sure -once we finish a very nice experiment about mixing hot and cold water, that is.

  • Well then maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Saturday April 09, 2016 @12:16PM (#51874719)

    Well then maybe, JUST MAYBE....people shouldn't use emojis for actual communication where meaning might be important.

    I've heard that there are these things called "words", which, when used properly, have the amazing ability to convey information accurately.

    I swear, soon we'll be back to grunting and painting pictures of animals by smearing our feces on cave walls.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      I swear, soon we'll be back to grunting and painting pictures of animals by smearing our feces on cave walls.

      I think we call that performing arts these days.

    • Well then maybe, JUST MAYBE....people shouldn't use emojis for actual communication where meaning might be important.

      Except they do.

      I've heard that there are these things called "words", which, when used properly, have the amazing ability to convey information accurately.

      Oh gosh, I bet miscommunication over text channels which don't convey the subtelties of intonation and body language have never, ever happened. Also, in other news, Poe's law doesn't exist.

      • Contracts and laws are put in writing, not crayon drawings or figurative dance.

        Maybe there's a reason for that?

        • by Alumoi ( 1321661 )

          Just wait a couple of years until the failbook generation comes to power.
          Don't forget they're unable to spell so using drawings will be easier for them.

        • Contracts and laws are put in writing, not crayon drawings or figurative dance.

          Well that defiitively proves that words are clear and unambigious, because no one ever went to court to dispute a contract. True story.

    • I've heard that there are these things called "words", which, when used properly, have the amazing ability to convey information accurately.

      If you believe words convey accurate information over IM, you know shit about words and IM.

      • If you believe words convey accurate information over IM, you know shit about words and IM.

        Perhaps you missed the part about "when used properly"?

        I've had very little trouble communicating clearly and accurately over IM and other text-based channels, but there's always some imbecile who can't grasp the meaning of words, or who deliberately misconstrues them. Like you, perhaps.

        • >there's always some imbecile who can't grasp the meaning of words

          Which proves my point. No matter how carefully you think you have selected your words, or how well you think you have used them, non-mathematical expressions are inherently ambiguous and therefore require the other party to interpret them. Communication requires participation of both ends of the channel, and you can't control what happens at the other end.

          • Which proves my point.

            Errr, no. If anything, it proves mine.

            -

            No matter how carefully you think you have selected your words, or how well you think you have used them, non-mathematical expressions are inherently ambiguous and therefore require the other party to interpret them.

            Like I said, you're proving my point for me. This is why people shouldn't use emojis for actual communication where meaning might be important. Or do you prefer deciphering hieroglyphics with multiple meanings rather than reading text?

            But wait- why are you communicating with me in text, anyway? Shouldn't you be typing a bunch of stuff like "|| :) \_()_/ ;( *-^-*" or whatever?

            Face it: text is the standard for unambiguous communication. That's why user manuals and contra

    • "I've heard that there are these things called "words", which, when used properly, have the amazing ability to convey information accurately."

      The key being "when used properly"... which is actually the same problem as described in this research.

  • Two Dots Too Many (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Edward Coffin ( 256305 ) on Saturday April 09, 2016 @12:28PM (#51874789)
    This reminds me of an incident in Turkey back in 2008, described and analyzed in Language Log: Two Dots Too Many [upenn.edu]. Due to a cellphone being improperly localized, a normal letter i was substituted for the Turkish back unrounded i (which I cannot figure out how to display here, ironically enough), altering the meaning of a text message, leading to a tragic misunderstanding, which resulted in a group attack on the sender who then murdered the recipient and subsequently committed suicide.
    • altering the meaning of a text message, leading to a tragic misunderstanding, which resulted in a group attack on the sender who then murdered the recipient and subsequently committed suicide.

      Seems to me that it's not the fault of the phone, but rather the hot tempered reaction of the people involved.

    • That reminds me of an incident in the UK back in 2011. Where one guy called his friend a "mutter" (mother's boy) but autocorrect wrote "nutter" [dailymail.co.uk] and so the guy stabbed his friend 104 times. I don't blame the technology, in fact, I think it was dead-on.

    • The problem's older than that. Otto von Bismarck provoked the 1870 Franco-Prussian War with a slanted translation (which tells you that the French were also spoiling for a fight, since it took that little to get the war on).

  • With hundreds of emoji on the loose it is hopeless to derive any specific meaning from them, even if your eyes are able to distinguish them. I recently found a list from a provider explaining the meaning of their interminable set of symbols. I enlarged them on my screen as much as possible and still couldn't see them clearly. After reading 20 or so definitions, I gave up.

    Perhaps teenagers find them useful. Adults; not so much. Businesses not at all.

  • Darwinian moments in technology:
    * emoji incompatibility starts land war in Asia, everyone gets involved
    * HTML5 T-shirt design tool creates product with logo too small, off center
    * LED light bulb that requires a cloud server and Android app to adjust
    * people who type URLs into Google because, Internet
    * video on YouTube degrades into noise, original lost among copycat uploaders
    * everyone forgets that Al Gore tried to enforce escrow encryption, sell the Clipper Chip
    * 140 character li

    • * 140 character li

      You got me, there.

    • by Misagon ( 1135 )

      * People who type URLs into Google because ... bug in Chrome.

      Has happened to me too many times. And I use DuckDuckGo, BTW, which makes it even worse.

  • Emojis are *already* visual cues, formed by the shapes of various ASCII or other character sets. They *already* suffer from this problem from the get-go.

    The problem is that some people's brains are so fucking dull, so abused, so worthless, that they can't even interpret a smiley face made out of some characters.

    • That

    part actually has to be done

    • for them

    .

    Who cares is some of the weirdos who've helped this brain-drain along by capitalizing on it screw up by not socializing with one another? Those people ar

  • If you want someone to understand your meaning unambiguously across multiple platforms why not try grouping the subset of emojis call "text" together into repeatable and recognizable patterns called "words"?

    If I'm depending on the ability of someone else's software to properly render my high-fiving cats (or whatever) and the fact that one cat turns out to have different whiskers than I intended means that people go to the wrong restaurant I'm probably "communicating" incorrectly.
  • Are my emoji your emoji? - http://ark42.com/unicode/emoji... [ark42.com]
    A handy tool that compares many popular emoji fonts from various systems.

  • Good to see this major issue being addressed by research. FWIW Microsoft is improving its emoji support and image design to be less confusing. Details here http://mspoweruser.com/windows... [mspoweruser.com]
  • I've seriously wondered if the gradual adoption of more and more standardized icons and emoji is slowly creating an ideographic, common world written language.

    I know that a few "fast forwards" and smileys here and there is a long way from verb tenses, and I don't think I've seen people use a string of several symbols to create a meaning that's different from the sum of its parts. But we're only a couple of decades into the process.

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