Shelbyville Daily Union

Community News Network

July 1, 2014

A messaging app that doesn't use words at all

I ignored the Yo app — yes, the one that lets you send the word "Yo" and nothing else — even after it was covered by Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. I ignored it when it passed 1 million downloads and raised $1 million in funding. I kept ignoring it when clones proliferated, one of them only able to say "Hodor!" like the laconic character in "Game of Thrones."

I knew Yo could only be a passing fad, and statistics seem to bear that out. The app, which on June 20 reached 4th place overall in number of downloads from the U.S. App Store, had dropped to 269th by June 30, according to App Annie.

I'm not so sure the latest app craze will prove so transitory, however. About 10,000 people have signed up for usernames for a chat app that isn't even out yet: Emoj.li. It's an instant messenger app that uses no words at all — not even "Yo" or "Hodor!" Instead, it employs only emoji icons. The app's creators, Matt Gray and Tom Scott, list "Yo" as an inspiration. "We weren't sold on it until we realized that usernames should be emoji too," the founders told Forbes in response to written questions. "At that point, we burst out laughing and realized we had to build it."

My username is two emojis — a pig and a penguin. I suspect it will soon be difficult to get a two-character one: There are only 943,812 two-character permutations of the 972 characters in Unicode 7.0.

Apps for non-verbal communication have been created before, but they were meant for autistic children and others who have difficulty communicating with words. Emoj.li is a communication tool for a growing cohort that dislikes words or is no good with them: Generation Z. Members of Generation Z, born in the 1990's, frequently prefer emoji to communicate. (Perhaps at a cost: 68 percent of schoolteachers say digital tools reduce the effort students put into their writing. Why should they struggle when a picture is worth a thousand words?)

We old-fashioned verbal people can also have fun with emoji, turning communication into an endless guessing game, devising elaborate emoji puzzles for lengthy novels and complicated plot lines. Last year, the Library of Congress accepted the novel Emoji Dick, engineer Fred Benenson's remake of Herman Melville's masterpiece. Mashable.com has translated 20 great novels into emoji.

In other words, not only the verbally challenged can play this game, which is why I signed up. (Well, also because my 11-year-old daughter uses more emoji than words in her text messages; that's her preference.)

The speed with which we communicate is driving us to use simpler forms of interaction that dehumanize exchanges. When humans communicate primarily in icons, computers will be much more likely to pass the Turing test because emoji messages are much more vague and open to interpretation than natural-language ones. Algorithms meant to discern emotions, too, will have an easier time of it: A smiley face is a smiley face, and a sad one is a sad one. Sarcasm can be expressed with emoji, but there is a risk that even the person it is meant for will not get it.

I make money writing stories, so I'm a bit uncomfortable watching the evolution of the zero-word trend. There is still room for hope, however: Perhaps a hybrid language — part verbal, part pictorial — can become even more expressive and nuanced than either form by itself.

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    July 31, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.12.55 PM.png VIDEO: Five-year-old doesn't want her brother to grow up

    Sadie, an adorable 5-year-old from Phoenix, wants her brother to stay young forever, so much so that her emotional reaction to the thought of him getting older has drawn more than 10 million views on YouTube.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    July 30, 2014

  • Survey results in legislation to battle sexual assault on campus

    Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday to announce legislation that aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.

    July 30, 2014

  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

Featured Ads
AP Video
Couple Channel Grief Into Soldiers' Retreat WWI Aviation Still Alive at Aerodrome in NY Raw: Rescuers at Taiwan Explosion Scene Raw: Woman Who Faced Death Over Faith in N.H. Clinton Before 9-11: Could Have Killed Bin Laden Netanyahu Vows to Destroy Hamas Tunnels Obama Slams Republicans Over Lawsuit House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction Malaysian PM: Stop Fighting in Ukraine Cantor Warns of Instability, Terror in Farewell Ravens' Ray Rice: 'I Made a Huge Mistake' Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN
Poll

Should the minimum wage for workers be raised in Illinois?

Yes
No
     View Results
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Helium debate
Helium